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World leaders gather in Auschwitz, 60 years after liberation (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Aviva Lori, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service, and the Associated Press AUSCHWITZ 01/27/05 15:25 (GMT+2)Source: http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/532497.html HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
AUSCHWITZ - Over 40 heads of state, including German President Horst Koehler, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and French President Jacques Chirac, are gathering along with survivors and liberators to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on Thursday.

Other attendees include U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, the presidents of the Czech Republic and Hungary, the prime ministers of Italy and Greece, and the queen of Holland.

Roughly 2,000 Holocaust survivors are set to attend the ceremony at Auschwitz, which will begin with the sound of a train whistle to signify the mode in which Jews were brought to the camp.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most infamous of the Nazi extermination camps, was liberated by the Soviet army on January 27, 1945. To listen to the live 1945 account of the camp´s liberation by BBC reporter Richard Dimbleby, click here.

Katsav: Europe must educate its people about the Holocaust Addressing world leaders and Holocaust survivors at a morning forum in Krakow ahead of the main ceremony at Auschwitz, President Moshe Katsav said Europe must educate its people about the Holocaust.

"We call upon the European Union -- do not let Nazism dwell in the imaginations of the young generations as a ´horror´ show so to speak," Katsav said.

"We fear anti-Semitism," said the president. "We fear Holocaust denial, we fear a distorted approach by the youth of Europe. We fear a distorted approach that the youth of Europe might develop towards their past."

Katsav also said World War Two allies have failed to do enough to protect the Jews of Europe and prevent the Holocaust.

"The Holocaust is not only a tragedy of the Jewish people. It is a failure of humanity as a whole," Katsav told those in attendance in Krakow´s Slovacki theater.

"The Allies did not do enough to stop the Holocaust, to stop the destruction of the Jewish people," he said. "The allies knew about the destruction of the Jews of Europe, the allies did not take any initiative to prevent the destruction of European Jewry."

Katsav said destroying Auschwitz, or the railroad tracks that led to the camp, from the air "could have saved many hundreds of thousands of Jews from the gas chambers."

"Hundreds of missions of fighting aircraft passed next to, and sometimes over Auschwitz and Birkenau," Katsav told the gathering. "But Auschwitz was not bombed, was not attacked by the armies of the allies."

Putin: I am ashamed of anti-Semitism

Putin acknowledged Thursday that anti-Semitism and xenophobia had surfaced in Russia, tackling an issue that the Kremlin had long failed to confront directly.

Putin said that many in the world should be ashamed of new manifestations of anti-Semitism six decades after the defeat of fascism.

"Even in our country, in Russia, which did more than any to combat fascism, for the victory over fascism, which did most to save the Jewish people, even in our country we sometimes unfortunately see manifestations of this problem and I, too, am ashamed of that," Putin said, to long applause.

Russian Jews earlier had expressed hope that Putin would use the occasion to address the issue of anti-Semitism. Earlier this month, a group of nationalist Russian lawmakers called for an investigation aimed at outlawing all Jewish organizations and punishing officials who support them, accusing Jews of fomenting ethnic hatred and saying they provoke anti-Semitism.

Maj. Anatoly Shapiro, who commanded the unit that captured the camp, opened the ceremony in the Krakow theater.

"I would like to say to all the people on the earth, unite and do not premit this evil that was committed," the elderly Shapiro said in a recorded video greeting. "This should never be repeated, ever."

The forum began with applause for Shapiro, who lives in the United States, and three other Soviet army veterans who helped liberate Auschwitz. Their chests decorated with medals, they stood in a theater box to take applause and appeared on stage to receive medals from Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski.

10,000 guests fill Krakow hotels

More than 10,000 guests and 1,600 journalists have come from around the world to Krakow, some 60 kilometers from the camp, filling every hotel in the city.

"I´m closing a circle," said one of the survivors. "I´ve returned after 60 years. I haven´t been able to sleep for two weeks."

Dan Arad, an 83-year-old Israel Defense Forces pensioner and the author of a book called "Surviving Auschwitz," came with his wife from Haifa. He feels lucky. He was at Auschwitz-3, a forced labor camp, where "the fit and healthy were sent," he said.

"Conditions were good there," he said. "Each person had a bed. We had money in the form of coupons. We could trade with the Polish prisoners. They used it for prostitutes and we got bread in exchange."

"I spent six weeks at Birkenau, until [Josef] Mengele came to our barracks and looked at me," Arad said. "I still looked pretty good and he sent me to Auschwitz-3."

Some 1.5 million people perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau, over one million of them Jews. When the Soviet army arrived to liberate the camp, they found only 7,000 survivors, many of them barely alive. The retreating Nazis had driven most of the prisoners who still had strength to walk out into the snow, on a ´death march´ toward camps further west.

On Wednesday, a ceremony was held at the Krakow military cemetery, where Polish, British and Russian soldiers who fell in World War Two are buried.

Additionally, there was an Israeli military ceremony in honor of 13 soldiers from British-mandate Palestine who fought in the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, fell into German captivity and ended up buried in the British plot of Krakow´s military cemetery, far from home.

Chief IDF Chaplain Rabbi Yisrael Weiss read psalms and chanted El Maleh Rahamim, the prayer for the dead. President Katsav laid a wreath, and later, in the freezing cold and the constantly falling snow, he placed tiny Israeli flags on the 13 graves. A Polish military band played teh Israeli national anthem Hatikva.

A meeting between Katsav and Putin planned for Wednesday was canceled, although Katsav said efforts are still being made to reschedule for Thursday.

The idea of holding the commemoration was born a year ago, when the secretary of Poland´s national council on memorials, Andje Pshabuzhnik, suggested hosting a meeting of the liberators and survivors at the camp, 60 years later. Kwasniewski adopted the idea, which initially called only for inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli President Moshe Katsav.

However, French President Jacques Chirac heard about the plan and asked to take part, and shortly after, other statesmen from around the world wanted to join in as well. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 01/27/05)

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