On January 27, 1945, the nightmare ended for some. 75 years ago Monday, the Soviets liberated Auschwitz. They found the camp unguarded, the Nazi guards having fled with the bulk of the prisoners ahead of the Red Army’s advance. Around 7,000 — most of whom were sick and dying — were released, by the Soviets. Of the 1.3 million people deported to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered at the camp — the largest death toll of any of the Nazi concentration camps.
Now, as the number of survivors continues to decline and global awareness of the Holocaust follows that trend, the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation — International Holocaust Remembrance Day — is being commemorated by a host of cultural and government institutions. From art installations to lectures, here are some ways to remember on January 27.
THE MUSEUM OF JEWISH HERITAGE - A LIVING MEMORIAL TO THE HOLOCAUST
In Battery Park City, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, now home to the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” is holding a day of activities. At 9:00 AM, the museum’s Edmond J. Safra Hall will feature a simulcast of a ceremony being held at Auschwitz. At 11:00 AM, Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, the curator of the museum’s Auschwitz exhibition, will hold a discussion about the liberation and Rabbi Eli Babich of Fifth Avenue Synagogue will sound a shofar that was secretly blown at the camp during the high holidays of 1944. Van Pelt will give another talk at 3 PM about many of the artifacts on display at the exhibit and his decision-making about the show’s content. From 10 AM to 6 PM, the museum will offer free admission.
At 7 PM, Temple Emanu-El in will host a concert with performances by violinist Itzhak Perlman, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, actress Tovah Felshuh, Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot of the Park East Synagogue and the cast and orchestra of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” among others. The evening will also feature a keynote address by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.
BATTERY PARK CITY
Battery Park City has been presenting excerpts of poems written by people who were imprisoned at Auschwitz. The installation — part of the community’s “Raining Poetry” series – features quotes from the poems “Foamy Sky” and “Letter to my Wife” by Miklós Radnóti, “Buna” by Primo Levi and “Prayer to the Living to Forgive Them for Being Alive” by Charlotte Delbo.
At UNESCO, which lists Auschwitz as a World Heritage Site, Director-General Audrey Azoulay will be joined by over 200 Auschwitz and Holocaust survivirs and heads of state in a ceremony commemorating the camp’s liberation.
At the General Assembly Hall, Melissa Fleming, the UN under-secretary-general for Global Communications will preside over a commemoration with remarks from the secretary-general, president of the General Assembly, representatives from Germany, Israel, Russia and the United States and testimony from Holocaust survivors. Itzhak Perlman is also scheduled to perform.
The “Seeing Auschwitz” exhibition, featuring archival photos of the camp, will be presented at the UN’s visitors lobby from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM. Programs and exhibitions, including the “Lonka Project,” a photographic tribute to Holocaust survivors, continue until the end of January, culminating in a January 30 UN briefing, “Hate speech, Holocaust denial and distortian: why challenging it matters.”
AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM, POLAND
The official commemoration of the liberation will occur at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, where a special tent will be erected above the “Gate of Death” of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. Polish president Andrzej Duda will deliver a welcome address at 3:30 CET, followed by a main address by Auschwitz survivors, Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a word of thanks from Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, Director of the Auschwitz Memorial and ecumenical prayers.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com