As 2018 draws to an end, we looked back at our social media channels to see what resonated most with our audience. You read stories about the courage of individuals and personal agency, about how we safeguard the truth through the testimony of survivors, and about how history serves as a guide for combating hate today.
We think they’ll still resonate as the calendar turns. Here are the Museum’s top Instagram posts of 2018:
In a grainy black-and-white photograph that depicts a chilling scene outside the Auschwitz-Birkenau killing center, 13-year-old Irene Weiss was photographed in a crowd of people.
The image was tucked away for more than 35 years. It is part of the “Auschwitz Album,” which is the only surviving photographic evidence that documents the arrival and selection process at the killing center.
Irene tells the story of this photo, this horrible day, and what it’s like to survive. She still questions: “Who would have ever thought that being with my mother was the more dangerous place to be?”
“Sometimes I am asked if I know ‘the response’ to Auschwitz; … not only do I not know it, but I don’t even know if a tragedy of this magnitude has a response.”—Elie Wiesel
After going through the selection process upon arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Perla Schwartz, an elderly Jewish woman from Subcarpathian Rus was selected for death. In this photo, she waits on the ramp to be taken to the gas chambers.
The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was established in the spring of 1940 near German-occupied Oswiecim, Poland, consisting of three main camps: Auschwitz I, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Auschwitz-Monowitz.
By the end of January 1945, when Soviet Troops liberated the remaining prisoners in Auschwitz, approximately 1.1 million people had been murdered.
January 27 marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
In order to protect her daughter, Josiane, Fanny Aizenberg was faced with an agonizing decision. After Germany invaded Belgium in May 1940, Fanny became involved with the Belgian resistance. Through these connections, Fanny arranged for a hiding place for Josiane. “I had a young child … two ladies came to take her into hiding. I didn’t know them. I was not allowed to know where she was going to be in hiding … . She was crying and screaming, but she was in hiding, and thank God, she survived.” Fanny was eventually discovered and arrested and deported to Auschwitz. She endured medical experimentations, beatings, forced labor, and a death march. Her only encouragement was from other women at the camp who gave her hope that she would see her child again.
In April 1945, after liberation by Soviet forces, Fanny returned to Belgium, where she was reunited with Josiane.
While sharing her experience in an interview, Josie said, “When you see injustice, when you see people inflicting pain on other people, you’ve got to say something. One person can make a big difference.” Today, Fanny and Josie volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.*
*In August, Fanny died at age 101.
“I do not know you,” a man said to a Jewish woman on the street, “but you will now be greeted often. We are a group who say ‘Hello’ to Jews wearing the star.” Victor Klemperer recorded this encounter between his friend and a German stranger in his diary on November 24, 1941. The Nazis had forced Jews in Germany — like this man on a busy street in Munich — to wear the Star of David badge earlier that year as a way to ostracize and isolate them. The fact that Victor noted the act of kindness in his diary suggests how unusual it was at a time of intense persecution. Even something as simple as greeting a neighbor can be an important sign of solidarity.
On Global Running Day, we introduce you to Holocaust survivor and marathon runner Nat Shaffir. Last October, when he ran the Marine Corps Marathon, he dedicated his race to Holocaust survivors.
Aside from his running routine, Nat volunteers at the Museum. He shares his story with young people in hopes that they will pass it on. “It’s our duty and our responsibility to humanity, for all of us, to speak out so atrocities like this will never happen again.”
On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we remember the ways women experienced terror during the Holocaust. Rape was not uncommon in concentration camps, and women lived under the looming threat of sexual violence. Some female prisoners were even forced to work in brothels. Others endured invasive medical experiments.
Etka Litman (far right) survived the Lodz ghetto and four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Six months after her liberation, she and a few other young women survivors donned their concentration camp uniforms again and posed for this photo. Etka and her fellow survivors are a striking example of hope and bravery in the face of years of violent trauma.
A young Jewish woman writes her last letter. An elderly woman selected for deportation bids farewell to her son. A child talks to his family for the last time. As families said goodbye and people wrote their last words to loved ones, photographer Mendel Grosman captured the last moments on his camera.
Beginning December 8, 1941, Jews from surrounding areas were deported to the Chelmno killing center, the first of its kind established by the Nazi regime. Chelmno, open through January 1942, was the first stationary facility where poison gas was used for mass murder of Jews. At least 152,000 people, including children, were murdered in Chelmno.
Even in the darkest days, Jews have celebrated Hanukkah. Above, Jews in the Westerbork camp light Hanukkah candles inside crowded barracks. According to one survivor, many of the young people in this photograph were sent to Auschwitz the day after the photograph was taken.
The menorah is one of the best-known symbols of Judaism, and it’s lit for eight consecutive nights during the festival of Hanukkah. The holiday, which begins today, commemorates the victory of the Jews, led by the Maccabees, against the Hellenic King Antiochus III of Syria in the second century BCE. After the battle, Jews returned to the Temple in Jerusalem and reconsecrated it.
Hanukkah is a time of celebration, family gatherings, and gift giving. It is also a celebration that has special poignancy in the wake of the Holocaust. It offers Jews a reminder that they are more than victims, but victors, too.
In July, Holocaust survivors wrote an open letter on Holocaust denial:
For many years and with increasing concern, we survivors of the Holocaust have closely followed the growing phenomenon of Holocaust denial and distortion in the US, Europe and the Middle East. To witness people question the veracity of the horrific tragedy that destroyed our families and obliterated our communities is deeply painful. But beyond the personal offense, Holocaust denial is something more. It is dangerous. To all of us.
As noted historian Deborah Lipstadt, the leading scholar on Holocaust denial, wrote: “Deniers, who today clearly feel more emboldened than ever before, are not the equivalents of flat earth theorists, nor are they just plain loonies….They are white supremacists and anti-Semites. Their agenda is to reinforce and spread the very hatred that produced the Holocaust.” We are very grateful that there are many institutions, such as the US Holocaust Memorial Museum where we serve as volunteers, that teach the public the truth about the Holocaust. And, we are very grateful that this nation values and protects free speech, which was not true in the lands of our birth.
But the rise of the internet and the prevalence of social media are challenging our society with new questions about how our democracy can responsibly manage free speech. We call on leaders in government, technology, media, education and civil society to take on this issue as an urgent matter for our nation’s future.
We know from experience that hate begins with words. But left unchecked, that is not where it ends.
Moving into 2019, we hope that you will to continue to be inspired to take action against hate, preserve the memory of Holocaust survivors, and learn the history of the Holocaust.
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.” — Anne Frank
Hannah Meyer is a social media specialist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.