Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Auschwitz camp survivors sound alarm 75 years after liberation



Auschwitz camp survivors sound alarm 75 years after liberation

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
More than 200 survivors came from across the globe to share their testimony amid a recent surge of anti-semitic attacks. AFP

Auschwitz camp survivors sound alarm 75 years after liberation

For what could be the last time, elderly Holocaust survivors returned Monday to the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp 75 years after its liberation, to sound the alarm over a surge in anti-Semitic attacks on two continents.

More than 200 survivors from around the globe, some wearing scarves in the blue-and-white stripes of their death camp uniforms, returned to the site that Nazi Germany built in Oswiecim in then-occupied Poland, to share accounts and honour more than 1.1 million mostly Jewish victims.

The memorial ceremony in a sprawling tent set up in front of the red brick “gate of death” at the Birkenau side of the camp was held following deadly attacks against Jews, and the rise of white supremacist groups in the US and far-right parties in Europe.

Royals, presidents and prime ministers from around 60 countries joined the survivors at Auschwitz, the notorious concentration camp that symbolises the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust.

As night fell, survivors and dignitaries carried flickering candles as they walked along the railway that brought Jews from across Europe to the gas chambers, before laying wreaths and their candles at a memorial monument.

The survivors had passed through the chilling “Arbeit macht Frei,” translated as “Work makes you free,” black wrought-iron gate at Auschwitz earlier on Monday before laying floral wreaths by the Death Wall where Nazi troops had shot thousands of prisoners.

“Auschwitz didn’t fall suddenly from the sky, Auschwitz crept and tiptoed. Taking small steps, it came closer, until this happened here,” warned Marian Turski, 93, a Polish-Jewish survivor who called for vigilance against the abuse of minorities’ rights as key to safeguarding democracy and preventing another genocide.

“Don’t be indifferent!” he implored the royals and politicians gathered at the evening memorial ceremony.

From mid-1942, the Nazis systematically deported Jews from across Europe to six camps – Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.

“Too many people, in too many countries made Auschwitz happen,” World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder said in an address.

“Practically every other European country helped the Nazis gather up their Jewish citizens,” he noted.

“It’s shameful that 75 years later they [Auschwitz survivors] now see that their grandchildren face the same hatred again... this must never be tolerated,” Lauder said, pointing to a spike in anti-Semitic rhetoric and sporadically deadly violence in the US and Europe.

Polish President Andzej Duda spoke out against Holocaust denial and historical revisionism after recently criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin who falsely accused Poland of colluding with Adolf Hitler and contributing to the outbreak of World War II.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A Holocaust survivor cries as he pays his respect at the memorial site’s death wall. AFP

Allies knew in 1942

Several heads of state, the presidents of Germany, Israel and Ukraine, and France’s prime minister were among the leaders who attended the memorial.

At a separate Holocaust memorial event in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germans “bear the responsibility of making everyone feel safe at home in Germany and in Europe”. She vowed to combat “intolerance and hatred, racism and anti-Semitism” amid a resurgence of it in Europe.

While the world only learned the full extent of its horrors after Soviet troops entered the camp on January 27, 1945, the Allies had detailed information about Nazi Germany’s genocide against Jews much earlier.

In December 1942, Poland’s then London-based government-in-exile forwarded a document, titled The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland, to western officials.

The document included detailed accounts of the unfolding Holocaust as witnessed by members of the Polish resistance, but drew disbelief and only muted reactions from the international community.

Polish resistance fighters Jan Karski and Witold Pilecki had risked their lives in separate operations to infiltrate and then escape from death camps and ghettos in occupied Poland, including Auschwitz.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (centre) walks through the death camp’s gate which bears the inscription, ‘Work sets you free’. AFP

‘Final Solution’

Considered an exaggeration and Polish war propaganda, “a lot of these reports were simply not believed”, Oxford historian Professor Norman Davies said.

Despite “strong demands” by the Polish and Jewish resistance for Allies to bomb railways leading to Auschwitz and other camps, “the military’s attitude was ‘we’ve got to concentrate on military targets, not on civilian things’,” Davies said.

“One of the targets that the [British] military did bomb was a synthetic fuel factory near Auschwitz” in 1943-44, he added.

Although Allied warplanes flew over the death camp, no orders were issued to bomb it.

“It was one of the biggest crimes committed by those that were indifferent, because they knew what was happening here,” Auschwitz survivor David Lenga, a 93-yer-old Polish Jew who now lives in California, said next to a barbed wire fence inside the former camp.

“They could have done something about it and they deliberately didn’t.”

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi death and concentration camp, and the site where the most people were killed.

Victims were primarily European Jews, but also Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and Poles.

Run from 1940 until 1945, Auschwitz was part of a vast network of camps built across Europe to carry out Hitler’s “Final Solution” of genocide against an estimated 10 million Jews in Europe.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American

  • Lost in translation: ‘Starvation’ in capital’s designated red zones

    “DACH bay” is a Khmer slang meaning a “loss of income”, that could also be literally translated to «deprived of rice”, which alludes to starvation. However, civil society organisation (CSO) officials have independently confirmed the government’s prior assertions that there are no cases of