In memory we must search for sources for our responsibility today. 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
On January 27, more than 200 Auschwitz and Holocaust Survivors met in front of the Death Gate at the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp.
They were accompanied by leaders and representatives of over 50 countries who listened to their words – crowned heads, presidents, prime ministers, ministers and diplomats as well as the representatives of numerous international institutions, social organization, clergy, the staff of museums and memorials devoted to this subject as well as – by intermediary of the media – all those who wished to honour the memory of the victims of German Nazis.
The guests were welcomed by Andrzej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland, who took honorary patronage over the events commemorating the anniversary. He addressed former prisoners with the following words: ‘We have here with us today the last living Survivors, who have endured the hell of Auschwitz. The last of those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes. And among them those who experienced the fate of the Jewish Nation as referred to in Psalm 44: "we are killed all day long, we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered"… We stand here before You, Honourable Survivors, in order to assume anew, in the presence of the Witnesses of the Holocaust, an obligation – thinking of those who perished, of You who have survived and of the future generations.'
‘We are speaking about numbers but these numbers represent concrete people, their histories and their suffering. We are speaking about numbers though we will surely never get to know the exact figure. We are speaking about numbers for we are in the factory of death. For the numbers make us realize the industrial nature of the crime committed here. The Holocaust, of which Auschwitz is the main place and the main symbol, constituted an unexampled crime throughout the entire history. Here, the hatred, chauvinism, nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism assumed the form of a mass, organized, methodical murder. At no other time and at no other place was extermination carried out in a similar manner,’ said the President of Poland.
‘We, in Poland, know well the truth about what was happening here since it was recounted to us by our compatriots who had camp numbers tattooed on their bodies by Germans,’ he added.
‘Distorting the history of WWII, denying the crimes of genocide and the Holocaust as well as an instrumental use of Auschwitz to attain any given goal is tantamount to desecration of the memory of the victims whose ashes are scattered here. The truth about the Holocaust must not die. The memory of Auschwitz must last so that such Extermination is never repeated again.’ emphasized Andrzej Duda.
During commemorative events, the most important words were presented by former camp prisoners: Batszewa Dagan, Else Baker, Marian Turski as well as Stanisław Zalewski.
Batszewa Dagan, a Jewish woman of Polish origin born on September 8th 1925 in Łódź as Izabella Rubinstein, said: ‘I am standing here and I don’t know whether it is real or not, that I am with you 75 years after my huge experience of suffering in this place. I was Schutzhaeftling number 45554.’
Former prisoner mentioned among others her work in camp repositories, were personal belongings of those murdered were sorted: ‘I had Hungarian clothes in my hands. First I would cry, but then I had to get used to it as my job. I found a photograph of my teachers from Łódź on these huge piles of clothes from all over the world.’
‘Teaching about it is really necessary and it is possible. I would like to cry because tears are the only way to flood this past, and when I see so many – we should feel comforted that all of you will take care of the memory of this place – and other places where people were led to innocent death, representing all nations – that you will be responsible for such misery not to repeat in the history of the world’, said former prisoner, currently living in Israeli.
'I would like to thank the Poles for maintaining this place and transforming it into the memorial and museum that it is today, famous all over the world', said Else Baker.
'In Auschwitz I witnessed mass murder. There were long queues of people in front of the mass murder facilities like the gas chambers and crematoria which were not far from our camp's electrified fences. And then the ear splitting screams started. Orders to stay inside our barracks with doors locked were disobeyed. And we saw a large area of open fires blazing. I as an 8 year old girl overheard adult conversations like; they must have run out of gas and are burning people alive now', said Else Baker.
'Those that were murdered and those that survived the camps must never be forgotten. Hopefully this memorial site and museum will remain here for many years to come as a warning to people not to let insane ideologies, backed by wrong sciences like for example Eugenics, gain power again', emphasized Else Baker, a Roma who was deported to Auschwitz from Hamburg at the age of 8.
Marian Turski, deported to Auschwitz from the Litzmannstadt ghetto, addressed in the introduction the generation of his daughter and grandchildren: “When I meet the young nowadays, I realize that after 70, 75 years they seem to get bored, they are a little bored with this subject. The war, Holocaust, Shoah… and I do understand them. So I promise you, the young, that I’m not going to talk about my sufferings, I’m not going to talk about what I had gone through, about my two death marches, how I lived to see the end of the war with my body weight of 32 kg on the verge of death, exhaustion. I’m not going to talk about the worst: the tragedy of saying goodbye, the tragedy of leaving our dear ones, when you see after the selection, when you feel what fate they are awaiting. No, I’m not going to talk about it.'
