World leaders visit Auschwitz with remaining survivors

Former prisoners of death camp recall horrors and appeal for past to be learnt from

Seventy years after the Red Army liberated the Nazi camp’s 7,000 remaining prisoners, the 300 elderly survivors supported each other on their walk down the railway line, past the notorious selection ramp, towards the former gas chambers and crematoriums. Photograph: Andrzej Grygiel/Poland Out

Seventy years after the Red Army liberated the Nazi camp’s 7,000 remaining prisoners, the 300 elderly survivors supported each other on their walk down the railway line, past the notorious selection ramp, towards the former gas chambers and crematoriums. Photograph: Andrzej Grygiel/Poland Out

 

The last 300 survivors of Auschwitz paid a final visit to the snow-covered former death camp yesterday to urge the world to remember the 1.1 million people murdered there: family, friends, and those with no one left to remember them.

Exactly 70 years after the Red Army liberated the Nazi camp’s 7,000 remaining prisoners, the elderly survivors supported each other on their walk down the railway line, past the notorious selection ramp, towards the former gas chambers and crematoriums.

In the icy night air, followed by heads of state, government and other official representatives, the survivors laid candles at the memorial to the dead.Though mostly Jews from all over Europe, Polish political prisoners, Sinti-Roma and homosexuals also perished here by poisoned gas, bullet, violence, disease or exhaustion.

In a memorial ceremony, held in a tent surrounding the Auschwitz-Birkenau “Death Gate”, survivors wiped away tears with their former prisoner caps as they recalled their torment.

“The look of pleasure on murderers’ faces – their laughter as they tortured innocent men, women and children – is beyond description and lingers in my consciousness,” said Rowan Kent, a survivor who now lives in New York.

Conscious that they are a dwindling number, many survivors echoed Eugeniusz Dabrowski, who drew a line from the world of Auschwitz to the world of today.

“We need to remind young people that peace cannot be achieved through war but by a round table,” he said.

Conspicuous absence

UkraineVladimir Putin

At a ceremony in Moscow’s Jewish Museum, Mr Putin attacked as “unacceptable and immoral” a suggestion by Poland’s foreign minister that Ukrainian soldiers, rather than the Soviet Red Army, liberated the camp on January 27th, 1945.

Russians comprised 70 per cent of the Soviet army that “defeated Nazism and stopped the horrific machine of extermination”.

In a nod to the “tragedy in eastern Ukraine”, Mr Putin warned of “double standards, indifference to and disregard for another man’s fate”.

Earlier in Berlin, German president Joachim Gauck told the Bundestag that “there is no German identity without Auschwitz”.

Amid German marches against the supposed “Islamisation” of Europe, Mr Gauck said Germany had an ongoing moral duty to show solidarity with all cultures, religions and minorities.

In Paris, meanwhile, the recent attacks overshadowed the French memorial ceremony when President François Hollande knocked back a recent invitation to France’s 550,000 Jews to resettle in Israel by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“Your place is here, in your home,” said Mr Hollande at the Shoah Memorial. “France will protect all its children and will tolerate no insult, no outrage, no desecration.”

Representing Ireland at Auschwitz, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said the Holocaust’s origins in intolerance and prejudice obliged all today to remain “vigilant in our promotion of equality and tolerance and our defence of fundamental human rights”.