Following the liberation in 1945, the few remaining survivors found themselves at a precipice. Six million Jews were murdered. The cultural environments of the survivors were destroyed. They were confronted with unanswerable questions about the horror and destruction. These questions propelled the pioneers of Holocaust research into action. They asked themselves how to commemorate those they had lost. Is there an appropriate way to remember the countless dead and the destroyed communities, to give them back their names, their dignity?

© United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Alice Lev
Jewish refugees in the DP camp in Zeilsheim, a city district of Frankfurt, holding a memorial prayer for the victims of the Holocaust.

The sheer monstrosity of what had happened compelled the pioneers to focus on the tangible materials that were left behind. Artifacts that had been saved under perilous conditions helped to create ways of remembrance. Some of these artifacts were prayer books, song books, instruments, photographs and diaries. These personal items formed the base for the development of a culture of remembrance. Some survivors also began to write down their memories. Thus narratives of the past started to develop. In addition, makeshift memorials were created: in many DP camps (Displaced Persons camps) altars were built, around which prayer circles were formed to say a Kaddish for those who had been murdered. In some cases, these memorials outlasted the camps.

Moreover, some of the pioneers of Holocaust research were motivated by an urgent need to assert their humanity in the face of destruction and de-humanization. While working together, a larger community beyond national borders formed. This solidarity also shielded against another moral dimension the Holocaust had brought forth: namely, the averted eyes of the world, the passive complicity in what had happened. The memory of the individuals who had disappeared functioned as an admonition against the silence.

© Ursula Böhme
Demonstration of solidarity for the State of Israel by former camp-inmates in Paris in 1948. Joseph Wulf to the left on the balcony.

During and after the Holocaust, Jewish people from all over Europe have saved, kept safe and shared reminders of a world that had almost entirely vanished. Today’s remembrance of the Holocaust is based on this. Its public expression is found in memorials, murals and documentation centres, but also in literature and film.

The first of two memorials for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The stone plate was unveiled in Warsaw, 1946. Its inscription – written in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish – reads: “For those who fell in an unprecedented and heroic struggle for the dignity and freedom of the Jewish people, for a free Poland, and for the liberation of mankind – Polish Jews.

The Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris is the most important institution of commemoration in France. It consists of a museum and the Centre de documentation Juive Contemporaine (Centre for Contemporary Jewish Documentation). It was founded in 1943 by Isaac Schneersohn, Léon Poliakov and others to document the extermination of the Jewish population of France, as well as to preserve memories and to facilitate prosecution of perpetrators. The archive that emerged from this collection is housed in the museum. Since the opening in 2005, the Mémorial de la Shoah continues to be a centre of remembrance.

© Archiv der Gedenkstätte Auschwitz
The entrance to the museum of the Auschwitz memorial site, 1948.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
Today, Auschwitz is synonymous with the biggest crime in human history. 1.2 million people were murdered here. The Polish government made the former concentration and extermination camp into a museum and memorial on 2 July 1947. During the first year, 170,000 people visited the memorial. Since then, more than 45 million people from all over the world have been at the site as visitors. In 1979, it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The number of visitors increases yearly.

© dpa/picture alliance/Ilia Yefimovich, 101508276
Every year on Yom HaShoah, sirens wail at 10 a.m. and life comes to a halt for two minutes.

Holocaust Remembrance Days
In December 1948, the first Holocaust remembrance day was organized in Israel. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the members of former Jewish communities of Europe and Prime Minister David Ben Gurion officially decreed a national day of mourning, called Yom HaShoah, in April of 1952. Later on, other countries as well declared different days to commemorate the Holocaust. The International Holocaust Remembrance Day has been honored internationally since 2005: commemorative events are held worldwide on 27 January, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army.

© The Bidder Auctions
The Yizkor-Book about the Jewish population of the Polish city Wołkowysk (today in Belarus), 1949. It reconstructs the history of the Jewish community of this city up until when almost all its members were murdered during the Holocaust. Testimonies of survivors served as the base for its content.

Yizkor (Memory) are books that commemorate destroyed Jewish communities, in particular of Eastern Europe. These are collections of memories of those who escaped destruction. It is their memories that can in parts reconstruct the Jewish history of Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. The Yizkor-Books also often included diary entries, poems and letters, as well as death registries. Already in 1943, a Yizkor-Book dedicated to the memory of the Jews of Łódź was published in New York. Committees of survivors later wrote Yizkor-Books in Yiddish and in Hebrew.