‘I see that the President of Austria van der Bellen is here among us. Mister President, you remember, when you received me and the leaders of the International Auschwitz Committee, when we were talking about that time: you used such sentence: “Auschwitz ist nicht vom Himmel gefallen”. Auschwitz had not fallen from the sky. It can be said, as we say it, it is obvious obviousness. Sure, it had not fallen from the sky. It can even seem trivial, but it is an extremely deep mental shortcut, important to be understood’, he said.
‘My Dear, here in Europe, the majority of us has Judeo-Christian origins, both believers and non-believers adopt the 10 commandments as their canon. My dearest friend, President of the International Auschwitz Committee Roman Kent, could not come here, but he developed the 11th commandment, which is the experience of the Shoah, the Holocaust, the experience of this cruel era of contempt: do not stay indifferent. I would like to tell this to my daughter’s and grandchildren’s peers, wherever they live, in Israel, in Western or Eastern Europe. Do not stay indifferent when you see historical lies, do not stay indifferent when you see that the past is adapted to current political needs. Do not stay indifferent when any minority is discriminated, as democracy assumes that the rights of minorities need to be protected at the same time. Obey the commandment. 11th commandment: do not stay indifferent. Unless you do so, in the blink of an eye, an Auschwitz will suddenly fall from the sky’, Marian Turski emphasized.
Stanisław Zalewski from Warsaw presented his experiences from Auschwitz: 'I remember naked women being transported alive in trucks from the barrack to the gas chamber. I hear them screaming in my subconsciousness when I come back in my head to those events. I remember well-dressed people wearing the Star of David walk without any traces of anxiety or fear. Their big group was led by only one SS soldier. They followed him in the direction of the crematorium. But I and a few prisoners standing by me were the only ones to know it. I was the “subject” of regular selections of prisoners from my barrack after coming back from work. When the evening food ration was distributed, prisoners were led to the crematorium.'
'Nowadays, in many regions of the world, people possessed with the fanaticism of political, racial, religious or even personal domination commit armed acts of violence in order to achieve their own goals. These violent acts devour thousands of human lives and this forms their genocidal character. Has history come full circle? The circle powered by people without the respect for the dignity of the other', he said.
“Dear Participants of today’s commemorative events! I am an optimist and I believe in people, and in my life so far, excluding the periods of imprisonment and incarceration in concentration camps, I received more good than bad from people. In qualifying human deeds as good or bad, I am supported by a beautiful woman wearing a blindfold. She has the scales in her left hand and a sharp sword in her right one. I will ask her to stay with me”, said Stanisław Zalewski, President of the Polish Association of Former Political Prisoners of Nazi Prisons and Concentration Camps.
Another speaker during the ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was Ronald S. Lauder, who took the floor on behalf of the “Pillars of Memory”, individual donors who supported the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. He recalled the testimony from Adolf Eichmann’s trial: ‘there was one man who stood out because he spoke in an unusually non-emotional tone. He described arriving at this platform right here with his wife and little daughter. They were herded out of the cattle cars, and stood in line for the “selection,” right over there. A doctor decided who would go to the right to work and who would go to the left for extermination. The man was separated from his wife and daughter at that moment and they were pushed away. On the witness stand he said: “There were so many people, I didn’t know how i could keep my eye on them.’
‘Do not be silent. Do not be indifferent. Good things great things can start with everyone one of us. And do not just do this for the Jewish people around the world. Do this for your children. Do this for your grandchildren but also do this for the little girl in the red coat. Her ashes lay beneath us. Along with over one-million other tortured souls. They are watching us and they cry out in one shattering chorus,’ Ronald S. Lauder emphasized.
Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, Director of the Auschwitz Memorial in his speech, he also included his message for the anniversary: “The world was meant to be different. The United Nations was to be the guarantor of peace. Crimes against humanity were to be prosecuted endlessly. International cooperation and interdependence were intended to deter conflicts. Ecumenism was supposed to bring people of faith together. Today, however, from almost every corner of the world, we can see the revival of the old ghosts. Acts and attitudes of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia are on the increase. In the darkness, the resurgence of populism and demagogy strengthen the ideologies of contempt and hatred. And we are becoming increasingly indifferent. Confined within ourselves. Apathetic. Passive. We don't see and don't want to see. We don't talk and don't want to talk. The majority were silent when the Syrians drowned, in silence, we turned our backs on the Congolese, we almost didn't utter a word when Rohingya was murdered two years ago, with silence today, we conceal the tragic fate of the Uyghurs”, he said.
