Nazi death camp survivors mark 79th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Holocaust survivors and relatives arrive at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. Survivors of Nazi death camps marked the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War II in a modest ceremony in southern Poland.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

OSWIECIM, Poland — A group of survivors of Nazi death camps marked the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during World War II in a modest ceremony Saturday in southern Poland.

About 20 survivors from various camps set up by Nazi Germany around Europe laid wreaths and flowers and lit candles at the Death Wall in Auschwitz, where the Nazis executed thousands of inmates, mostly Polish resistance members and others.


Later the group, along with state officials and other participants, gathered for a ceremony by a brick women’s barrack at Birkenau that has recently undergone conservation. Next, they prayed and lit candles at the monument in Birkenau, near the crematoria ruins. They were memorializing around 1.1 million camp victims, mostly Jews.

The memorial site and museum are located near the city of Oswiecim.

Observances were also held in many other countries Saturday. Nearly 6 million European Jews were killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust — the mass murder of Jews and other groups before and during World War II.

Soviet Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945.

Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the survivors were accompanied by Polish Senate Speaker Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, Culture Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz and Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne.

Halina Birenbaum, a 94-year-old survivor, was moved to speak beside barrack 27, where she spent part of August 1943 until the forced evacuation of camp inmates on foot on Jan. 18, 1945.

She said the suffering and tragedy of people in contemporary wars and from the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel was “painful” for her and an extension of her Auschwitz experience.

Livne, the ambassador, defended Israel’s massive retaliation in Gaza.

“We hoped that the lessons of the Holocaust have been learnt. Yet, today we are astonished by accusations of genocide against the Jewish state while we fight for our existence,” he said.

The theme of the observances was the suffering of the individual human being, symbolized in simple, hand-drawn portraits of the camp’s inmates that were beamed on a screen during the observances in Birkenau.

In Germany, where people laid flowers and lit candles at memorials for the victims of the Nazis, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country would continue to bear responsibility for this “crime against humanity.”

He called on citizens to defend Germany’s democracy and fight antisemitism as the country marked the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

“Never again’ is every day,” Scholz said in his weekly video podcast. “Jan. 27 calls out to us: Stay visible! Stay audible! Against antisemitism, against racism, against misanthropy — and for our democracy.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose country is fighting to repel Russia’s full-scale invasion, posted an image of a Jewish menorah on X, formerly known as Twitter, to mark the remembrance day.

“Every new generation must learn the truth about the Holocaust. Human life must remain the highest value for all nations in the world,” said Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and had family members who were lost in the Holocaust.

In Italy, Holocaust commemorations included a torchlit procession and official statements from top political leaders.

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said her conservative nationalist government was committed to eradicating antisemitism that she said had been “reinvigorated” by the Israel-Hamas war.

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