"The journey of life has not finished yet." 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz
On January 27th, over 80 former Auschwitz prisoners gathered on the premises of the former Birkenau camp in order to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp. “Returns” constituted the main topic of commemoration events.
Among the guests there were Andrzej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, President of Croatia, Anna Maria Anders, the chairwoman of the Council of the Protection of Struggle and Martydom Sites who respresented the Prime Minister of Poland Beata Szydło, representatives of Polish state authorities, ambassadors and diplomats, representatives of the clergy, regional authorities, local self-governments as well as the employees of museums and memorial sites.
Guests were welcomed by the President of the Republic of Poland, who extended his honorary patronage over the commemoration events. At the beginning he addressed the former prisoners: I am trying to imagine, despite 71 years which passed, how hard it is for you to come here. It's not only because of your age, but also because of the fact what this place means to you and what images appear in front of your eyes when you enter this soil
Auschwitz is not just a Museum. Auschwitz is not just a big grave, because the ash of the murdeded people are everywhere and we can say that the whole place is a grave - said President Duda. He emphasised that Auschwitz is a great sign and warning to the whole world against what can happen if power is lost, if the society will be ensared. What can happen if social and political life will be dominated by hatred. What may happen if international law is violated, and the international community does not respond on time. What coan happen if some states behave aggressively towards the others, if they take over their territories. If they spread war and hatred - continued President Duda.
- I am very proud and excited that Zofia Pilecka, the daughter of the Cavalery Captain Witold Pilecki is here with me, that Marysia Jopek, a high school student who won the competion titled "What Auschwitz is for me today?" is here with me. This education should cause that Auschwitz will be something contemporary, that Auschwitz will remain in the awareness of young people so that within our times and the times of the future generations such tragedy would not take place again – he said.
Whenever I am present at this site, I feel internally broken, because the scope of the tragedy, especially the scope of the tragedy of the Jewish nation, but also my Polish nation, is unimaginable in this place – emphasized President Duda.
Halina Brzozowska-Zduńczyk was transported to Auschwitz from Warsaw during the Uprising. She was 12 years old. This is how she recalled the very moment of the liberation: “Suddenly, very young soldiers went inside the barrack, screaming and shouting. They were wearing different uniforms – green, woolen, thick ones. They said that they were Russians and that we were free. After a second, they tried to start feeding us. And there was: lard, pork scratchings and wholemeal bread to eat. I had to get some clothes. They were available in the storeroom”, she described.
“However, leaving the barrack was the most tragic. It equaled terrible fear and horror. The entire area around the barrack, its entrances, roads where covered with people lying there, extremely emaciated, dying, begging for help, or dead. There was nowhere to set your foot. We set off after a few days – on our own, on foot! Direction: Cracow. Marysia (6-year-old sister, note: PS), wrapped in a soldier’s blanket, was sitting on a stool turned upside down and with some rope attached to it, and I was pulling her in the snow. While leaving camp premises we found a big cross standing right next to the road. We stopped…, I began to cry. It was also the place where I found the rosary which I have to this day. We reached Cracow totally exhausted! This is how we came back to life”, she said.
“As late as after 20 years, for the first time after leaving the camp, I came back here in order to take part in the 20th anniversary of the liberation of KL Auschwitz. Since then, I have been coming back to this place more often. These are the anniversaries of the liberation. Here I have the occasion to meet those with whom I used to share my fate. As a witness of history, I share my experience with young people from Poland and Germany, hoping that in the future, they will never be forced to live through what my generation had to endure”, emphasized Halina Brzozowska-Zduńczyk.
“I am standing here and I perfectly remember the day when my feet touched this cursed place for the first time. I am standing here on behalf of those who emigrated to Israel, those who did it before me, together with me, after me and those who were unable to do it. I am standing here 72 years after my arrival and my heart is full – not only of sadness and pain connected with those who are no longer with us, but also of pride from the attitude and work which I, as well as many other Survivors, performed: we established a new generation”, emphasized former Auschwitz prisoner Asher Aud deported to the camp in August 1944 from the Litzmannstadt ghetto, under liquidation at the time.
