67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz
The 27th of January 2012 is the 67th anniversary of the liberation of theNazi GermanAuschwitzconcentration and extermination camp. This year, we are also commemorating the 70th anniversary of commencement of the mass extermination of Jews in the Birkenau gas chambers. During this year’s anniversary ceremony, a unique relic was presented: the only preserved door to a gas chamber, deriving from one of the crematoriums, blown up by SS members at the end of the final evacuation of the camp.
Former Auschwitz prisoners, representatives of the government and the parliament of the Republic of Poland, representatives of the diplomatic corps, the clergy, local community, as well as local and regional authorities, invited guests and anyone who wanted to commemorate the victims of the Nazi participated in the liberation anniversary.
The firstpart of the ceremonytook place in the Oświęcim Cultural Centre. All the participants honoured with a minute of silence Kazimierz Smoleń, an Auschwitz survivor and the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum 1955-1990 who passed away on that day.
Pnina Segal talked on behalf of the former prisoners; on January 27th, 1945 she was freed from Birkenau as a six-year-old girl. When recounting her story, she mentioned a metal camp bowl that she was clasping tightly, waiting for soup. “I already knew that I had to wait till the pot was almost empty to get more potato peels than water. I was also looking for bread crusts and ends, because I thought there would be more bread in them. Today, I still do this, and my entire family and friends know that the first and the last slice of bread belong to me. I would like to thank everybody who listened to the story of my life, and I will continue telling it to future generations,” she added.
During the ceremony, a letter sent by the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski, was read out. “The Republic of Poland will never forget about the victims of Auschwitz. Primarily due to the fact that most of them were its children: Polish Jews, Poles, Polish Roma. But also because the German occupier, by establishing this extermination camp, dealt a terrible blow to our country. On the soil, which for hundreds of years was proud of being an asylum for the persecuted, a shelter for dissidents, a country without pyres, the invader built a pyre for over a million people from all over Europe. We will remember all the people who died at the hands of the Nazis in our native land,” wrote President Komorowski.
In his speech, the Israeli ambassador, Zvi Rav-Ner, made references to all the survivors of the camp: “They were the few that survived this factory of death, where almost a million and a half people— men, women, the old and the young, children and infants, were murdered, tortured and condemned to death in the gas chambers. Ninety per cent of the camp’s victims were Jews. They died within the framework of a horrible plan and an unprecedented attempt at liquidating an entire nation, the Jewish nation— simply every Jew, in every place of the world. Luckily, the Nazis were defeated by the allied forces and lost the war. They lost, and we— those who survived and the children of those who survived— are here.
“Here, on a soil soaked through with blood and mixed with ashes, we feel particularly strong on how fragile our common world is, how closely our fate is related,” said Alexander Aleksyeyev, Russian ambassador during the ceremony. “Xenophobia, nationalism and intolerance are still threats today. There is the temptation of using brutal military force to obtain unilateral dominance, achieve solutions to problems acceptable solely to one party; yet such problems require hard work, wisdom and patience. Some nations continue to impose on others their style of life, their manner of perceiving reality. This is a very dangerous mistake, which carries the gravest of consequences,” stressed the ambassador.
Polish Deputy Minister ofCulture and National Heritage, Małgorzata Omilanowska, talked about the modern significance of the moment when the Red Army soldiers liberated the camp. “Soldiers entering the camp were definitely convinced that they were liberating prisoners who had been left there. At the same time, they had to face the horror of the place, a crime whose true dimensions they have not even expected. After them, the whole of humanity had to face this horror. The historical fact of the camp’s liberation was the beginning of the path that we are still following— trying to understand something that cannot be understood and to talk about something which cannot be expressed in any language. We will never be free from the burden of Auschwitz. On the 27th of January 1945, Auschwitz ceased to exist as a German factory of death, but it started to exist as an eternal pang of conscience for all of humanity,” said Minister Omilanowska.
