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65th Anniversary of the Liberation


On January 27, 2010, 65 years passed since the liberation of the Nazi German Auschwitz Concentration and Extermination Camp.

Early in the morning, staff members from the Auschwitz Memorial paid tribute to the victims and the Soviet soldiers who died fighting for the city and the camp. They placed candles and flowers at the Death Wall in the courtyard of block 11 at the Auschwitz I site, at the monument to the extermination of the Roma in Auschwitz II-Birkenau, at the monument to the victims of the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp, at the grave in the Oświęcim cemetery that holds the remains of Soviet soldiers who died liberating the camp, and at the mass grave of approximately 700 prisoners who died in the final days of the camp.

Mass for the intention of the victims and former prisoners was said at the Oświęcim church of the Divine Mercy by local deacon Krzysztof Straub. About 300 people, including many former prisoners, attended.

The anniversary was accompanied by a conference organized by the Polish Ministry of National Education for ministers of education from more than 30 countries, and by the opening of the Russian exhibition at the Auschwitz I site dedicated to the liberation.

The main ceremonies were held at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau site, attended by former prisoners, the president and prime minister of Poland, the prime minister of Israel, government delegations from more than 40 countries, the president and members of the European Parliament, members of the Polish parliament, a delegation from the Knesset, members of the diplomatic corps, clergy, local officials, invited guests, and everyone desirous of honoring the memory of the victims of the Nazi Germans.

Former Auschwitz prisoners August Kowalczyk, who also acted as master of ceremonies, Prof. Władysław Bartoszewski, and Marian Turski spoke first. “ The 65th anniversary of liberation is now more than a mere historical reality. Faithful to memory, we turn our hearts and minds to those who never returned to freedom,” said Kowalczyk.

In his speech, International Auschwitz Council chairman Władysław Bartoszewski asked how much of the truth about the horrible experiences of totalitarianism we have managed to convey to the younger generation. “Plenty, I believe, but not enough. Knowledge about what is going on never has, and still does not automatically result in a reaction by the world. In the same way, a capacity for opposing evil does not result from knowledge about the existence of evil, but rather from the moral condition of every one of us. Today, each of us has access to knowledge about the contemporary spread of hatred and racism, disdain and anti-Semitism, about genocidal practices and the sentencing of innocent people to death in different parts of the world. The question is whether we are doing anything with this knowledge. Can we take the side of the victims? Or do we rather stand on the side of all these who knew, but did nothing to help?” he asked.

Marian Turski said that “If then, in those days, there was more empathy for the Jews in the United States, Great Britain, in occupied Europe, in Poland, if it were more empathy among those who could decide if they bomb the crematoria and gas chambers, we would not avoid the Holocaust but the size of the Holocaust would be smaller. If we want to live in a world with less intense hatred, we must try to show compassion, understanding and empathy”.

After the former prisoners, it was time for the politicians to speak. “For me, it is a matter of great satisfaction that we have more then 30 ministers of education or representatives of ministries of education here because, even though we hope everyone lives to be a hundred and twenty, we must be aware that the time when the witnesses will be gone is not far off. What remain are the memories that are written down, taught, and spoken. These memories are necessary in order to do everything possible to prevent crimes like those of Birkenau and Auschwitz, and also of Treblinka, Chełmno on the Ner, Majdanek, Mauthausen, and Buchenwald, are never repeated,” said Polish President Lech Kaczyński.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk stressed the need to discover even a trace of hope in this place so as not to go away feeling that humanity, culture, and European civilization were complete failures. “It is our duty to continue to return here to give testimony to our memory of this time of the deepest despair and the utmost lawlessness, to give testimony to our emphatic revolt against the organised hatred that herded millions of people into gas chambers, against everything of which the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp has become a symbol,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said that his country would never forget these events or allow them to be forgotten. He felt that the rebirth of antisemitism was possible, and should not be permitted. He characterized Auschwitz as the greatest tragedy in the history of the Jews and the worst case of genocide in the world. He thanked the Polish government for its efforts to commemorate the tragedy. He also mentioned that every third person who rescued a Jew was Polish, and that these rescuers risked their own lives and the lives of their families.