“My generation, the generation of Survivors, arrived in Israel broken, suffering and in deep trauma. But we were strong enough to build the State and its glory, we knew what the life without homeland meant, and we were learning on our own how important the fatherland is for us”, he added.
“The journey of life has not finished yet. We are still moving forward. This month, the ceremony of circumcision of our first great-grandson – Newe Aud, the fourth generation of the Aud family, renewed family, will take place. This is my private victory!”, he emphasized.
Anna Azari, Ambassador of Israel, and Sergey Andreyev, Ambassador of the Russian Federation, and Anna Maria Anders, the chairwoman of the Council of the Protection of Struggle and Martydom Sites, also spoke during the commemoration events.
"It is astonishing, the the Survivors from the hell of the Holocaust had so much inner strenght to rebuild their lives again – said the Israeli ambasador. 'It is admirable that those people had so much strenght within them to start families, build houses and new life" – Anna Azari added.
"Auschwitz is a grim symbol of the aspirations of the worst regimie in the history of the world which are hostile to mankind. They were embraced by the doctrine of the "Final solution of the Jewish question" - total extermination of Jews, but also in "General Plan Ost" - the program of colonization of Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine and the European part of Russia which was suppose to lead to distruction of tens of millions of Slaves and other nations who lived in those territories - said Ambassador Andreyev.
"I am here among you in order to oblige myself that I will be preserving the memory of Auschwitz, I will be talking about the Nazi atrocities. I want to ensure those who stood in this place before me, that we have to do everything not to let it happen again. Such barbarity should not repeat. It is great priviliege for me" – said Anna Maria Anders.
“The liberation – what was it?”, Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, Director of the Auschwitz Museum, was asking. “The vast majority of victims did not live to see it. And the majority of survivors did not live to see the liberation here. They were led into the unknown and went through other camps until they reached freedom. Liberated once, their way back to freedom was long. Freedom meant the hardship of coming back to live among people who were not able to understand the liberated. It was easier to remove the tattoo from the skin than to erase the effects of camp experiences from the body and head. That is why we should be so grateful to the survivors for creating this Memorial, for writing down their memories, for the years of warnings addressed to our human community, for their presence”, he said.
Director Cywiński also referred to the main topic of this year’s commemoration events – “Returns”. “How many came back to destroyed cities, like the ruins of Warsaw after the Uprising? How many were soon after the liberation sent to communist prisons and places of torture? How many emigrated to another country, trying to start everything again? How many were after the war constructing their new state in Israel, unable to go beyond the horizon of new wars and conflicts?”
Director Cywiński also presented to the audience tiny shoes donated to the Auschwitz Museum Collections by former prisoner Batsheva Dagan, pointing out that she had obtained them from her fellow inmate, who told her “Let them carry you to freedom”. “May these little shoes, all other shoes, clogs, suitcases and glasses, tallits or camp rosaries, have the power to lead to freedom, also our memory, our consciousness, our human, postwar, present responsibility”, he emphasized.
The second part of commemoration events took place under the Monument to the Camp Victims within the premises of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. Rabbis and clergymen of different Christian denominations read together Psalm 42 from the Second Book of Psalms and the participants of the ceremony laid candles at the monument, commemorating in this way the victims of Auschwitz.
Earlier on January 27th, former prisoners, together with the management and employees of the Auschwitz Memorial Site, laid wreaths in the courtyard of Block 11 in Auschwitz I. Later at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer a Holy Mass was celebrated presided over by Bishop Roman Pindel the diocesan bishop of Bielsko-Żywiec. In the square in front of the main entrance to the Museum Aharon Tamir, Director of the March of the Living, together with Piotr Cywiński, Director of the Auschwitz Museum, inaugurated the open air exhibition “Witness” prepared by the March of the Living.
Until the liberation of the camp area by the Red Army, German Nazis murdered approx. 1.1 million people in Auschwitz, mostly Jews, but also Poles, the Roma people, Soviet prisoners of war and people of other nationalities. Auschwitz is to the world today a symbol of the Holocaust and the atrocities of the Second World War. In 2005, The United Nations adopted January 27th as the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust.