Andrew Baker: The Holocaust's Untended Graves





[Andrew Baker, a rabbi, is director of international Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Committee.]

World leaders, Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans gathered at Auschwitz on Wednesday to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp. Poland has long shouldered responsibility for preserving this tragic site, which has become a virtual synonym for the Holocaust. Its gas chambers and crematoria, rail platforms and endless rows of wooden barracks were evidence of the systematic and mechanized murder of European Jews that the Nazis had perfected. The ashes of over a million victims are in its soil.

World leaders, Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans gathered at Auschwitz on Wednesday to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp. Poland has long shouldered responsibility for preserving this tragic site, which has become a virtual synonym for the Holocaust. Its gas chambers and crematoria, rail platforms and endless rows of wooden barracks were evidence of the systematic and mechanized murder of European Jews that the Nazis had perfected. The ashes of over a million victims are in its soil....

Entire Jewish communities were destroyed in the Holocaust. No Jews remain today even to care for the overgrown cemeteries, let alone the mass graves. Local governments, already overburdened, have little interest in taking on the responsibility. Surviving relatives in the United States or Israel may contribute money to erect a monument or memorial marker. But more often than drawing mourners, that thoughtful gesture draws grave robbers.

On Jan. 20, the president of the German War Graves Commission joined Jewish leaders and foreign diplomats in Berlin to call for similarly protecting and memorializing the hundreds of mass graves so far identified. He offered the commission's support and its willingness to undertake the work if German funds are allocated. The European Shoah Legacy Institute, established by the 46 countries attending the Prague Holocaust-Era Assets Conference last summer, has agreed to make this one of its first initiatives....

Today, even a child survivor of Auschwitz is well into retirement, and the day when no eyewitnesses will be left is coming soon. As we remember the Holocaust and all its victims, let us recommit to collecting their scattered bones and protecting their mass graves.

Sixty-five years later, the least we can do is provide a proper burial.


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