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World leaders mark 60th anniversary of Auschwitz death camp's liberation (14938)


14938
News
2005-01-28

World leaders mark 60th anniversary of Auschwitz death camp's liberation


Auschwitz's gay victims remembered


As candles flickered in the snowy gloom Thursday near Kraków, Poland, world leaders and Auschwitz survivors remembered victims of the Holocaust on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp.



As candles flickered in the snowy gloom Thursday near Kraków, Poland, world leaders and Auschwitz survivors remembered victims of the Holocaust on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp.

The ceremony, which opened with the recorded rumble of an approaching train, was held on the spot where new arrivals were brought in by rail to the vast camp and put through "selection"--meaning those few who were deemed able to work were separated from the rest who were taken immediately to the gas chambers. "It seems if you listen hard enough, you can still hear the outcry of horror of the murdered people," Israeli president Moshe Katsav said. "When I walk the ground of the concentration camps, I fear that I am walking on the ashes of the victims."

Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz and the neighboring camp at Birkenau on January 27, 1945. Some 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, had died at the two camps from gassing, starvation, exhaustion, beatings, and disease. Other victims included Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, Gypsies, gays, and political opponents of the Nazis.

Joining in the commemoration were Vice President Dick Cheney, and presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, Vladimir Putin of Russia, and Jacques Chirac of France. German president Horst Koehler sat on the platform without speaking in recognition of his country's responsibility for the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews died during World War II. Barbed wire and brick barracks stretched as far as the eye could see. The ruined crematoriums loomed nearby, all covered with a layer of fresh snow. Girl Scouts brought blankets to elderly survivors sitting in the freezing cold.

"For a former inmate of Auschwitz, it is an unimaginable and overwhelming emotion to be able to speak in this cemetery without graves, the largest one in the history of Europe," said Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a survivor who later became Poland's foreign minister. When he arrived in 1940, he recalled, "I never imagined I would outlive Hitler or survive World War II."

Earlier, at a youth forum in Kraków, participants applauded several surviving Soviet soldiers awarded for liberating the camp and saw a video message from 92-year-old Maj. Anatoly Shapiro, who commanded the Soviet unit that captured Auschwitz. He was too sick to travel from his home in New York. (AP)


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