Survivors return to Auschwitz 75 years after liberation
Jona Laks, a survivor of Dr. Josef Mengele's twins experiments and her granddaughter, Lee Aldar stand next to the gate with the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work sets you free") as they start their visit at the Auschwitz death camp in Oswiecim, Poland Jan. 26, 2020. (REUTERS Photo)
Seventy-five years after the liberation of Auschwitz, a dwindling number of elderly Holocaust survivors will gather at the former German Nazi death camp on Jan. 27 to honour its over 1.1 million mostly Jewish victims amid fresh concerns over anti-semitism.
More than 200 survivors are to come from across the globe to the camp the Nazis built in Oswiecim in then-occupied Poland, to share their testimony as a stark warning amid a recent surge of anti-semitic attacks on both sides of the Atlantic, some of them deadly.
"We want the next generation to know what we went through and that it should never happen again," Auschwitz survivor David Marks, 93, told reporters at the former death camp on Sunday, his voice breaking, heavy with emotion.
Thirty-five members of his immediate and extended family of Romanian Jews were killed in Auschwitz, the largest of Nazi Germany's camps that has come to symbolise the six million European Jews killed in the Holocaust.
From mid-1942 the Nazis systematically deported Jews from all over Europe to six camps -- Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.
Organisers insist that Jan. 27's memorial ceremony must focus above all on what survivors have to say rather than the bitter political feuds that have tainted the run-up to the anniversary.
"This is about survivors, it's not about politics," Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, told AFP on Jan. 26 as he met a group in the former Auschwitz camp, now a memorial and state museum run by Poland.
"We see anti-semitism rising now and we don't want their (survivors) past to be their children's future, or their grandchildren's future," he added.
Royals, presidents and prime ministers from nearly 60 countries will attend the ceremony, but no top world leaders.
Israel hosted U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin among others at a high-profile Holocaust forum marking the anniversary in Jerusalem on Jan. 23.
It was seen as rivalling the event in Poland, which has tricky relations with Israel.
Earlier, Putin sparked outrage in the West after falsely accusing Poland of colluding with German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and contributing to the outbreak of World War II.
Poland's President Andrzej Duda, who called out Putin, snubbed the Jerusalem forum after he was denied the opportunity to speak there while the Russian president was given the floor. Duda will make an address on Jan. 27 in Auschwitz.
While the world only learned the full extent of its horrors after the Soviet Red Army entered the camp on January 27, 1945, the Allies had detailed information about Nazi Germany's genocide against Jews much earlier.
In December 1942, Poland's then London-based government in exile forwarded a document, titled "The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland", to the Allies.
The document included detailed accounts of the unfolding Holocaust as witnessed by members of the Polish resistance, but drew disbelief and only muted reactions from the international community.
To inform the Allies, Polish resistance fighters Jan Karski and Witold Pilecki famously risked their lives in separate operations to infiltrate and then escape from Nazi death camps and ghettos in occupied Poland, including Auschwitz.
Regarded as exaggeration and Polish war propaganda, "a lot of these reports were simply not believed", renowned Oxford historian Professor Norman Davies told AFP.
Despite "strong demands" by the Polish and Jewish resistance for the Allies to bomb the railways leading to Auschwitz and other death camps, "the military's attitude was 'we've got to concentrate on military targets, not on civilian things'", said Davies, an authority on Polish history.
"One of the targets that the (British) military did bomb was a synthetic fuel factory near Auschwitz" in 1943-44, he added.
Although Allied warplanes flew over the death camp itself, no orders were given to bomb it.
"It was one of the biggest crimes committed by those that were indifferent, because they (the Allies) knew what was happening here, they could have done something about it and they deliberately didn't," Auschwitz survivor David Lenga, 93, told AFP.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest of all Nazi Germany's death and concentration camps and the one where most people were killed, primarily European Jews, but also Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and Poles.
Operated by the Nazis from 1940 until 1945, Auschwitz was part of a vast and brutal network of camps across Europe set up for Hitler's "Final Solution" of genocide against the estimated 10 million Jews in Europe at the time.