In a speech addressed to the participants in the observances, Russian Federation President Dmitry Medvedev wrote that “We should clearly realize that indifference and apathy, as well as disregard for the lessons of history, ultimately lead to tragedy and crime, while trust and mutual assistance help us to withstand the most dangerous threats.” The message was read out in his name by Andrey Fursenko, the minister of education and science of the Russian Federation.

At the conclusion of the first part of the ceremonies, President Kaczyński awarded decorations to Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Director Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Director Sara Bloomfield, and Yad Vashem Institute Director Avner Shalev. They were decorated for their “eminent services in educational and museum work commemorating the victims of the Nazi German labor camps, concentration camps, and extermination centers, and for their accomplishments in the development of the Polish-Jewish dialogue.” The Director of the Museum received the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Poland Reborn and the foreign guests were decorated with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland.

The observances concluded at the Monument to the Victims of the Camp, where the participants placed candles commemorating the victims of Auschwitz while rabbis and clergy of various Christian delegations joined in reading the Forty-Second Psalm.

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The address by the Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński during the 65th anniversary of liberation of Auschwitz

Thank you, Mr. President
for appreciating our daily labor and the burden of responsibility
given us to bear.

The truth is that the understanding
of the greatest drama of the 20th century by future generations
depends and will depend on our work
and our cooperation.

We are aware of this,
and we live and work with it day by day.

The Memorial, like the form of memory itself
were created by all of you
who survived the Holocaust and the hell of the concentration camps.
It is you who told us of your worst experiences
and you who taught us how to listen to that experience.

You could have remained silent, but you spoke.

I am speaking to you, dear friends!
I cannot tell you that the world
has for certain heard, understood, and grown wise.
I share your fears.
Much remains to be done.
Man has a long way to go.

Yet one thing seems certain to me.
Regardless of everything, everything notwithstanding,
the victims’ voice shall not fall silent and the earth shall not cover their cry.
What was before shall never return,
but the time after the Holocaust will never again be a time of sweet innocence.
This place, as the conscience of Europe and the World,
can never again be passed by, silenced, erased.
This land bears within itself the cry of the victims. And it shall not cover it up.
Of this I am sure.

Thank you for being with us.
Many will say that we came here to you.
But I know well that you have come here to us,
not for the first and not—I hope—for the last time.
Just as you have been here all these 65 years.

Among us there are people from so many countries,
from so many international and state institutions
as well as volunteer organizations.
Today it seems so easy to think that we know and understand more.
The world of today and the world to be made tomorrow
depend on all of us, in a direct way.
In the meantime, how often we ourselves are passive towards evil.
Yet today there is no war in our country.
We are free. And today we need more of the Righteous!

Memory is inseparably connected with this Place.
And the fate of this Place depends on us.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister
of the Government of the Polish Republic
for his personal involvement
in creating the Perpetual Fund for preserving the authenticity of this
I would like to thank Germany
for promising support in the amount of €60 million.
That is half the needed sum.
I believe that other states
whose governments and citizens are conscious of the fundamental import of this Place
for our history and civilization
will help complete the creation of this Fund.

We owe this to the Victims of Auschwitz and all the Victims of the Shoah,
but we also owe it to our children.
And to our children’s children.

Photo. Paweł Sawicki
Photo. Paweł...
More than 150 survivors attended the ceremony. Photo. Paweł Sawicki
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prof. Władysław Bartoszewski and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Photo. Paweł Sawicki
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Beniamin Netanjahu. Photo. Paweł Sawicki
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Ceremonies at the monument at Birkenau Photo. Paweł Sawicki
Ceremonies at the...