Holocaust Remembrance Day Observed by Survivors Online amid Pandemic: 'We Have to Tell Our Stories'

"It is unbelievable what we went through, and the whole world was silent as this was going on," said 91-year-old Auschwitz survivor Rose Schindler

Holocaust Remembrance Day
Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo: Omar Marques/Getty

Auschwitz survivors are commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, despite being unable to gather in person due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, the world marked the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz with prayers and ceremonies, during which survivors paid their respects to those whose lives were lost.

Six million European Jews were killed by the Nazis after they came to power in Germany in 1933, as were millions more from various other groups, including Soviet, Polish and Serb civilians.

The United Nations eventually declared Jan. 27 as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2005.

While a majority of those events were held virtually — including the annual ceremony at the former Auschwitz death camp (the largest German Nazi concentration camp that led to the death of 1.1 million people) — there were a few that were held live, The Chicago Sun-Times reported.

One of those was a memorial in the former Warsaw ghetto of Poland, where people gathered to mourn those who died at the hands of the Nazis, according to the outlet.

Holocaust Remembrance Day
A survivor observing Holocaust Remembrance Day. Ariel Schalit/AP/Shutterstock

Many survivors also chose to mark the day by sharing their stories, including Rose Schindler, a 91-year-old San Diego, California resident; Tova Friedman, an 82-year-old Highland Park, New Jersey resident; and Irene Butter, a 90-year-old Ann Arbor, Michigan resident.

Speaking to the Sun-Times, Schindler discussed the importance of speaking about the Holocaust — something she does to groups via Zoom today.

"We have to tell our stories so it doesn't happen again," said Schindler, who was originally from Czechoslovakia but was transported to Auschwitz in 1944.

According to the outlet, Schindler was chosen multiple times to go into the gas chambers but somehow managed to escape death each time.

Though she survived, Schindler tragically witnessed the murder of her parents, as well as four of her seven siblings. She also suffered through the cruelty of being starved, shaven and living in inhumane conditions, the Sun-Times reported.

"It is unbelievable what we went through, and the whole world was silent as this was going on," she told the outlet.

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Friedman was also an Auschwitz survivor, arriving when she was 5 and being liberated by the time she was 6, according to the Sun-Times.

She told the outlet she feels it is her responsibility to "sound the alarm" about rising anti-Semitism in the world, especially after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, where rioters were seen wearing "Camp Auschwitz" shirts.

"It was utterly shocking and I couldn't believe it," Friedman said, adding that if people don't continue to remember the Holocaust, "another tragedy may happen."

Like Friedman, Holocaust survivor Butter told CNN she was also concerned by the actions that took place at the U.S. Capitol.

"I think we learned democracy is vulnerable and we cannot take anything for granted," she explained to the outlet. "But it is up to us, the people, to preserve and protect our democratic institutions and our constitution."

Butter was just 3-years-old when the persecution of the Jews began, CNN reported. She survived two different concentration camps: Camp Westerbork and Bergen Belsen.

"After one year of horrible conditions, my family barely survived," she told the outlet. "Not giving up hope was a very critical thing, to hope the war will end, and I will survive."

Though it took her four decades to speak out about her experiences, Butter now shares her story around the world and speaks to students in schools, CNN reported.

"The responses I receive from students to my story, who put themselves in my shoes and try to relate their own lives to it, that is what gives me hope," she explained to the outlet.

"One of the main influences was [fellow Holocaust survivor and author] Elie Wiesel," she added. "I once heard him speak on the radio and he said, 'If you were in the camps and smelled the air and heard the silence of the dead, then it's your duty to be a witness and to tell the story.'"

Despite going through such a traumatic experience and seeing the worst of humanity, Butter said she still believes "there's good in every person."

"We're all made of the same fabric, regardless of nationality, ethnicity or religion," she told CNN. "I think that our humanity overides all of these differences."

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