Even before the gas chambers were destroyed and the savage toll of years of industrialized mass murder revealed to the world, prisoners at the largest Nazi concentration camp were already repeating two words: Never again.
But as the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz approaches, an occasion being marked by events around the worldand culminating in a solemn ceremony at the former death camp on Monday that will include dozens of aging Holocaust survivors, Piotr Cywinski, the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, is worried.
“More and more we seem to be having trouble connecting our historical knowledge with our moral choices today,” he said. “I can imagine a society that understands history very well but does not draw any conclusion from this knowledge.”
In this current political moment, he added, that can be dangerous.
All one has to do is look at the backdrop against which this anniversary is taking place.
Across Europe and in the United States, there is concern about a resurgence of anti-Semitism. Toxic political rhetoric and attacks directed at groups of peoples — using language to dehumanize them — that were once considered taboo have become common across the world’s democracies.
And as the living memory of World War II and the Holocaust fades, the institutions created to guard against a repeat of such bloody conflicts, and such barbarism, are under increasing strain.