Survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp prayed and cried Monday as they marked the 75th anniversary of its liberation. The Soviet army freed the prisoners there on January 27, 1945.
At a special ceremony, the survivors reminded today’s leaders of the lessons of the war against Hitler. They noted that everyday people did horrible things to the prisoners held in camps like Auschwitz. They also warned of the signs of rising anti-Semitism and hatred in the world today.
Last living survivors
“We have with us the last living survivors, the last among those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes,” Polish President Andrzej Duda told those at the event.
Most of the 1.1 million people murdered by the Nazi German forces at Auschwitz were Jewish. Non-Jewish Poles, Russians and Roma also were imprisoned and killed there.
Around 200 survivors of the camp attended Monday’s event. They had traveled from Israel, the United States, Australia, Peru, Russia and other countries. Many of them lost parents and grandparents in Auschwitz or other Nazi death camps. They returned to Poland with their own children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.
Ronald Lauder, the head of the World Jewish Congress, led the ceremony along with Duda.
Lauder said he never thought he would see the spread of anti-Jewish messages worldwide again. He called anti-Semitism a “deadly virus” that must be stopped.
He ended his speech with a warning: “Do not let this happen again, to any people!”
The day before Monday’s ceremony, the survivors walked through the camp where they had suffered hunger and illness and came close to death. Many of them leaned on their children and grandchildren for support.
The survivors said they had come to remember and share their stories with others. They also wanted to show that, in the end, the Nazis did not destroy them.
No graves for her parents
Ninety-two-year-old Yvonne Engelman was among the survivors who came to Poland for the anniversary. She traveled from her home in Australia. Family members from around the world joined her. She came in part in memory of her parents, who both died in the camp.
“I have no graves to go to and I know my parents were murdered here and burned. So this is how I pay homage to them,” she said.
Englelman described how the Nazis brought her from a ghetto in Czechoslovakia by cattle car. They then took her clothes, removed her hair and put her in a gas chamber. But for some reason, the gas chamber that day did not work. She went on to survive slave labor and a death march.
Jeanette Spiegel is a 96-year-old survivor. She was 20 years old when the Nazis took her to Auschwitz. She was there for nine months. Today she lives in New York City. She fears the increasing anti-Semitic violence in the United States.
She tried not to cry as she spoke. She said, “Young people should understand that nothing is for sure, that some terrible things can happen and they have to be very careful. And that, God forbid, what happened to the Jewish people then should never be repeated.”
Also on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke at the Shoah Memorial in Paris. The memorial serves as the country’s Holocaust museum. Macron warned about rising hate crimes in France, which increased 27 percent last year.
“That anti-Semitism is coming back is not the Jewish people's problem: It's all our problem, it's the nation's problem,” Macron said.
I’m Jill Robbins.
Vanessa Gera reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
What do you think of the warnings by the Auschwitz survivors? Are people where you live also fighting anti-Semitism? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.
Words in This Story
death camp – n. a kind of concentration camp, a type of prison where large numbers of people who are not soldiers are kept during a war and are usually forced to live in very bad conditions, and in the case of a death camp, are brought to be killed
anti-Semitism – n. hatred of Jewish people
lean – v. to rest on or against something or someone for support
grave – n. a hole in the ground for burying a dead body
homage – n. respect or honor
ghetto – n. a part of a city in which members of a particular group or race live usually in poor conditions
the Holocaust – n. the killing of millions of Jews and other people by the Nazis during World War II