Two days ago marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945. The solemn anniversary was marked with quiet remembrance around the world. Delivering an address before the UN General Assembly, Holocaust survivor Jona Laks pronounced: “Not only people died in Auschwitz, the idea of humanity perished as well. The message is not to forget and that human life is sacred.” Human life is sacred. When we lose sight of that truth, we end at the train tracks at Auschwitz.
What does it mean for human life to be called sacred? The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
I visited the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau two years ago during a pilgrimage to Poland. And although time has passed, my recollection of the experience has not waned. In many ways, my visit was indescribable. I cannot fully express what I felt there. It sits deep within the recesses of my heart where words cannot go. There was a solemnity to my visit that bordered on a religious experience. Walking the through the rows of empty bunkers in the cold Polish winter, I felt the weight of the terrible human tragedy that unfolded here. In the gas chamber, all I could think of were the million souls whose last minutes on earth were spent here. It is one thing to read about the Holocaust in a work of fiction, but the best novel is still inadequate. Because Auschwitz is reality. It happened. And it serves as a reminder that we must defend the sacredness of all human life, from conception until natural death.