Holocaust Remembrance Day – Nazi death camp survivors mark 79th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation – NBC New York

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.

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, symbolized 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.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2024

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.

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

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said that her conservative nationalist government was committed to eradicating antisemitism that she said had been “reinvigorated” amid the Israel-Hamas war. Meloni’s critics have long accused her and her Brothers of Italy party, which has neofascist roots, of failing to sufficiently atone for its past.

Police were also on alert after pro-Palestinian activists indicated that they would ignore a police order and go ahead with a rally planned to coincide with the Holocaust commemorations. Italy’s Jewish community has complained that such protests have become occasions for the memory of the Holocaust to be co-opted by anti-Israel forces and used against Jews.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jews and Muslims from the country and from abroad gathered in Srebrenica to jointly observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, and to promote compassion and dialogue amid the Israel-Hamas war.

It was organized by the center preserving the memory of Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since the Holocaust — the massacre in 1995 of more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks in Srebrenica in Bosnia’s interethnic war.

The event underscored the message that the two communities share the experience of persecution and must stay united in their commitment to peace.

New York law professor Menachem Rosensaft told The Associated Press on the eve of his participation in the Srebrenica commemoration that this year’s observances were especially important. He said that’s because they come just months after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel, which became the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

“We need to bring people together and find common ground,” said Rosensaft, the son of Holocaust survivors. “To make sure it doesn’t happen again, this has to become the conscience of the world.”

He said the international commemoration day, created by the United Nations in 2005, is important to ensure the world remembers the Holocaust long after the survivors and their forbears are gone.

Earlier in the week, the countries of the former Yugoslavia signed an agreement in Paris to jointly renovate Block 17 in the red-brick Auschwitz camp and install a permanent exhibition there in memory of around 20,000 people who were deported from their territories and brought to the block. Participating in the project will be Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia.

Preserving the camp, a notorious symbol of the horrors of the Holocaust, with its cruelly misleading “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work Makes One Free”) gate, requires constant effort by historians and experts, and substantial funds.

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.


Associated Press writers Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Joanna Kozlowska in London and Anita Snow in Phoenix, Arizona, contributed to this report.

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