German Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum dies aged 101

German Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, a key witness in recent trials of alleged Nazi war criminals, has died aged 101, the International Auschwitz Committee (IAC) told AFP on Monday.

Leon Schwarzbaum
Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum, pictured in Potsdam in 2019 at the age of 98. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

Schwarzbaum died on Sunday night, according to Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the IAC.

“His death represents a great loss to the collective memory. We will all miss his anger and humanity,” Heubner said.

Schwarzbaum testified in 2016 against former Auschwitz camp guard Reinhold Hanning, who was sentenced to five years in prison but died a few months after the verdict before he could go to jail.

In late 2021, Schwarzbaum also appeared as a witness in the trial of Josef Schütz, a 101-year-old former guard at the Sachsenhausen camp.

He had been due to participate in a further hearing of that trial this week, Thomas Walther, a lawyer specialising in Nazi war crimes, told AFP.

In a written statement due to be read by Walther, Schwarzbaum had planned to ask the accused to “tell us the historical truth”.

“Speak here in this place about what you experienced — as I have done for my part,” he wrote.

READ ALSO: Holocaust survivor urges Germany to fight ‘cancer’ of hatred

Schwarzbaum had often expressed anger and regret that so few Nazi war criminals had been brought to justice, especially in Germany.

He “did not want hatred, he wanted justice”, the IAC said in a statement.

Schwarzbaum was born in 1921 into a Polish Jewish family in Hamburg but grew up in Bedzin, Upper Silesia, in present-day Poland before his family was deported to Auschwitz in 1943.

He was the only member of his family to survive the camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and a sub-camp of the Sachsenhausen complex north of Berlin.

He later worked in Berlin as an art and antiques dealer, while also campaigning tirelessly to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive through lectures and talks around the world.

“It is with great sadness, respect and gratitude that Holocaust survivors  all over the world bid farewell to their friend, fellow sufferer and companion Leon Schwarzbaum, who in the last decades of his life became one of the most important contemporary witnesses of the Shoah,” Heubner said in a statement.

READ ALSO: Germany welcomes UN resolution against Holocaust denial

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Germany welcomes UN resolution against Holocaust denial

The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a non-binding resolution calling on all member states to fight against Holocaust denial and anti Semitism, especially on social media.

A Holocaust memorial in Opernplatz, Hanover.
A Holocaust memorial in Opernplatz, Hanover. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

The Israeli-proposed text was developed with the help of Germany and co-sponsored by several dozen of the 193 states that make up the United Nations.

Iran, however, expressed opposition to the resolution, stating that Tehran dissociated itself from the text.

The resolution “rejects and condemns without any reservation any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event, either in full or in part,” according to the text.

The Holocaust saw the genocide of six million European Jews between 1939 and 1945 by the Nazis and their supporters.

The text “commends” countries that preserve sites of former Nazi death camps, concentration camps, forced labor camps, execution sites and prisons
during the Holocaust.

READ ALSO: US and Germany launch plan to combat Holocaust denial

It also urges UN members to develop educational programs “to help to prevent future acts of genocide” and calls on states and social media companies to “take active measures to combat anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial or distortion.”

In a statement, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, welcomed the “historic resolution,” which had been negotiated for several months.

The text “for the first time, gives a clear definition of Holocaust denial, calls on countries to take steps in the fight against anti-Semitism,” and demands for social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to fight the “hateful content” on their platforms.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, in a joint statement welcomed the resolution, which they said served as proof that the international community “speaks with one voice” on the subject.

A resolution in 2005 designated January 27th as an international day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Israel, additionally welcomed the passage of the resolution.

“Holocaust distortion is so dangerous because, quite plainly, it misrepresents essential facts of history in order to legitimize past and present misdeeds,” said its director Dani Dayan.

“The Holocaust carries substantial relevance for many vital contemporary issues. Denying and distorting the uniqueness and unprecedented aspects of events is not only detrimental to the memory of the Holocaust but to that of other atrocities and genocides as well,” he added.

READ ALSO: ‘We will fight for our Germany’: Holocaust survivor issues warning to far right