At 3pm on Saturday 27th January 1945 soldiers from the Red Army’s 322nd Riffle Division arrived at the Auschwitz complex. The soldiers found about 7,500 prisoners, many of whom were severely ill as a result of the treatment they endured at the hands of their captors. However, about 60,000 prisoners had been forced to march westwards before the Red Army advanced. Between the establishment of Auschwitz and its liberation about 1.3 million people had been sent to the camps, 1.1 million were killed.
In a period of only 40 months, between August 1941 and January 1945, to kill such large numbers required great efficiency in murder. Freight trains were used to transport Jews from all over Europe to the camps. Arrivals at the camps were split into groups, apparently at random, some were sent to forced labour but most were directed straight into gas chambers. It is, perhaps, even more shocking that so few of the camp staff and guards ever faced justice. Only 789 people were tried.
The statistics are too huge for many of us to understand. Approximately 6 million Jewish people died during the Holocaust. The population of South West England is about 5.2 million.
Large numbers of other people suffered and died under the Nazi regime. 75,000 Polish civilians, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 25,000 Roma and Sinti, as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and political prisoners were also put to death by the Nazis at the Auschwitz complex. More were persecuted and murdered in other Nazi camps in Europe.
About 2 million people visit the Auschwitz complex every year. The site is protected by Polish law and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Locally we remember the bravery of Highbridge born Major Frank Foley. Major Foley is remembered for assisting Jewish people escape from Nazi Germany in the immediate pre-war years. It has been estimated that Major Foley saved the lives of tens of thousands of people. Major Foley is one of only a few British people to be named as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, although this was 40 years after he died. In 2010 he was one of 25 British people who were named “British Hero of Holocaust”.
Frank Foley was born in Walrow Terrace in 1884. His father is described as an engineer or a railway worker. Perhaps because of his humble background, it is suggested that “Foley had a great deal of sympathy for those on the left who were involved in the opposition to Hitler.”
The events of World War II are starting to dim in our collective memory. Not too surprising considering that that conflict ended 75 years ago. It is important that we remember some of the horrors, and the bravery that occurred all those years ago.
Holocaust Memorial Day is the day for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust under Nazi Persecution, and in the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.