Yesterday, many across the world paused from thinking about the current crisis – and turned instead to thinking of an event in history that, like this global pandemic, should never be forgotten.
At the time of writing, 75 years ago, on a lovely spring day, British soldiers arrived at a place of darkness and death to liberate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. What those soldiers found was beyond comprehension.
As the Allied forces had advanced, the Germans forced prisoners from other camps on “death marches” to Bergen-Belsen. The camp’s population grew from about 7,300 to at least 60,000 and tens of thousands of people died in grossly inhumane conditions, including Anne Frank and her sister. Conditions were indescribable. It was a place of immense suffering. There was no food; corpses were left to rot.
This week’s 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen was very different from the one planned. Events due to take place across the world were cancelled because of the pandemic, and commemorations instead took place online.
Although people are unable to gather in person, Olivia Marks-Woldman of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, says: “We must each remember the brave efforts of the British liberators, and honour the memory of the thousands of Jews, Roma people, prisoners of war and many others murdered there.”
Today there is still identity-based prejudice and violence and we must stay alert to the horror of hatred. Yet 75 years on, we are living through a time where strangers demonstrate love towards strangers regardless of what they look like or where they come from. Those previously disregarded for being low-skilled have proved their immense worth with many making the ultimate sacrifice. And observations from that time 75 years ago have resonance now. ‘We hadn’t been trained for this, and it was so, so different to, well to anything.’
As we look back and remember the worst of humankind we do so through the prism of love and hope and at a time when we demonstrate the best of ourselves. For those who have lost, we send love and prayers. For those who feel lost, remember there will be a time when this too will be history – a time when we’ll return to the embrace of our loved ones and friends. Until then, please stay safe.