The United Nations International Human Rights Day on 10 December commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted in 1948.
The UDHR, established to eschew the atrocities seen throughout the world wars from reoccurring, posits in Article 1, “Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.”
The Nuremberg trials, held between 1945 and 1946, convicted leading Nazi officials of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; the aftermath of the Holocaust and the subsequent trials prompted universal consensus on the need to establish appropriate conventions to circumvent future attacks on human rights.
Let’s explore some of the articles from the UDHR and their importance for humanity on a global scale.
Article 17: The right to property
“Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.”
When the Nazis seized power in 1933, the process of ‘Aryanisation’ began. Jews were pressured to transfer their businesses into non-Jewish ownership, selling at a fraction of their value. The deprivation of Jews of their income and homes led to many Jews applying to emigrate to other countries. This became more urgent after Kristallnacht, when Jews were no longer legally able to own property.
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From 1939, the Nazis established ghettos in the cities with large Jewish populations and forced Jews from their homes into cramped, unsanitary spaces. When deportations of European Jews began as early as 1941, their property was confiscated by the state and was either auctioned or distributed to the non-Jewish population.
Holocaust survivor Paul Grinwald experienced this when his family home in Paris was appropriated during the war. After surviving the Holocaust, Paul and his family had no home to return to after liberation in 1945. Eventually, the Grinwald family took the matter to court and won their apartment back.
Article 25: The right to a standard of living
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
The Nazi regime was built on the dehumanisation of the Jewish population. By forcing Jews to live in overcrowded ghettos and camps without access to basic provisions such as food, water, and sanitation, the Nazis attempted to take away people’s sense of humanity.
Holocaust survivor Kitia Altman was one of many Jews subjected to this brutality when incarcerated in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the standard of living was notoriously unfit for human existence.
Kitia’s strength to survive the conditions of Auschwitz-Birkenau was bolstered by her relationship with her friend, Cesia, whom she met in a factory in Bedzin.
Kitia and Cesia would reminisce on what it was like to “sit on a chair and eat a bowl of soup with a spoon.”
It was in these moments, Kitia regained a glimmer of human spirit amidst the inhumanity that engulfed the camp.
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Article 18: The right to religion
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his/her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”
Throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, religious Jews were forced to hide their faith in fear of persecution. Holocaust survivor Lusia Haberfeld was one of millions of Jews stripped of the right to practice their religion freely.
Although the Nazis took away this fundamental human right, it did not deter Lusia from observing her faith.
Lusia arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau in July 1943. On Yom Kippur — the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar — amidst the starvation that enveloped Auschwitz-Birkenau, Lusia observed a traditional fast.
Despite her harrowing experiences, Lusia’s faith remains strong today. We celebrate the UDHR and its aim to protect every individual, including Lusia, to practice their religion free from persecution.
To hear more from Holocaust survivors and their experiences please visit our Eyewitness Testimony project.
Header image | Inside the courtroom a prosecuter speaks during the Nuremberg trials. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Morris Rosen