Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Humanity, tolerance and respect are more important than ever”
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we revisit Margot Friedländer’s speech at a special plenary meeting at the European Parliament last year. In her address, the 100-year old survivor shared with the MEPs the horrors she witnessed while in a concentration camp, and called on people to be vigilant so it doesn’t happen again.
“What has happened cannot change,” said Friedländer. “I myself had to experience how people have denied other people their humanity. First, to marginalise them, to rob them, to burn their places of worship, and finally to murder them. This must never happen again. Hatred, racism and antisemitism must not be the last word in history.”
Friedländer was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1921. She was 21 years old when her mother and brother were deported to Auschwitz. Alone, she went into hiding but, in 1944, she was arrested and deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. She was freed in May 1945, when the Red Army liberated the camp.
First, she explained, the SS left the camp. “We had waited so long for this moment, and now it was there. But we couldn’t believe it. For three days we lived exactly as before.” Everything held its breath, she said, until the Soviet Army, marching along the road to Prague, opened the gates.
“I was standing at the open gates, for the first time,” the survivor recounted. “There were no guards anymore. No one could stop me from going out. Nevertheless I simply stood there.” She remembered thinking: “Am I dreaming? Is it really true that I survived?”.
“I carefully took a few steps onto the roads,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave, I simply wanted to see if it was true that I could go out without being shot.”
Friedländer was the only member of her family to survive. She moved to the US in 1946, where she lived until 2010. She explained how, after relocating to Berlin at the age of 88, she has been travelling around Germany to share her story, and the same message:
“Be human! People did it because they didn’t recognise people as human beings. You can’t love everyone, but everyone is due respect. There is no such thing as Christian, Jewish or Muslim blood. There is only human blood. We are all the same.”
“Remembrance has a tremendous significance for us today,” Friedländer concluded. “Humanity, tolerance and respect are more important than ever for peaceful coexistence. That is my wish on this important day of remembrance and commemoration, for the world, for Europe, for all of us.”
Featured image: Margot Friedländer, June 2012. Photo: Scott-Hendryk Dillan / CC BY-SA 3.0