68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz
27 January 2013 marked 68 years since the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz. The President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski, assumed honorary patronage over the anniversary ceremony.
The event was attended by the former prisoners and liberators of Auschwitz, representatives of the governments and parliaments of Poland and Russia, ambassadors and diplomats from over 20 countries, representatives of the clergy, regional authorities, local governments, institutions and civil society organisations, as well as all those who wished to honour the memory of the victims of Nazi Germany.
The ceremony began in a special tent set up at the former camp of Auschwitz I. The visual symbol of the ceremony was a picture of a former prisoner of the camp, a Polish Jew, Halina Ołomucka, entitled “Liberation”.
Xenia Olkhova, who was sent to Auschwitz when she was barely fourteen years of age, spoke on behalf of the former Russian prisoners: ‘We underage prisoners were placed in barracks fenced with barbed wire, where there were over one hundred people. Dim light, a clay floor, cold, dirt, fleas. They locked us in the barracks and would not let us out. Inside were bunks with three levels. I was on the bottom shelf, because of my sick legs I could not go higher. Each shelf of the bunks fit two - three people. No child was crying, not even the smallest ones; crying was severely punished,’ she remembered the time when she was imprisoned in the camp. She appealed to remember the past and ‘do everything to make these horrible experiences of ours never be repeated again’.
One of the guests at the ceremony was Ivan Martynushkin, who took part in the liberation of the Auschwitz camp. ‘I remember – 27th January 1945, it was damp, wet snow was falling. When we approached the vicinity of the concentration camp, the first thing we saw were fences with rows of barbed wire. In the distance, a group of people. First, they did not understand what was happening. Then they started waving their hands, shouting something,’ he said. ‘When our soldiers saw the first group of the prisoners, they were afraid to even approach them – they were almost unlike any human-beings. Only after washing, shaving, dressing, and feeding the prisoners did look like human-beings,’ he continued.
'We remember the Holocaust of the Jews, the suffering and extermination of Poles, Russians, Roma, Byelorussians, Ukrainians and citizens of almost all the countries of Europe. Their memory, their fate - it is our legacy. Our role and commitment is to honour the memory of those events, which do not have the right to be repeated. Not only for the sake of the victims of the Holocaust, but also for the sake of present and future generations, for which knowledge of the past must constitute as a memento,' said Bogdan Zdrojewski, Polish Minister of Culture and National Herigage. He also emphasized the role of cooperation of Polish and Russian institutions during creation of the new Russian exhibition at the Auschwitz Memorial: 'I hope that this will not be a one-off collaboration, but that it will become symbol of mutual understanding and a good example of a concerted effort to preserve the memory and historical truth,' he said.
Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Sergey Naryshkin said during his speech that the more the events of the Holocaust and World War II move away from us, the more important it is to preserve their testimony. ‘We often call great events and phenomena milestones of history. But these same stones, these same signs may be different. One shows a safe path. Others warn of mortal danger, of the abyss and of an inevitable end. The camp in Oświęcim and other Nazi concentration camps became the most atrocious, in their cautioning power, warning. A warning to all future generations,’ he said.
Israeli Ambassador Zvi Ravner stressed the role of the liberators: ‘Russian army was fighting the Nazis, alongside the allies, all the way from Stalingrad till the victory in Berlin. We shall never forget them.’ ‘Here today we should also remember those brave people, Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save their fellow Jews, while they risked death punishment for themselves as well as for their families. Poles are the largest group of the in Europe’, he added.
The Director of the Museum, Dr Piotr M.A. Cywiński, spoke of freedom and memory: ‘The memory poisoned and liberated at the same time. Today, this is also the most difficult memory, with which we are barely able to cope, but which has the power of liberation. Today, our freedom also depends upon our memory. And memory upon us.’ ‘Today and here, on the anniversary, in Auschwitz, more than at any other time and at any other place, sound the words of Czesław Miłosz: “to know and not to speak – in that way one forgets.” Dear Survivors, former prisoners, your words remain in us, and in your memory lies our freedom,’ he added.
Afterwards, delegations from Poland and Russia officially opened the new Russian exhibition “Tragedy, Courage. Liberation” . It is located in block 14 of the former camp of Auschwitz I, one of nine in which, in October 1941, one thousand Soviet prisoners of war were held.
The second part of the ceremony was held at the Monument to the Victims of the Camp at the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Rabbis and clergy from various Christian denominations together read Psalm 42 from the Second Book of Psalms, and the participants of the ceremony placed candles before the monument commemorating the victims of Auschwitz. At the end, delegations from the Auschwitz Museum and the Museum of the Great Patriotic War laid flowers at the monument at the site of the mass graves of Red Army prisoners of was in Birkenau.
