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