This past Monday, the world remembered an event which forever changed the face of humanity. Seventy-five years ago on January 27, the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland was liberated by the Soviet army following a long and brutal war — and some light began to return after one of the darkest chapters in human history. Over 11 million people were murdered during the Holocaust, more than 6 million of them were Jews. In Poland alone, 3 million Jews were murdered — and in Auschwitz alone, 1.5 million lives were lost.
The Survivors of Auschwitz are now in their nineties, and their numbers are dwindling. Who will remember their stories if we do not keep them alive? The Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara’s “Portraits of Survival/Upstanders: Courage in the Face of Evil” permanent exhibit of local survivors and educational program educates more than 1,000 local school children each year, and is committed to keeping these stories and the messages they carry alive for generations to come. Whether hosted at our exhibit — or in schools — students and other groups meet directly with survivors and hear the powerful stories from those who witnessed this history, internalizing the important lessons for their own lives, that we can all be “upstanders,” standing up for what is right and just in our society and the world community. In the words of Elie Wiesel, perhaps the most famous Survivor of Auschwitz: “To hear a witness, is to become a witness oneself.”
Indeed, we truly dare not forget.
Ruth Steinberg is director of Jewish Family Service and Portraits of Survival/Upstanders exhibits .