Ukrainian fascists threaten the peace of Europe, the Polish government blocks the liberators of Auschwitz from attending the commemorative ceremony,  and anti semitic attacks are on the rise in Britain. Mary Davis, professor of labour studies at London Metropolitan University assesses the importance and relevance of the Holocaust.

On this day in 1945 the Red Army marched into Auschwitz and, much to the relief of the residual inmates, liberated it. I say residual inmates because in order to hide their atrocities, the nazis killed and buried as many of the remaining survivors as they could before the Red Army reached the inappropriately named Arbeit Macht Frei main gate. 
Soviet doctors attempted to relieve the suffering of the seriously ill, inmates most of whom had been unable to participate in the forced march through the snow under SS armed guard. 
Primo Levi and Anne Frank’s father Otto were among thousands of others who too ill to participate in the death march. Most of those who did perished.
Auschwitz was not the first concentration camp that Soviet soldiers liberated on nazi territory. 
This dubious privilege belongs to Majdanek — a concentration camp also in Poland where the Red Army witnessed similar appalling horrors, although Auschwitz was particularly horrendous and dire given its sheer size and designation as the destination of the “final solution” for the Jews of Europe.  
Auschwitz was the general term for the network of nazi concentration, death and labour camps established near the Polish city of Oswiecim. 
Together this complex was the largest of all the nazi death camps across nazi-occupied Europe and could hold upwards of 150,000 inmates at any given time.
The complex, which divided into three main areas, was established by the nazis in 1940 and was in use until its Soviet liberation in 1945. 
Historians and analysts estimate the number of people murdered at Auschwitz somewhere between 2.1 million to four million, of whom the vast majority were Jews. 
This is probably an underestimate because the approaching Red Army panicked the nazis into destroying records and also they were so keen to destroy as many Jews in as short a time as possible that they gassed everyone without — at this stage — tattooing them. 
The majority of prisoners held at Auschwitz were killed in the various gas chambers using Zyklon B, though many died from starvation, forced labour, disease, shooting squads and heinous medical experiments carried out by the camp “doctor,” Josef Mengele.
While they were leading the Auschwitz prisoners onto the evacuation marches and afterwards in January 1945, the SS set about its final steps to remove the evidence of the crimes it had committed in the camp.
It made bonfires of documents on the camp streets. It blew up crematoria II and III, which had already been partially dismantled, on January 20, and crematorium V, still in operational condition, on January 26. 
On January 23 it set fire to “Kanada II,” the complex of storage barracks holding property plundered from the victims of extermination. 
The almost 9,000 prisoners left behind in the Main Camp (Stammlager), Birkenau and the sub-camps as unfit to join the evacuation march found themselves in an uncertain situation. 
The majority of them were sick or suffering from exhaustion. The SS intended to eliminate these prisoners and only fortunate coincidences prevented them from doing so. 
The SS did manage to murder about 700 Jewish prisoners in Birkenau and the sub-camps in between the departure of the final evacuation column and the arrival of the Red Army.
The majority of the SS men on duty in the guard towers left Auschwitz on January 20 or 21. However, larger or smaller SS units continued to patrol the camp. 
Wehrmacht units also passed through and joined the SS in plundering the camp warehouses. 
Some prisoners took advantage of the confusion and risked escape. It should be noted that Jewish “sonderkommandos” were not the tame tools of the nazis as is often suggested. 
Amazingly enough, even in the appalling conditions of Auschwitz, these Jews staged a rebellion towards the end of the war. 
In fact there were many rebellions in the camps. Some of them were successful, for example, at Sobibor in 1943. 
It is almost unbelievable to imagine that in conditions of terrible privation, cruelty and starvation, an uprising occurred in which many nazi guards were killed by the inmates, led by Sasha, a Russian Jew.
The liberation of Auschwitz took place 70 years ago. Today there are few Shoah survivors, but there are many who have borne witness. 
The terrible thing is that they are not believed. Holocaust deniers still abound as does visceral anti-semitism. 
In the Stratford area, a number of posters advertising Holocaust Memorial Day have been daubed with the words “liar” and “killer.” 
The attacks on synagogues in Britain has escalated in recent years including my own in Green Lanes which has for the second time been daubed with swastikas. 
How horrifyingly ironic it is given that the elderly rabbi is himself a Holocaust survivor.
Today Auschwitz is a major tourist attraction. Visitor numbers over recent years have risen exponentially. 
I would like to think that a deeper understanding of the Shoah betokens a desire to combat anti-semitism more forcefully, but I doubt it. 
We need to have a better approach to the teaching of history — one that does not equate communism and fascism and gives far greater weight to the role of the Soviet Union in the defeat of the nazis — after all 20 million Soviet citizens were sacrificed.