Auschwitz's last survivors urge a troubled Europe not to forget

Tue Jan 27, 2015 5:08pm EST
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By Wiktor Szary and Wojciech Zurawski

OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) - Auschwitz's last survivors urged the world not to forget the horror of the Holocaust 70 years after the Nazi death camp was liberated in the final throes of World War Two, an anniversary that finds Europe again confronted by intolerance.

European Jews warn of a growing under-current of anti-Semitism, fueled by anger at Israeli policy in the Middle East and social tensions over immigration, inequality and increasing economic hardship under austerity policies that have contributed to a rise of far-right political movements in Europe.

With deep snow blanketing the Polish countryside, some 300 aging survivors and a host of world leaders gathered on Tuesday under a tent at the brickwork entrance to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, the railway tracks that bore more than a million European Jews to their deaths illuminated in gold.

"Seventy years later, the daily cruelty is still etched in my mind," former prisoner Roman Kent told the gathering.

The commemoration marked perhaps the last major anniversary that survivors of Auschwitz, the youngest of them in their 70s, will be able to attend in notable numbers.

It was held in the shadow of war in neighboring Ukraine, a spate of assaults on Jews in Europe and a recrudescence of open anti-Semitism even as memories of the Holocaust fade with the passing of those who lived through it.

"To remember is not enough; deeds are crucial," said Kent. "It is our mutual obligation – the survivors and world leaders – to install an understanding of what happens when prejudice and hatred are allowed to flourish."

A string quartet played the work of Szymon Laks, a Polish Jewish composer who led the prisoners' orchestra of Auschwitz-Birkenau and managed to survive the war. David Wisnia, an 88-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, sang a funeral prayer of the Ashkenazi Jews, moving some of those present to tears.   Continued...

Children place candles during a commemoration ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz death camp, at the Jewish Cemetery in former Nazi concentration camp Terezin in Terezin January 27, 2015.   REUTERS/David W Cerny