In honor of the 102 000 Jewish and 220 Sinti and Roma Dutch Holocaust victims a new memorial is being built in the former Jewish quarter in Amsterdam. The idea was presented in 2016 by the Dutch Auschwitz committee and architect Daniel Libeskind who also worked on the Jewish Museum in Berlin. In September 2021 it will be revealed for the public.
Strolling through Amsterdam there are many different monuments to see. They are meant to be a place to commemorate different occasions or people in history. Impressive historical and modern art works that deal with colonialization, apartheid, World War II in general, the Holocaust or Rembrandt. There is the Nationalmonument on the Dam which is built for the victims of the German occupation from 1940-1945, the Anne Frank statue, the Auschwitz monument which commemorates the victims of the Shoah, the Dokwerker that stands for the braveness of the people participating in the Februarystrike in 1941 and several more monuments that are there to ask us to do better in the future and to remember the victims and the events. Up to now, there is no monument in the Netherlands that has listed each individual Holocaust victim. 140 000 Jews lived in the Netherlands in 1940. 102 000 of them did not survive the war.
The Holocaust Memorial of Names is being planned in order to commemorate more individually and personally. The whole monument consists of four Hebrew letters that translate into “In memory of” as you see it from above. If you walk inside, you find yourself in a labyrinth of passageways resulting from the Hebrew letters. The name of each victim, his/her date of birth and age of death are being inscribed on the bricks. Everyone gets his own brick with the intention of making the destinies and existences more “touchable” for us living nowadays. The bricks are the foundation of the monument, the letters on top are made of reflective stainless steel. The walls of names support the four letters which reflect every angle of the monument. Besides the reflection there is more meaning in the choice of the material: brick is a traditional building material in Western Europe, especially in the Netherlands. The geometric forms of the steel letters and a small void separating the brick from the steel symbolize the interruption in the history and culture of Dutch people as well as Amsterdam’s past and present.
The Dutch Auschwitz Comité cooperates with the Jewish Cultural Quarter and the Resistance Museum Amsterdam. Together they enable an impressive tour through the monument for school classes – for free. Students are encouraged to research who we commemorate and why it is important to do so. Besides commemoration, antisemitism and hatred ought to be prevented through the education in relation to the monuments meaning.
Besides visiting the monument, people are also able to be part of it by adopting a name on it. On their website you can look for a specific name or get a name chosen by the computer. In this way people are being encouraged to commemorate, maybe even research the life and destiny of the individual. It might be seen as some kind of “relationship” in order to never forget what happened. Maybe you might want to adopt a name, too?
The Auschwitz Comité and its tasks
Amsterdam, 1945: Hundreds of people are arriving at the Centraal Station in the center of the city. They are no tourists or employees as many are today, no. They once have lived here. They have just escaped death and lived through hell. They come back with nothing but their demolished, dirty clothes on. Maybe they have a small bag with the few belongings there are left. They do not know what there are coming back to – if there is anything they can come back to. Is their house still there? Is it even still their house? Will they see their beloved ones again? At least some of them? How can they find their way back to life if the sky remains broken forever? With questions running through their head, in the middle of the masses streaming out of the Centraal Station, they encounter people waiting outside. Waiting for them? Maybe. Those people come every day – for weeks, for months, maybe even for years. They come to find their friends, families, neighbors. It is hope that keeps them coming.
“It happened therefore it can happen again.”
That is the warning the Auschwitz Comité gives to the public. After the war there was little understanding for the survivors of the concentration camps. Being founded in 1955, the Auschwitz Comité fought and keeps on fighting for the recognition of the pain and sorrow the victims of the Nazi-terror had to live trough.
There are several purposes and objectives of the Auschwitz Comité. A few of them are: Commemorating the Holocaust and spreading knowledge as well as awareness about it. Promoting non-discrimination and enforcement of fundamental rights (Article 1 of the Dutch Constitution) and agitating against violations of human rights.
To bring those purposes to life, they organize several activities, but also plan the building of memorials such as the Auschwitz Monument or the Namenmonument. I will give you a few examples: On the last Sunday in January they organize the annually commemoration “Never again Auschwitz” at the Mirror Monument at Wertheimpark. The thematic magazine “Auschwitz Bulletin” is being published and spread four times per year. Further visits at concentration and extermination camps in Poland are being organized and accompanied by members of the Comité.
As we cannot imagine the fear and pain the victims of the Nazi regime have experienced, the one thing we can do is to show them respect and commemorate them. It is our responsibility to prevent any neglection of human rights that could lead to this inexpressible, horrible actions. Hatred, polarization, misanthropy and xenophobia are a part of our society – we can not deny that. But we can fight it. With education, with civil courage and by keeping history in the present instead of letting it slip into the past. As the contemporary witness Marian Turski says in his speech at the 75th year commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz:
The eleventh commandment is: Do not be indifferent.