76th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation: German, Israeli, and Polish trade unions unite to say “Never again”

published 28 January 2021 updated 29 January 2021

To commemorate the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz, Education International’s member organisations in Germany, Israel, and Poland organised an e-seminar on 27 January entitled “A child witness of history”.

ZNP: Education about Holocaust vital

The importance of teaching about the Holocaust and developing learning resources to that effect is hugely important, said Sławomir Broniarz, president of the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) and a member of Education International’s Executive Board. ZNP payed a central role in organising the e-event.

Showing a school journal from 1933-1939 written by Jewish students from the Municipal General School for Girls No. 15 in Krakow and recording important school events, he stressed:

“As I read this journal, I cannot help but think about how much we adults have failed these wonderful girls. I cannot help but think about the fact that, when they entered their last report in the journal, they were looking forward to the upcoming summer holidays with great curiosity, that they were full of empathy and enthusiasm and wanted to live in their country and contribute to building it.”

Adding that he was thinking about how they felt thrown out of their homes, driven to the ghetto through the streets of their beloved Krakow, deported to extermination camps, Broniarz recalled that out of the 50 girls in the class that kept the journal, only 7 survived the war.

“We are here today, and we will be here next year. We owe it to them!” he concluded.

GEW: Unions advocate for a society in which there is no room for anti-Semitism

Marlis Tepe, president of the German Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft(GEW) and Education International’s Vice-President, said: “I am glad that, even if the pandemic prevents us from meeting each other personally in Auschwitz and Krakow, we can come together again this year - online at least. We as trade unionists and as educators see it as our task to stand up to ensure that Auschwitz never repeats itself.”

Reminding that the eyewitnesses who survived the horror of Auschwitz are important for the memories of the Holocaust in schools, and that in the future, fewer and fewer such personal encounters with Holocaust survivors will be possible, she said. “Technology opens up many possibilities for us to depict Jewish life, to remember our Jewish neighbours, and to keep the memory of the crimes of the Nazis against Jews alive in the younger generation and to accompany them on their way to becoming active democrats.”

She added that educators “see with concern that anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism are on the rise again in Germany. As education unions, we advocate for an open, tolerant and free society in which there is no room for anti-Semitism”.

VBE: Conspiracy theories can be debunked via remembrance events

The president of the German Verband Bildung und Erziehung(VBE), Udo Beckmann, made it clear that the “rise of conspiracy theories should cause us all great concern. Again and again, groups of the population, especially Jews, are targeted by theories which are pure fantasies. A lively culture of remembrance supports society in countering such fantasies”.

Given society’s global connectedness, when issues such as the harassment of Jews arises in a country, it must also be of concern for citizens in other countries around the globe, he explained.

He went on to highlight that “children know and can understand what’s right and what is wrong. We must support teachers for them to help children do that.

“National socialism brought incomparable suffering. 'Never again!' must not be an empty phrase, but the key theme of political education. "

ITU: Education to be based on the respect for children

The Israel Teachers’ Union (ITU) general secretary, Yaffa Ben David, honoured the memory of educator and doctor Janusz Korczak, whose educational and value-based ideas are the basis for countless education conceptions and the foundation for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Korczak was Jewish-Polish and ran a Jewish orphanage which was later to be relocated to the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw. He was famous and could have been be saved from the deportations to the death camps. He chose, however, to go with the children towards a certain death in the gas chambers.

Ben David stressed that “education must be based on the respect for children, not the adults’ will. You cannot pass on values if children are experiencing the feeling of the superiority of adults, especially teachers.”

She also insisted that education unions must help to develop and adapt resources according to the children’s age.

The seminar was followed by a broadcast of the celebration held at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.

Background information

The main theme of the 76th anniversary of the liberation is “The fate of children in Auschwitz”.

“Over 200,000 children were murdered in Auschwitz,” said Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, the director of the Museum. “Completely innocent, good, curious about life, loving their closest ones, trusting children. The adult world - after all, so often unjust and cruel - has never demonstrated so much of its heartlessness, its evil. This cannot be justified by any ideology, reckoning, or politics. This year, we want to dedicate the anniversary of liberation to the youngest victims of the camp.”

At least 232,000 children and young people were deported to Auschwitz. Of these, 216,000 were Jews, 11,000 were Roma, about 3,000 were Poles, more than 1,000 were Belarusians, and several hundred were Russians, Ukrainians, and other nationalities. Slightly more than 700 were liberated from the Auschwitz camp in January 1945.