Up to the moment of the liberation of the camp area by the Red Army, the Nazis murdered approximately 1.1 million people in Auschwitz, mostly Jews, but also Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and people of other nationalities. Today, the world sees Auschwitz as a symbol of the Shoah and atrocities of World War II. In 2005, the United Nations proclaimed January 27 the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
A day before the ceremonies President of Poland Bronisław Komorowski met the Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Sergey Naryshkin. The president gave him a book with 9,000 names of Soviet POWs, victims of the Auschwitz camp noting that those are all the names that historians were able to identify from around 15 thousand POWs imprisoned at Auschwitz.
The addresses delivered during the ceremony of the 68th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp (in order of appearance):
• Xienia Olkhova, Auschwitz survivor
• Ivan Matrynushkin, Auschwitz liberator
• Bogdan Zdrojewski, Minister of Culture and Natioal Heritage of Poland
• Sergiey Naryshkin, Chairman of the State Duma of Russian Federation
• Zvi Rav-Ner, Israeli Ambassador to Poland
The address by the Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński during the 68th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz:
The meaning of this day 68 years ago
may be fully appreciated solely by the Survivors.
They are here today, among us, as they have always been until now.
In the first place, this was about their tangible,
“The secret of happiness is freedom” – stated Thucydides.
“Liberty is the right to do what the law permits” – Montesquieu summarised.
“Freedom is victory over oneself” – proposed Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
“Man is condemned to be free” – said Jean-Paul Sartre ominously.
“Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against demagogy” – Andrei Sakharov warned.
“Disobedience is the basis of freedom” – George Orwell assessed.
“Freedom is a service” – said Jan Paweł II.
“Freedom is a state of mind” – declared Mahatma Gandhi.
“Freedom is love” – wrote Anthony de Mello.
Freedom is the basic right of a man,
and the world has so many problems with defining it.
Here the definition was simple unambiguous.
It began on the other side of the barbed wires.
It could be seen on the horizon.
Meanwhile, the inscription over the gate mockingly reads “Arbeit macht frei”.
In Poland, to this day, many feel uncomfortable
when the Red Army's march to Berlin is called liberation.
Jerzy Pomianowski wisely said once that we were saved,
our lives were saved, but not liberated.
Us, of course, but not them – the prisoners of Auschwitz.
When speaking of them,
no one has the right to have doubts
as to the righteousness of the word “liberation”.
Liberation clearly took place here.
Even though the freedom here was brought by the soldiers who,
in the Stalinist times,
could only dream about true freedom.
On the ruins of Europe - not just the material ruins,
but also the ethical ruins - a new Europe was created after the war.
More common, interdependent, closer to the people.
Today, its construction continues.
The imperative of this construction begins precisely in Auschwitz.
It is impossible to understand and comprehend the needs of the community
without reference to what the former Europe
arrived at – divided, particular
and tired of itself.
Auschwitz is among one of the most important roots
of today's new Europe.
Our world today is not free from hatred and
contempt. Anti-Semitism and racist theories
continue to reverberate. Many politicians still
toy with demagogy and populism.
And one would think that we know, that we remember…
On 27th January, the First Ukrainian Front of the Red Army,
in a hurried offensive in Silesia and Wrocław,
reached the Nazi German
concentration and death camp of Auschwitz.
Each of the camps of those years
- also in the west -
was liberated as it were along the way, when the opsportunity occurred.
No tragedy changed the strategy.
And even here, the gates opened.
Behind them were seven thousand of the last prisoners,
children, the sick, the dying.
The others, led out earlier from the camp to the west,
were later liberated elsewhere in the depths of the Reich:
in Dachau, Ravensbrueck, Buchenwald, Mauthausen …
Liberation for them was a difficult start.
It gave the Survivors a chance for safety and hope,
but it could not bring the most beautiful kind of freedom,
which is immersed in innocence and unawareness.
It could not liberate the memory.
The struggle of the trauma with freedom was fought day after day
and night after night, in dramatic solitude and misunderstanding.
Once liberated, they had to choose freedom everyday.
The memory seemed to be imperative, and
– as they failed to cope with the drama of their own feelings so often –
they conveyed this memory to consecutive generations.
The memory poisoned and liberated at the same time.
Today, this is also the most difficult memory,
with which we are barely able to cope,
but which has the power of liberation.
Today, our freedom also depends upon our memory.
And memory upon us.
Today and here, on the anniversary, in Auschwitz,
more than at any other time and at any other place,
sound the words of Czesław Miłosz:
“to know and not to speak – in that way one forgets.”
Dear Survivors, former prisoners,
your words remain in us,
and in your memory lies our freedom.