Moving commemoration in the Bundestag

For decades, Germany has commemorated the victims of National Socialism on 27 January. This time, the survivor Inge Auerbacher spoke. 

Bewegendes Gedenken im Bundestag

Berlin (dpa) - Calm and collected, Inge Auerbacher once again told her story. "I am a Jewish girl from the village of Kippenheim in Baden," the 87-year-old Holocaust survivor said on Thursday under the dome of the Reichstag building. Even after decades in her new home in New York, Auerbacher still has a kindly Baden accent; she talks of reconciliation and speaks out against hatred. But her account as she looks back at her life in Kippenheim is harrowing. "I was the last Jewish child born there."

The Bundestag commemorated the victims of National Socialism on Holocaust Remembrance Day in a ceremony attended by the country’s leaders. 77 years after the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz on 27 January 1945, there is now much debate about the right culture of remembrance - the federal government's anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, has just warned against remembrance becoming frozen in "formulas and rituals". But there was nothing formulaic about Auerbacher's speech. She spoke of a horror that will never fade away.

It took the old lady just 25 minutes to describe her inconceivable life. Her involuntary move from Kippenheim to live with her grandparents, the forced labour of her parents, the horribly long journey to the only Jewish school in Stuttgart, the mockery incited by the yellow Jewish star. In 1942, the family was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where they lived crammed together with thousands of others, with rats and vermin, with disease and hunger. "The most important words for us were bread, potatoes and soup. Our whole lives revolved around food."

One day, when her playmate Ruth was moved on with her parents to Auschwitz, the two girls vowed to visit each other later. "Dear Ruth, I'm here in Berlin to visit you," Inge Auerbacher cried in the Bundestag, close to tears. But Ruth was murdered in one of the gas chambers in Auschwitz. "She didn't even live to see her tenth birthday."

The Auerbacher family, on the other hand, was liberated by the Red Army in Theresienstadt in 1945. In 1946 they emigrated to New York, where Inge Auerbacher struggled for years with illnesses as a result of the camp. She finally left those behind her as well. She managed to go to school after all, went to university and then worked for decades as a chemist.

The Holocaust survivor connected only one political message with her story: a commitment to fight hatred and anti-Semitism. "Unfortunately, this cancer has reawakened, and hatred of Jews is once again commonplace in many countries around the world, including Germany," Auerbacher said. "This disease must be cured as soon as possible."