Between 1941 and 1945, approximately six million Jews and some five million non-Jews were killed by the Nazi regime and its collaborators. Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual recognition of the day that the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated in 1945.
70 years later precious few survivors of the Holocaust remain, so the importance of this day grows as we ensure that these atrocities are never forgotten.
There are memorials, museums, and tributes dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust all over the world, each as important as the last. We’ve selected a handful of the most prominent memorials where people will be marking and remembering these terrible events.
While we know that travel should be fun and inspiring, it is also a way to learn about life. And there are few better ways to learn about being alive, about humanity, than by remembering one of its darkest moments, when so many lives were taken away.
1. Auschwitz (Poland)
Most of the concentration camp sites in Europe have been converted into museums or memorials, but Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland remains the best-known. Between 1941 and 1944 it formed a sprawling complex of camps where a staggering 1.1 million prisoners were killed. It’s the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets on this day in 1945 that International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorates.
Today Auschwitz is one of the most visited Holocaust memorial sites, and much of the complex remains remarkably intact. The railway tracks that brought prisoners to the camp are still in place, and the famous ‘Arbeit macht frei’ sign still stands, although the one displayed in its original position outside the camp is a replica following theft and damage to the original. A trip to Auschwitz is a harrowing experience, but there are few other places that so effectively bring home the horrors of the Holocaust.
2. Anne Frank’s House (The Netherlands)
Located in central Amsterdam, this historic house is where Anne Frank – a young Jewish girl – hid with her family and two others to avoid falling into Nazi hands. During this time she kept a diary, which has become quintessential reading on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, lending a human face to an atrocity sometimes too big to properly comprehend. Tragically she and her family were betrayed, and did not survive the war.
Today the hiding place within the house has been preserved, while the rest of the building forms a museum that is both a memorial to and celebration of Anne Frank’s life. It’s one of the Netherlands’ most visited museums, and its popularity has only grown after it was featured in a key scene of John Green’s insanely successful teen novel The Fault in Our Stars.
3. Yad Vashem (Israel)
Israel is a Jewish country, and the scars of the Holocaust run deep there to this day. Yad Vashem is a vast complex dedicated to its memory. It includes the Holocaust History Museum, arguably the finest in the world on this topic, a gallery of Holocaust art, a synagogue, several memorials, and more. Perhaps the most striking is the Hall of Names, a cone-shaped hall adorned with photographs of Holocaust victims and fragments of Pages of Testimony. These reflect in a deep pool of water set into the ground to represent the numbers of the dead.
Importantly, Yad Vashem also honours non-Jews who risked and lost their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Although this site has become a massive tourist attraction, it remains a sombre, heartbreaking, and quietly beautiful place.
4. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Germany)
Berlin, the capital of the Nazi empire, is a particularly poignant destination to remember the Holocaust, and there are few more striking places to do so than this memorial. It’s a 19,000 square metre site occupied by 2,711 concrete slabs arranged into a grid. They vary in size, some no taller than your ankle, others looming dramatically overhead.
There is a deliberate lack of displayed information; no names of the victims or perpetrators are present, no names of places where people were killed, no tally of the dead. This has drawn criticism from some, but the result is a memorial that allows visitors to comprehend the sheer, terrible scale of the Holocaust.
5. Shoes on the Danube Bank (Hungary)
During World War II, Jews in Budapest were arrested by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen and lined up along the edge of the Danube River. When they were shot their bodies fell into the water and were carried away by the current.
This understated memorial remembers these lives by representing their shoes left behind on the bank. 60 pairs of shoes are attached to the stone embankment, where today people will sit and look out across the water where the bodies drifted away. This memorial ensures that they will never be forgotten.
If you want to find out more about the Holocaust and aren’t able to visit these sites, here is a small selection of the best books on the subject.
The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
The Holocaust – Martin Gilbert
The Earth is Singing – Vanessa Curtis
The Complete MAUS – Art Spiegelman
Once & Then – Morris Gleitzman