The Bundestag commemorates the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz 79 years ago and the millions of victims of the Holocaust. But this time the focus is on very current references.
It was just a small sentence that Marcel Reif heard again and again from his father – sometimes as a reminder, sometimes as a warning, as advice or reprimand, as the sports journalist said in the Bundestag on Wednesday. Just three little words: “Be a human being – be a human being.”
He would like to leave this “small, great, wonderful sentence” from his father Leon Reif here today, in the highest German house: “Be. One. Human.” Reif himself paused briefly. Some in the chamber wiped tears from their eyes.
It was the commemoration of the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, the commemoration of the million victims of National Socialism – 79 years, “almost a human life,” as Bundestag President Bärbel Bas said at the beginning. But all of the speakers touched on today – to the new fears of many Jews in Germany, to the strength of right-wing parties, to the mass demonstrations for democracy and against right-wing extremism of the past few days. Responsibility does not expire, said Bas. “‘Never again’ was, is and remains a task for our entire society.”
This “never again” was also invoked by Marcel Reif, who, as the son of a Holocaust survivor, spoke for the second generation of victims – especially about the fact that his father remained silent about the horror in order to protect him, his son. “‘Never again’ is by no means an appeal,” said Reif. “‘Never again’ can only be, must only be – ‘never again’ must be – lived, immovable reality.” He was horrified by much of what happened in Germany after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on October 7th. “But what was seen there recently, the big demonstrations by the upright, gives me hope.” –
Holocaust survivor: “‘Never again’ is now!”
91-year-old Eva Szepesi, a generation older than Reif and herself a survivor of the Holocaust, described it in a very similar way: “‘Never again’ is now!” she also shouted to her listeners, including the Federal President and President of the Federal Council, members of parliament and ministers , but also many young people.
At the age of eleven, Szepesi fled from Nazi-occupied Hungary to Slovakia and from there was deported to Auschwitz in November 1944. “I was hit by an icy cold,” Szepesi recalled of the moment when the train carriage door opened on the ramp of the extermination camp.
She had to strip naked in a building. “I had on the blue jacket that my mom had knitted for me and I didn’t have the heart to take it off,” Szepesi said. In the end she did. When her braids were cut off, she stared at her hair in horror. “It was as if my last protection had been taken away.”
“It was January 27, 1945 and I was alive”
When the Soviet Army came close to the German camp a few weeks later, Szepesi was too weak to march out as ordered by the guards – she remained lying among the corpses of deceased women. A Soviet soldier found her there and cooled her lips with melted snow. “It was January 27, 1945 and I was alive,” Szepesi said.
It was simply fate that she and her husband moved from Hungary to the perpetrators’ country, to Frankfurt am Main, in the 1950s. “I can’t hate, I received too much love as a child,” said the old woman. She thinks about her family every day and the question of why she, of all people, survived. “It has become my life’s mission to speak for everyone who can no longer speak.”
But everything has changed for Jews worldwide since October 7th – since “the deadliest attack on Jews since the Shoah.” Some of their performances in schools were canceled for security reasons, and some took place under police protection. “I know that I passed on the trauma of the Shoah to my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But the fact that they now have to experience these existential fears in real life hurts me greatly.”
They are shocked that right-wing extremist parties are being elected again. “They must not become so strong that our democracy is endangered,” she warned. “We’re close.” She still feels protected by democracy. But she is concerned about the willingness to resort to violence, hatred of Jews and hatred of people on the streets. “It’s great that so many people have taken to the streets in the last few weeks to demonstrate against right-wing extremists.”
Now she also wants loud opposition when anti-Semitic or misanthropic statements are made among her friends. She tells the people she speaks to: “You are not to blame for what happened. But you are responsible for what is happening now.” It has never been more important for her to bear witness. “Because never again is now.”
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.