‘Seventy-five years after Auschwitz it is in fact in memory that we must search for sources for our responsibility today. Meanwhile, in our memories, we often only seek short-term emotions, without consequence, without obligation. Such a memory loses its significance. How can one say “Never again” while looking into the eyes of the Jews attacked on the street, to the humiliated Roma, people all over the world: persecuted minorities, refugees, the starving, murdered, hundreds of thousands f people locked up in various camps? Załmen Gradowski, who was murdered in Birkenau, was right when he wrote, shortly before the Sonderkommando revolt: “We have a terrible feeling because we know.” We also know and feel. What has become of our world? Where and why did we squander our basic, fundamental values? Where is our responsibility? Each one of us!’ Director Cywiński emphasized.
The organized events included also the premiere of the film “Objects/They were just like us” prepared on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
After the speeches, rabbis and clergy of various Christian denominations prayed by the Death Gate. Kaddish, El Male Rachamim were said by cantor Dawid Wiśnia, former Auschwitz prisoner, Oratio pro fidelibus defunctis – in Latin by His Excellency Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, Wieczny Odpocznek by Piotr Greger, Catholic bishop, God of Spirits and all bodies in Old Church Slavonic by priest Mikołaj Dziewiatowski from Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church, while In Memory of the dead was said by His Excellency Adrian Korczago, bishop of the Cieszyn diocese of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession.
To finish the commemorative events, delegations of former prisoners, representatives of state delegations, “Pillars of Memory” and Memorial Site staff lit candles on the monument in Birkenau commemorating all victims of the camp.
Already before the beginning of the official commemorative events, in the morning on January 27th 2020 in the morning, the group of former Auschwitz prisoners together with the President of the Republic of Poland and the Director of the Museum laid wreaths by the Death Wall within the former Auschwitz I camp.
Until the liberation of camp premises by the Red Army soldiers, German Nazis murdered in Auschwitz 1.1 million people, mainly Jews, but also Poles, Roma, Soviet POWs as well as the representatives of other nationalities. Today, Auschwitz constitutes for the world the symbol of the Shoah and atrocities of the Second World War. In 2005 the United Nations established January 27th as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
THE ADDRESS OF DR. PIOTR M. A. CYWIŃSKI, THE DIRECTOR OF AUSCHWITZ MEMORIAL
It’s been seventy-five years since the liberation of Auschwitz Konzentrationslager.
We have among us today, over 200 people who experienced this hell -
an unimaginable hell.
Thank you so much.
What you've been saying in the camp and through these 75 years,
is “Never again.”
Not for yourselves, but for us, our children and grandchildren.
We built the post-war world on your experience.
So, we owe you something. We all do.
The world was meant to be different.
The United Nations was to be the guarantor of peace.
Crimes against humanity were to be prosecuted endlessly.
International cooperation and interdependence were intended to deter conflicts.
Ecumenism was supposed to bring people of faith together.
Today, however, from almost every corner of the world, we can see the revival of the old ghosts.
Acts and attitudes of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia are on the increase.
In the darkness, the resurgence of populism and demagogy
strengthen the ideologies of contempt and hatred.
And we are becoming increasingly indifferent.
Confined within ourselves. Apathetic. Passive.
We don't see and don't want to see.
We don't talk and don't want to talk.
The majority were silent when the Syrians drowned,
in silence, we turned our backs on the Congolese,
we almost didn't utter a word when Rohingya was murdered two years ago,
with silence today, we conceal the tragic fate of the Uyghurs
The silence after the Holocaust is inhuman
and will never be human again.
Besides the Holocaust, our silence today is our greatest disaster,
Yes, that's right: self-humanization.
The Righteous Among the Nations did not give likes,
they never wrote protest-songs, nor signed on-line petitions.
They performed endless good in dramatic conditions,
rescuing a particular individual.
But that's the only reason they saved their face and dignity.
How do we, with all our culture of memory, compare ourselves to them today?
Worse than forgetting, is such a memory,
that doesn't arouse a moral anxiety within us.
Only then, the "Never again" is lost.
Seventy-five years after Auschwitz
it is in fact in memory that we must search for sources
for our responsibility today.
Meanwhile, in our memories, we often only seek
Such a memory loses its significance.
How can one say “Never again”
while looking into the eyes of the Jews attacked on the street,
to the humiliated Roma,
people all over the world:
hundreds of thousands of people locked up in various camps?
Załmen Gradowski, who was murdered in Birkenau, was
right when he wrote, shortly before the Sonderkommando revolt:
“We have a terrible feeling because we know.”
We also know and feel.
What has become of our world?
Where and why did we squander our basic, fundamental values?
Where is our responsibility?
Each one of us!
So, when will Auschwitz become a reality that has been overcome and liberated?
In the very essence of the cry “Never again”
the liberation of Auschwitz also continues today!
Here and now, every day.