By Ignacio Temiño / Auschwitz (Poland) / Auschwitz survivors and representatives from more than 50 countries attended a memorial at the former Nazi concentration camp on the 75th anniversary of its liberation on Monday.
It was an emotional day with former prisoners at the death camp taking part in the ceremony and calling on the international community not to forget the atrocities committed there.
The sunshine on Monday did not reflect the intense cold and snow that the Soviet soldiers faced to reach the barbed wire of Auschwitz-Birkenau on 27 January 1945.
The troops freed thousands of prisoners who had been abandoned by the Nazis and were on the brink of starvation.
Survivor Batsewa Dagan said: “Even if you opened a dictionary, you would not find a word that would describe how human dignity was trampled.”
She said when prisoners heard shots fired close to the camp they knew it would be liberating troops and the “nightmare was over”.
European royalty and leaders from around the world joined survivors at the ceremony on Monday.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said: “We in Poland know well the truth about what was happening here, as it was recounted by our compatriots, who had camp numbers tattooed on their bodies by Germans.
“It’s been 75 years since the end of that monstrous and horrendous and criminal nightmare that was unfolding in this place for nearly five years.”
He added: “We have here with us today the last living survivors, people who endured the hell of Auschwitz, the last of those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes. And among them those who experienced the fate of the Jewish nation.”
Duda said he wanted to send a message to those who “falsify” the history of World War Two and misrepresent historical facts, deny crimes of genocide and the Holocaust, or use Auschwitz for political purposes and desecrate the memory of the victims.
The memorial event mainly focused on testimony from survivors and was attended by around 200 former prisoners, many of them wearing blue and white stripes to represent the uniform at the camp.
Among them was survivor Elza Baker, of Roma and Sinti descent, who took the floor to demand from the attending leaders that Auschwitz’s memory is not lost.
“In Auschwitz I witnessed mass murder, there were long queues of people in front of the mass murder facilities like the gas chambers and crematoria,” she said.
She said screams could be heard at the camp and added: “I, as an eight-year-old girl, overheard adults saying they must have run out of gas and be burning them alive.”
Baker urged the international community to fight against the “passage of time and oblivion”.
It is estimated that 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed at Auschwitz.
The location is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a 200-hectare memorial museum which was visited in 2019 by almost two million people.
Those who visit pass under the original entrance sign that reads “Arbeit macht frei”, a German phrase which means work sets you free.
The commemoration day also served as a stage for a meeting between the Polish president and his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin after Duda’s refusal to attend the Holocaust Day commemoration ceremony in Jerusalem on Friday.
Duda had refused to travel to the Israeli capital because he was not allowed to give a speech at the ceremony, while other leaders, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, were. (January, 27, 2020, EFE/Practica Español)
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