World Leaders Gather for Auschwitz Ceremony (NY TIMES) By CRAIG S. SMITH KRAKOW, Poland 01/27/05)
NEW YORK TIMES
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KRAKOW, Poland, Jan. 26 - Heads of state, prominent Jews, Nazi death
camp survivors and a handful of their liberators began gathering here
Wednesday in a heavy snowstorm to commemorate the freeing of
thousands of people from the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration
camp 60 years ago.
As many as 1.5 million people, including 1 million Jews, met their
death at the Auschwitz complex, which included three main camps and
39 smaller camps 40 miles southwest of Krakow. Most were killed at
Auschwitz-Birkenau, the second of the main camps, that has come to
symbolize the much broader Holocaust in which 6 million Jews died.
The commemoration Thursday, the largest ever, marks the liberation of
the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. It will take place at a memorial built
between the ruins of two of the camp´s gas chambers.
The ceremony this year has an air of urgency as Jewish organizations
work to ensure that awareness of the Holocaust persists after living
memories of it die. This is likely to be the last major anniversary
to be attended by both camp survivors and their former Soviet Red
Army liberators. Only seven liberators are expected to attend the
ceremony Thursday. All of them are in their 90´s.
A forum on Thursday, sponsored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in
Israel and the European Jewish Congress, will seek commitments from
European leaders to institutionalize the teaching of the Holocaust,
drawing on educational programs and materials developed by Yad Vashem.
"The numbers of world leaders coming and the readiness of the media
to follow the commemoration is greater than before, but the event is
also more important now with a new anti-Semitism building in Europe,"
said the head of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, arguing that without a
systematic approach to teaching about the Holocaust, its meaning for
future generations may fade. "We need a concrete commitment out of
That commitment is all the more critical now because a growing number
of Europe´s young Muslims are resisting, even rejecting, efforts to
teach them about the Holocaust, arguing that there is not enough
attention paid to the killing of innocent Muslims by Israel or the
United States-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Teachers are reluctant to teach about the Holocaust in some schools,
particularly in France, Belgium and Denmark. Mr. Shalev said that
most of his organization´s educational exchanges with France are now
with the country´s private Jewish institutions.
The commemoration will be attended by heads of state from Russia,
Poland, Germany, France and Israel along with political leaders from
nearly 40 other countries. Vice President Dick Cheney will attend on
behalf of the United States. He arrived Wednesday and met with the
Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, a staunch supporter of the
war in Iraq who is facing increasing public pressure to bring Polish
"We have to remind our youth that these great evils of history were
perpetrated not in some remote uncivilized world but in the very
heart of the civilized world," Mr. Cheney told a gathering of
survivors and their families at the Galicja Jewish Museum in Krakow
Wednesday. Exhibits there trace several centuries of Jewish history
in southern Poland.
The commemoration means different things to each nation: for Russia
it is a commemoration of its often-overlooked role as liberator,
while for Poland and other Central European countries it is both part
of a gradual recognition of their complicity in the killing and an
opportunity to draw closer to Europe. Poland and several other former
Soviet bloc countries joined the European Union last year and the
rest are waiting to join.
A recent string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe and other
unsettling events, such as the widely publicized photograph of Prince
Harry, third in line to the British throne, wearing a Nazi uniform at
a costume party earlier this month and a walkout by far-right German
legislators during a minute´s silence for Nazi victims on Friday,
have raised concerns that the horrors of the Holocaust are being
Moshe Kantor, chairman of the European Jewish Congress, warned that
the rise in anti-Semitic incidents should not be ignored.
"From broken windows to death camps was the blink of an eye," Mr.
Kantor said, referring to the four years between the 1938 attacks on
German Jews known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, and the
1942 Wannsee Conference at which German leaders discussed the "final
solution to the Jewish question in Europe."
At a dinner Wednesday, Mr. Kantor talked of the need to pass on
personal recollections of the Holocaust, not just statistics or
historical accounts. As an example, he told of meeting an elderly
woman during a visit to the Birkenau camp several years ago. She
remarked to him that the camp looked different when she was interned
there because there was no grass then; starving prisoners had eaten
it all. (Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 01/27/05)
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