Call to avoid 'bloodthirsty dictators'
The sun sets over a smashed crematorium in the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, southern Poland, yesterday. Some 150 survivors of the Nazi atrocities committed there joined Israel's Benjamin Netany, Shimon Peres and others to remember those who perished in the Holocaust. Photograph: Czarek Sokolowski/AP
Death camp survivor: one of 150 who attended the ceremonies
THE SHADOW of Iran’s nuclear ambitions hung over ceremonies yesterday to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
At the former Nazi camp, west of Krakow, survivors were joined by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a wailing siren marked the moment when 7,000 emaciated prisoners were freed by Red Army soldiers on January 27th, 1945.
“This place determined who I am today,” said 90-year-old August Kowalczyk, one of 150 survivors who braved snow and sub-zero temperatures to attend the ceremony.
“I still have one mission – to pass on to the next generation knowledge of what happened here.”
In the Bundestag in Berlin, where flags flew at half-mast, Israeli president Shimon Peres mourned the world’s failure to stop the “death machine” of Auschwitz, and urged the world to act now against “weapons of mass destruction in the hands of irrational people”.
In the city where the Holocaust was planned, the 83-year-old bookended his moving address with the ancient Kaddish prayer for the six million European Jews “reduced to ash”.
The Polish-born Israeli head of state fled with his parent’s family to Palestine in 1934, but told how Nazi officers herded his beloved grandfather and his remaining family into the synagogue in their home town in Wiszniewo, now in Belarus.
“The doors were sealed from outside and the wooden building was set alight,” he said.
“From the entire community, only glowing ash and smoke remained . . . The fire destroyed their bodies but not their spirit.”
Mr Peres thanked Germany for support going back half a century.
In a nod to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped from the map, he added: “Never again can we ignore bloodthirsty dictators who hide behind demagogic masks and use murderous slogans.”
Following him, Polish historian Feliks Tych, a Holocaust survivor, called on former Nazi-occupied states – from France and Holland to Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – to rise above the “Third Reich victim” identity they adopted in the post-war years to admit their complicity in Nazi crimes.
“The co-operation of the Third Reich with allies and police in most occupied countries was characteristic for the German genocide project,” he said.
“The perpetrators, profiteers, informers . . . the view of the Holocaust will remain incomplete and distorted as long as European complicity in these German capital crimes – planned and steered from Berlin – are not a part of our European historical consciousness.”