Every time I visit Paris, I’m struck anew by the memorials to the deported.
Some are simple plaques that honor an individual sacrifice.
Other memorials mourn a school’s murdered children.
A few—like the Vel’d’Hiv monument, and the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation—commemorate the Holocaust’s massive inhumanity.
The numbers are incomprehensible: By the time the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz on this day in 1945, more than one million people had died there. But it’s hard to grasp such loss in the abstract.
Maybe that’s why I was so touched by the story of one young woman, skillfully summarized in The Telegraph:
‘To think that if I am arrested this evening (which I have been expecting for ages now), in a week’s time I’ll be in Upper Silesia, maybe dead, and my whole life, with the infinity I sense within me, will be snuffed out…’
Intimate and harrowing, [Hélène Berr’s] diary was destined for her fiancé, Jean Morawiecki, who had left Paris to join the Free French, and she was clear-eyed enough to realise that it would probably be all that survived of her.
She began writing in April 1942, when she was 21 and life was still relatively good for prosperous professionals like the Berrs. [Hélène’s former home, at 5 avenue Elisée-Reclus, hints at her family’s social station.]
But as the horrors of Nazi occupation increased, she began to see that [her diary] had a wider purpose: she was bearing witness to a persecution that many others refused to see.
‘I sense that a great dark path awaits me,’ she wrote.
Her final entry on February 15, 1944, ended: ‘Horror! Horror! Horror!’
[Hélène and her parents] were arrested and deported to Auschwitz on her 23rd birthday, March 27. Antoinette Berr was gassed and her husband, Raymond, was poisoned.
Hélène survived the death march from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen. Sick with typhus, she was beaten to death because she was too weak to get up from her bunk for reveille.
Five days later, the camp was liberated by the British Army.
Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 66th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.
Vergessen Sie nie. N’oubliez jamais. Never forget.
Of course it’s important to hear these truths, lest we forget the horror and suffering of so many. It’s hard to wrap my brain around it really. How can there be such hatred? How can one madman woo a nation to his ideology that led to such ugliness? I almost don’t want to let it in, it’s too frightening.
I don’t know either how one heart can hold enough hatred to make it their life’s mission to destroy others, Kelly. As you say, it’s almost too frightening to contemplate. And yet … I feel we must, because I see these seeds being planted again, right now, in my very own country. Americans dismiss is as just “tough talk,” but I think there are very real — and very dangerous — consequences when we start labeling others as subhuman. Anyway. Thank you so much for taking the time to read, and for your thoughtful comments. xoxo