Auschwitz 70th Anniversary: Survivors Remember Holocaust, Warn World Against Repeating Similar Crimes

( [email protected] ) Jan 27, 2015 02:30 PM EST
Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz. Reuters

Over 300 Auschwitz survivors and world leaders, recently gathered at the death camp's site in Poland to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the nazi concentration camp's liberation.

During WWII, around 1.5 million people, mainly European Jews, were brutally beaten, tortured and killed at the camp in southern Poland before the Russian Army entered its gates in winter 1945, signalling an end to the devastating war.  

On Tuesday, the presidents of Poland, Germany, and France joined the remaining survivors, all in their 80's and 90's, in a giant tent erected over the brickwork entrance to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, part of the complex that is now a museum, reports NPR.

Auschwitz Survivors
Auschwitz survivor Mordechai Ronen, of Canada, becomes overwhelmed as he stands next to the World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder (2nd left) on a visit to the camp. LASZLO BALOGH/REUTERS

Ronald S Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, urged the world not to repeat the crimes committed at Auschwitz, telling the commemoration: "Jews are targeted in Europe once again because they are Jews...Once again young Jewish boys are afraid to wear yarmulkes [skullcaps] on the streets of Paris, Budapest, London and even Berlin."

One 88-year-old Auschwitz survivor - who sang a memorial prayer during the commemoration - said the Holocaust was "almost impossible for a human mind to comprehend", adding that he "prays to God that we as human beings are able to learn something from it".

Another survivor, 81 year old Paula Lebovics, told the AP that she remembered how as a small, hungry girl of 11 she was lifted up by a Russian soldier who rocked her in his arms as tears came to his eyes.

Although she does not know who the soldier was, she still felt immense gratitude to him and the other Soviet soldiers, Ms Lebovics said, adding: "They were our liberators."

The anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation comes just three weeks after Islamist gunmen killed 17 people in attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly newspaper and a kosher supermarket in Paris.

Four French Jews were among the dead, the latest victims in a recent slew of attacks on Jews in Europe.

At the time, US President Barack Obama said the Paris attacks were a "painful reminder of our obligation to condemn and combat rising anti-Semitism in all its forms, including the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust".

The commemoration marked perhaps the last major anniversary that survivors of Auschwitz will be able to attend in significant numbers. According to BBC, about 1,500 Auschwitz survivors attended the commemoration a decade ago. Today, the number was around 300.