In his speech, presented in its entirety below, Piotr M.A. Cywiński, Ph.D., Director of the Auschwitz Museum, paid attention to the symbolic nature of the chamber gas door shown during the ceremony. Before the event, Director Cywiński emphasised that the memory of the Holocaust has to arouse responsibility for our world today. “The Nazis wanted to destroy every tiny trace of the crimes committed in Auschwitz. Meanwhile, we have such wooden doors; doors which separated the world of innocent victims and the world of a planned, mass and systematic crime. Today, we know too much to take a passive stance any longer. The world really depends on us – this is the modern lesson deriving from the memory of the victims of Auschwitz,” he said.
The new mayor of Oświęcim, Janusz Chwierut, also mentioned those inhabitants of Oświęcim who helped the prisoners during the war, risking their own lives: “They helped prisoners in their escape, providing them with shelter and intermediating in contacts; they also assisted the prisoners on an every-day basis by providing food or clothing. By their bravery and courage, they instilled hope and faith that in spite of these terrible sufferings and omnipresent death, victory over the criminal system was possible…”
The second part of the ceremony took place at the Monument of the Camp’s Victims in the area of the former Auschwitz II–Birkenau camp. Rabbis and clergymen of various Christian denominations together read Psalm 42 from the Second Book of Psalms, and the participants put candles commemorating the victims of Auschwitz by all the plaques of the monument, where the following text is written in 22 languages: “Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews, from various countries of Europe.”
In 2005, the United Nations established the 27th of January as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The addresses delivered during the ceremony of the 67th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp (in order of appearance)
- Remarks by Janusz Chwierut, Mayor of Oświęcim
- Remarks by Pnina Segal, Auschwitz survivor, camp no. A-15515
- Remarks by Bronisław Komorowski, President of the Republic of Poland
- Remarks by Małgorzata Omilanowska, Deputy Minister of Culture and National Heritage
- Remarks by Zvi Rav-Ner, Ambassador of Israel
- Remarks by Aleksander N. Alekseyev Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Feder
The address by the Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński during the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz:
Before us stands the door
The solid wooden entrance door.
The door through which they entered,
naked, abased, and horrified.
Tens of thousands of families entered.
No one ever came out.
Seventy years ago the Nazi Germans began
the extermination of the European Jews.
On a mass scale. Almost completely.
From inside, with their last strength,
the people fated for extermination
pressed against it, and it held.
They broke the peephole, so it was covered with sheet metal.
This is the only remaining door
from the Birkenau gas chamber.
This door forever divided the world of the living
from the world of the murdered.
That is why, seeing it, none of us feels comfortable.
Looking, we approach the boundary of what
could be experienced and understood from their side.
A whole world sundered by this door.
It is hard not to feel that this very door
somehow divided humanity
between those left outside and those inside.
Back then, on the outside, were the SS.
Outside, a bit further away, stood the Luftwaffe,
the Wehrmacht, behind them the Nazi party members,
their electorate and businessman supporters, the whole Third Reich.
Along with all sorts of collaborators and blackmailers.
It is true that outside also stood those few
who tried to rescue. And millions of people
who preferred not to know.
On the outside were big politics, the power balance, the front line and strategy.
Inside were only innocent suffering and death.
And we today are on the outside
and from that perspective we look on this door.
If this door could speak,
it would run out of words.
Just the same as there were no words
for the prisoners of the Sonderkommando to tell
about what—attempting to survive—they had been a part of.
Of all the extant documentation, memoirs, and accounts
nearest the heart of the Holocaust
are the words of the Sonderkommando prisoners.
No one was closer.
Among all the authenticity of the Memorial,
closest to that heart remains perhaps this very door.
The final threshold of the Exterminated.
Today in a sense it is up to us if the door
should continue to be a wall, a boundary, a line for us.
If that peephole should remain shut up with sheet metal...
The sheet metal of our incomprehension,
the inability to look truth in the eye.
And so we ask ourselves
how we should look, today,
at this door from seventy years ago.
Because every time
evil occurs in the world,
the innocent murdered, children killed,
contagious racism, antisemitism, and ideologies of hate,
and we do nothing,
then we look at this door.
And its confining bolts
remain, as they were, on our side of the door.