A group of survivors of Nazi death camps have 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 six 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.
Marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the survivors were accompanied by Polish Senate Speaker Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, Culture Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz and Israeli Ambassador Yacov Livne.
The theme of the observances was the human being, symbolised in simple, hand-drawn portraits that were beamed on a screen during the observances in Birkenau. They were meant to stress that the horror of Auschwitz-Birkenau lies in the suffering of people held and killed there.
In Germany, where people laid flowers and lit candles at memorials for the victims of the Nazi terror, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country would continue to carry the responsibility for this “crime against humanity.”
He called on all 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 relatives who were lost in the Holocaust.
"Eternal memory to all Holocaust victims!” Zelenskyy tweeted.
The Nazis, who occupied Poland from 1939-1945, at first used old Austrian military barracks at Auschwitz as a concentration and death camp for Poland’s resistance fighters. In 1942, the wooden barracks, gas chambers and crematoria of Birkenau were added for the extermination of Europe's Jews, Roma and other nationals, as well as Russian prisoners of war.
Soviet Red Army troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, with about 7,000 prisoners there, children and those who were too weak to walk. The Germans had evacuated tens of thousands of other inmates on foot days earlier in what is now called the Death March, because many inmates died of exhaustion and cold in the sub-freezing temperatures.
Since 1979, the Auschwitz-Birkenau site has been on the UNESCO list of World Heritage.