Marking 75 years since liberation, Auschwitz survivors to issue warning
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Marking 75 years since liberation, Auschwitz survivors to issue warning

Over 200 survivors and leaders from some 60 countries to gather for commemoration at former death camp Monday with an exhortation against a new wave of anti-Semitic violence

Holocaust survivor and former prisoner of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, Johnny (Ephroim) Jablon, is seen in Oswiecim on January 26, 2020, one day before the 75th anniversary of its liberation. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)
Holocaust survivor and former prisoner of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, Johnny (Ephroim) Jablon, is seen in Oswiecim on January 26, 2020, one day before the 75th anniversary of its liberation. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

OSWIECIM, Poland (AFP) — Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, a dwindling number of elderly Holocaust survivors will gather at the former German Nazi death camp on Monday to honor its over 1.1 million mostly Jewish victims amid fresh concerns over anti-Semitism in Europe.

More than 200 survivors are to come from across the globe to the camp the Nazis built in Oswiecim in then-occupied Poland, to share their testimony as a stark warning amid a recent surge of anti-Semitic attacks on both sides of the Atlantic, some of them deadly.

“We want the next generation to know what we went through and that it should never happen again,” Auschwitz survivor David Marks, 93, told reporters at the former death camp on Sunday, his voice breaking, heavy with emotion.

Thirty-five members of his immediate and extended family of Romanian Jews were killed in Auschwitz, the largest of Nazi Germany’s camps that has come to symbolize the six million European Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Holocaust survivor and former prisoner of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, Miriam Ziegler (Friedman), is seen in Oswiecim on January 26, 2020, one day before the 75th anniversary of its liberation. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

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

Organizers insist that Monday’s memorial ceremony must focus above all on what survivors have to say rather than the bitter political feuds that have tainted the run-up to the anniversary.

“This is about survivors, it’s not about politics,” Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, told AFP on Sunday as he met a group in the former Auschwitz camp, now a memorial and state museum run by Poland.

Holocaust survivor and former prisoner of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, Miriam Ziegler (Friedman), shows a historical picture of her and other prisoners in Oswiecim on January 26, 2020, one day before the 75th anniversary of its liberation. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

“We see anti-Semitism rising now and we don’t want their (survivors) past to be their children’s future, or their grandchildren’s future,” he added.

Royals, presidents and prime ministers from nearly 60 countries will attend the ceremony, but no top world leaders. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will be among the dignitaries.

Israel hosted US Vice President Mike Pence, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin among others at a high-profile Holocaust forum marking the anniversary in Jerusalem last Thursday.

World Jewish Congress head Ronald Lauder, second left, and Holocaust survivors and former prisoners of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, David Marks and David Lenga, center and right, speak to the press at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim on January 26, 2020, one day before the 75th anniversary of its liberation. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

It was seen as rivaling the event in Poland, which has tricky relations with Israel.

Earlier, Putin sparked outrage in the West after falsely accusing Poland of colluding with German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and contributing to the outbreak of World War II.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who called out Putin, snubbed the Jerusalem forum after he was denied the opportunity to speak there while the Russian president was given the floor. Duda will make an address on Monday in Auschwitz.

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Britain’s Prince Charles at the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020, as other world leaders look on. (Screenshot)

Allies knew in 1942

While the world only learned the full extent of its horrors after the Soviet Red Army 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 the Allies.

Holocaust survivor and former prisoner of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, Johnny (Ephroim) Jablon, left, crosses the gate with the inscription reading “Work sets you free” (Arbeit macht frei) in Oswiecim on January 26, 2020, one day before the 75th anniversary of its liberation. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

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.

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

‘Reports not believed’

Regarded as exaggeration and Polish war propaganda, “a lot of these reports were simply not believed,” renowned Oxford historian Professor Norman Davies told AFP.

A picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945, shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Auschwitz Nazi death camp. (AP Photo/CAF pap)

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

“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 itself, no orders were given to bomb it.

“It was one of the biggest crimes committed by those that were indifferent, because they (the Allies) knew what was happening here, they could have done something about it and they deliberately didn’t,” Auschwitz survivor David Lenga, 93, told AFP.

Holocaust survivor and former prisoner of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, David Lenga, is seen in Oswiecim on January 26, 2020, one day before the 75th anniversary of its liberation. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of all Nazi Germany’s death and concentration camps and the one where most people were killed, primarily European Jews, but also Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and Poles.

Operated by the Nazis from 1940 until 1945, Auschwitz was part of a vast and brutal network of camps across Europe set up for Hitler’s “Final Solution” of genocide against the estimated 10 million Jews in Europe at the time.

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