Survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp have marked the 75th anniversary of its liberation – returning to the place where they lost entire families.
About 200 people who witnessed the atrocities of the Holocaust attended the commemoration in southern Poland – many of them elderly Jews and non-Jews who travelled from Israel, the US, Australia, Peru, Russia and elsewhere.
Together, they prayed and wept – and warned about the ominous growth of antisemitism and hatred in the world.
Image: Survivors and their families laid candles at the Auschwitz memorial
Jeanette Spiegel, now 96, was 20 years old when she was brought to Auschwitz.
Fighting back tears, she said: “Young people should understand that nothing is for sure, that some terrible things can happen and they have to be very careful.
“I think they pick on the Jews because we are such a small minority and it is easy to pick on us.”
Yvonne Engelman, 92, escaped death at Auschwitz because the gas chamber did not work on the day she was due to be executed.
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“We could hear children coughing, crying, choking from the gas and also the smell of human flesh and the great fear we experienced that maybe you will be the next victim,” she said.
Drone footage of Auschwitz concentration camp
David Marks, 91, lost 35 relatives in Auschwitz. His voice cracked as he said: “We would like that the next generation know what we went through, and it should never happen again.
“A dictator doesn’t come up from one day to the other. If we don’t watch it, one day you wake up and it’s too late.”
Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders also attended the commemoration, along with presidents and prime ministers.
Holocaust survivors walk into Auschwitz
Polish President Andrzej Duda said: “We have with us the last living survivors, the last among those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes.
“The magnitude of the crime perpetrated in this place is terrifying, but we must not look away from it and we must never forget it.”
Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, told the crowd about a survivor who was separated from his family – a man who watched his young daughter, in a red coat, walk to her death.
He said: “Do not ever let this happen again to any people.
“[When] the world finally saw pictures of gas chambers, nobody in their right mind wanted to be associated with the Nazis.
“But now I see something I never thought I would see in my lifetime, the open and brazen spread of anti-Jewish hatred.”
Image: Some Polish survivors wore striped scarves to reflect what they wore at Auschwitz
The survivors gathered under an enormous, heated tent straddling the train tracks that had transported victims to Birkenau, where they were killed in gas chambers and cremated.
Auschwitz was established in 1940 to carry out Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” to exterminate European Jews, and was liberated by the Soviet army on 27 January 1945.
Most of the 1.1 million people murdered by the Nazi German forces at the camp were Jews, but other Poles, Russians and Roma were imprisoned and killed there.
Image: Some of those in attendance had travelled from Israel, the US and Australia
Poland’s president spoke of the chilling efficiency of the Nazis’ genocidal plan, adding: “For years the factory of death operated at full capacity. Smoke was rising from the chimneys, the transports were rolling. People walked and walked in their thousands. To meet their death.”
Mr Duda also warned: “Distorting the history of World War Two, denying the crimes of genocide and negating the Holocaust as well as an instrumental use of the Auschwitz for whatever purposes is tantamount to desecration of the memory of the victims.”
In 2019, a survey suggested that approximately one in four Europeans harbours a “pernicious and pervasive” attitude towards Jews, compared with one in five Americans.
According to the Anti-Defamation League’s research, two in five Germans also agree with the statement that “Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust”.
Source : Sky News