Over 200 Holocaust survivors and delegates from more than 50 countries have gathered at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau on Monday to mark the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by Soviet troops.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with three survivors in Berlin in the morning before travelling together with them to the site of the camp in Poland.
Hermann Höllenreiter, Peter Gardosch and Pavel Tussig were all deported to Auschwitz as children. They were guests of honor at the German president’s official residence, Bellevue Palace in Berlin.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his wife Elke Buedenbender speak to Peter Gardosch, Hermann Josef Hoellenreiner and Pavel Taussig
The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, told DW that “speeches are not enough to stop anti-Semitism.” He blamed the internet for spreading hate against Jews, and called for greater legislation to police hate crime.
“We have to stop that. Unfortunately most governments just talk, they don’t do it,” he said.
‘Truth about the Holocaust must not die’
Polish President Andrzej Duda is hosting the commemoration, although the main speeches at the event are set to be delivered by Holocaust survivors.
“People were seen like sheep to be slaughtered,” Duda said in his opening remarks, referring to the former concentration camp as a “factory of death.”
“At no other place was extermination carried out in a similar manner,” he said, calling the Holocaust the most appalling crime in history.
“The truth about the Holocaust must not die,” Duda added. “I have the privilege and honour of renewing Poland’s obligation … to nurture the memory of and guard the truth about what happened here.”
Read more: Auschwitz’s harrowing history
The official ceremony is taking place in front of the infamous “Gate of Death,” which victims passed through before being murdered.
Fight against anti-Semitism
Among the survivors are representatives from the United States, Canada, Israel, Australia, and several European countries. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is also present, less than a week after hosting the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, which President Steinmeier also attended.
“Today we hear voices which spread hate, on the internet, on the street and in the centers of political power… Our duty is to fight anti-Semitism, racism and fascist nostalgia, those sick evils that … threaten to eat away at the foundations of our democracies,” Rivlin told reporters at a venue near the camp, ahead of the ceremony.
Royalty from Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands are in attendance, as well as a Russian delegation. The Soviet Russian Red Army liberated the camp in January 1945.
The commemoration is taking place amid concerns of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world.
Read more: Opinion: Do Jews have a future in Europe?
“When you have a small infection on your finger, you do not wait until your entire hand has gangrene to fight the infection. The same is true for anti-Semitism,” Poland’s chief rabbi Michael Schudrich said before the ceremony.
More than 1 million people, most of them Jews, were murdered at the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland before it was liberated in January 1945.
lc,ed/rt (Reuters, dpa)