Poland remembers Holocaust victims

Łukasz Gągulski/PAP

Survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau have gathered to commemorate the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German death camp in the final months of World War Two.

Present at the Friday ceremonies that are part of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day were a group of former Auschwitz prisoners as well as Douglas Emhoff, the husband of the of US Vice President Kamala Harris. Russia was not invited to attend following its invasion of Ukraine.

Emhoff's presence at the commemorations was part of the Biden-Harris Administration's efforts to combat antisemitism around the world and support Holocaust remembrance. Emhoff was accompanied by US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt.

The observances were held under the honorary patronage of Andrzej Duda, the Polish president.

Addressing the gathering at the so-called Central Sauna building at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Eva Umlauf, a former Auschwitz inmate and survivor, said that the people who had been hurt by Auschwitz would never forget what they had gone through. She also said that, here, at Auschwitz, "it is the human being and humanity that matter."

Umlauf, born in December 1942 in the Novaky labour camp in Slovakia, was transported to Auschwitz in November 1944.

In this building, which went into use in late 1943, newly arrived Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners were registered and subjected to disinfection.

Zdzislawa Wlodarczyk, another former Auschwitz prisoner and survivor, told the gathering that "today, while standing here at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I am terrified to read reports about a war, which has been going on so close to us."

"Russia, which liberated us here, has now been conducting a war against Ukraine. Why? Why does politics look like this?" Wlodarczyk asked.

Wlodarczyk, born in August 1933, had been deported to Auschwitz from Warsaw in August 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans.

Earlier in the day, wreaths were laid and candles were lit at the Death Wall in the yard of Block 11 where the Germans shot dead thousands of people.

"January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The remembrance and the truth about the Holocaust must continue and be a warning for every generation to come," Andrzej Duda wrote on social media.

"Today, we must be united and determined to oppose the criminal demons that have been committing genocide in the eastern part of Europe," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook.

Having recalled his statement from a year ago that "when the spectre of war is looming over Europe, it is only the truth, cooperation, solidarity and proper conclusions from the tragic history which can ensure that it will not repeat itself," Morawiecki added that never before had these words been so topical as today.

Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau wrote on Twitter that "today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we are bowing our heads to millions of the victims and survivors of the hell of Auschwitz."

Rau added that, 78 years after the liberation of the Nazi-German Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, the cruelty of those times is still remembered, and that hatred had resulted in a planned and terrifying crime. "Its traces will never be forgotten by future generations," he said.

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 was declared a national memorial site. International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the UN on January 27, the anniversary of the camp's liberation.