Poland commemorates Auschwitz liberation anniversary

Polish Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski appealed against indifference to the tragedy of Auschwitz. “Do not be indifferent when any authority violates accepted and existing social contracts. Be faithful to the (...) eleventh commandment: do not be indifferent.” Łukasz Gągulski/PAP

The main observations of the 75th liberation anniversary of the World War Two Nazi-German death camp Auschwitz launched on Monday afternoon on the camp's memorial site in southern Poland.

Attending the ceremony were delegates from numerous countries and international organisations, including around 200 Auschwitz and Holocaust survivors, four of whom addressed the gathering.

The ceremony was opened by President Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda. In his address, Duda recalled that the Auschwitz camp symbolised the main site of the Holocaust during World War Two.

"We have come here together – members of 61 delegations from all over the world – to jointly commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day. We are standing in front of the gate leading to the camp which claimed the lives of the biggest number of victims and which has become the symbol of the Shoah. We pay tribute to all the six million Jews murdered in this and other camps, in the ghettos and places of torture," Duda said.

Duda went on to say that as the main Holocaust site Auschwitz was unique, as at no other time and in no other place in history had extermination been carried out in this way.

"The Holocaust, of which Auschwitz is the main place and the main symbol, constituted an unexampled crime throughout the whole of history. Here, the hatred, chauvinism, nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism assumed the form of a mass, organised, methodical murder. At no other time and at no other place was extermination carried out in a similar manner," the president said.

In his address, Piotr Cywiński, head of the Auschwitz Museum located on the camp site, voiced concern over the reemergence of anti-Semitic and racist ideas, and deplored the world's growing indifference to such phenomena.

"Today we can observe the resurgence of old demons almost everywhere. On the rise are ant-Semitism, racism and xenophobia (...), we are becoming increasingly indifferent, closed within ourselves, apathetic, passive," Cywinski said. He added that "the silence after the Holocaust is not human and will never be human again. After the Holocaust, our silence today signifies our bitter defeat, our own dehumanisation."

World Jewish Congress (WJC) president Ronald Lauder said Auschwitz was a trauma that never subsided, and wondered if he would have been alive today if he had not been born in the US.

"Auschwitz is like a scar from a terrible trauma. It never goes away and the pain never stops. I have always wondered, if I had been born in Hungary, where my grandparents were from, instead of New York in February, 1944, would I have lived? The answer is: no. I would have been one of the 438,000 Hungarian Jews gassed by the Nazis in 1944 right here in Auschwitz. I can assure you, almost all Jews have pondered this question.

"Seventy five years ago today, when Soviet troops entered these gates, they had no idea what lay behind them. And since that day the entire world has struggled with what they found inside." Lauder said.

Former Auschwitz inmate Bat-Sheva Dagan recalled that the world did nothing to save the Holocaust victims. "Where were you all, where was the world, which saw and heard and did nothing to save so many thousands of people?" Dagan asked.

Polish Auschwitz survivor Marian Turski appealed against indifference to the tragedy of Auschwitz. "Do not be indifferent when any authority violates accepted and existing social contracts,. Be faithful to the (...) eleventh commandment: do not be indifferent. Because if you don't, you won't even know when 'some sort of Auschwitz' will fall from the sky right onto you and your kin," Turski warned.

Another former Auschwitz inmate, Stanisław Zalewski, emphasised the importance of historical truth and forgiveness for true reconcilement. "Reconcilement without historical truth and forgiveness will merely be a barrierless bridge between two edges of a chasm. It will be crossable, but not without fear," Zalewski said.

Elsa Baker, a Sinti Auschwitz survivor, said that the martyrdom of Sinti and Roma at Auschwitz had been all but overlooked over the years following World War Two. Baker appealed for the camp's victims and survivors never to be forgotten.

The Germans established the Auschwitz camp in 1940, initially for the imprisonment of Poles. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was opened two years later and became the main site for the mass extermination of Jews. There was also a network of sub-camps in the complex. The Germans killed at least 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, mainly Jews, but also Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war.

It was liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. In 1947, the camp site was declared a national memorial site.