April marked many significant anniversaries in the history of genocide, so many in fact that each year, several states in America recognise it as Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month. Notable anniversaries include beginning of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, Memorial Day for the Armenian Genocide, the Khmer Rouge seizing power in Cambodia, and liberation of multiple Nazi concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen.

This year is particularly poignant as it marks 70 years since 1945, and therefore 70 years since the liberation of many Nazi camps, including Auschwitz. Notably it is 71 years since the first major Nazi camp was liberated; Soviet forces liberated Majdanek in eastern Poland, in July 1944. However the Nazi camp system continued to function and allied forces liberated camps as they advanced across Europe from both sides.

One of the less talked about anniversaries is that of the liberation of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp by Soviet and Polish troops on April 22, 1945. Sachsenhausen was established north of Berlin and began operation in 1936. It initially held political opponents of the Nazis, but went on to hold Jewish people, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, prisoners from the Soviet Union, and people classed as ‘asocial’ by the Nazis including gypsies. The number of Jewish people held in Sachsenhausen swelled after the 1938 November Pogrom, also known as Kristallnacht. In the days following Kristallnacht the tens of thousands of Jewish people arrested on the orders of Heinrich Himmler, chief of the SS, were taken to three concentration camps; Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, or Dachau.

Dachau was the first concentration camp established by the Nazi regime and began operating in March 1933, shortly after Hitler had been named Chancellor in January. Situated north of Munich, the camp functioned until liberation by American troops on April 29, 1945. Dachau operated for almost the entire duration of the Third Reich, and became the model on which all Nazi concentration camps were based. Tens of thousands of people were murdered in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. Remembering the anniversaries of their liberations in April provides opportunities for learning, raising awareness, and showing respect.

As we move into May, it is perhaps time to consider the importance of continuing remembrance, education, and raising awareness of situations of concern today.

May 9, marks the anniversary of the liberation of Theresienstadt by Soviet troops. Operating from November 1941, in what is now Terezin, Czechoslovakia. It was simultaneously a ghetto, transit camp, and concentration camp. As part of this year’s programme of remembrance the centre has a temporary exhibition to educate visitors about Theresienstadt. However the exhibition is only part of how we encourage people to remember this anniversary, and engage with the past.      

In order to connect with the lessons of the Holocaust, people arguably need more than facts. The sycamore tree pictured below is a tangible link to Theresienstadt in the gardens at The National Holocaust Centre and Museum. It has grown from the seed of a tree secretly grown in Theresienstadt by primary school teacher, Irma Lauscher. The original tree was cherished by children held in the ghetto, as groups of children were deported to Auschwitz, others took over looking after the sapling. After liberation the tree was planted in front of the camp as a memorial.

The tree has special significance for Steven Frank, who was liberated when Soviet troops entered Theresienstadt, and now speaks at the centre. Steven germinated a few seeds from the tree in our garden. These grandchildren of the original tree, the ‘Tree of Life’, were then planted and are part of a group of descendant trees planted around the world. By coming to the centre to tell his story, Steven, along with Martin Stern, who was also held in Theresienstadt make a lasting and significant impression on many visitors to the centre. Therefore the centre offers information, a symbolic and memorialising child of the ‘Tree of Life’, and most importantly, the opportunity to interact with people who were there. Who witnessed the Holocaust first hand, and who have so much to teach us.

With conflict zones and areas of tension across the globe in 2015 including in the Central African Republic, Syria, Iraq, Burma, and Darfur. Along with a resurgence of the radical right wing in Europe. It is essential we increase our efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of prejudice, to remember the past, learn lessons from it, and listen to survivors who have witnessed the most extreme manifestation of prejudice; genocide.


Brandon, Emily (2014) ‘April is Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month’ (1 April 2014), Enough [online]. Available at: http://www.enoughproject.org/blogs/april-genocide-awareness-and-prevention-month (Accessed 5 May 2015).

Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen (2015) ‘Evacuation, Death Marches, Liberation’, Brandenburg Memorials Foundation [online]. Available at: http://www.stiftung-bg.de/gums/en/ (Accessed 5 May 2015).

The State Museum at Majdanek (2006) ‘The History of the Camp’, The State Museum at Majdanek [online]. Available at: http://www.majdanek.eu/articles.php?acid=45 (Accessed 5 May 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2015) ‘Dachau’, USHMM [Online.] Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005214 (Accessed 5 May 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2015) ‘Liberation of Nazi Camps’, USHMM [Online.] Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005131  (Accessed 5 May 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2015) ‘Sachsenhausen’, USHMM [Online.] Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005214 (Accessed 5 May 2015).

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (20 June 2014) ‘Theresienstadt’ Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM [Online]. Available at: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005680 (Accessed 17 January 2015).

Yad Vashem ‘The Ghettos: Theresienstadt’ Yad Vashem [Online]. Available at: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/holocaust/about/03/terezin.asp (Accessed 17 January 2015).