Turkish FM attends Holocaust Remembrance Day in Auschwitz camp

Turkish FM attends Holocaust Remembrance Day in Auschwitz camp

Sevil Erkuş OSWIECIM, Poland
Turkish FM attends Holocaust Remembrance Day in Auschwitz camp

A woman stands in front of the gate of the Sachsenhausen Nazi death camp with the phrase 'Arbeit macht frei' (Work sets you free) on the eve of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Oranienburg, about 30 kilometers north of Berlin, on Jan. 26. AP Photo

Xenophobia and anti-Semitism lie at the “foundations of the collapse of our civilization” in the 20th century, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said at the 70th Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps in Poland yesterday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was among the participants at the commemoration event, accompanied by the Deputy Chair of the Association of Turkey’s Jewish Community, Joseph Nassi, and Istanbul rabbi Naftali Haleva.

 “We are in the place where our civilization went down, the place where German Nazis launched a real death industry and a human being was reduced to a camp number,” Komorowski said.

Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg, who won an Oscar for the Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List,” was also in attendance, marking the passage of 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

Nearly 300 survivors of the Auschwitz death camp gathered at the ceremony, as well as Celina Biniaz, 83, who was among the 1,200 Jews who escaped Auschwitz by being placed on Oskar Schindler’s famous list.

Auschwitz survivors sat among world leaders, many wearing swatches of striped blue cloth of the kind used for prison uniforms at the death camp.

“Few were lucky. Only 10 percent of escapes, taking documents to prove the evil, ended in success. It gave hope that the world would find out about the crimes,” Kazimierz Albin, one of the survivors, told the audience.

“The only way for escape is through the chimney of the crematoria,” a Nazi officer told prisoners, Albin recalls.

“A minute in Auschwitz was like an entire day, a day was like a year, and a month an eternity,” survivor Roman Kent said. 

Four prime ministers, three crown princes or princesses, three parliamentary speakers, 14 heads of state and 13 ministers, including five foreign ministers, from almost 40 countries attended this year’s commemoration ceremonies.

Poland, extremely critical of Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine, had not sent an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian delegation was led by Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff.

Then-Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül attended the first Holocaust Remembrance Day 10 years ago, alongside former Turkish Jewish community chairman Silvyo Ovadya.

Turkey has donated 150,000 euros this year as its contribution to the long-term preservation and restoration of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News. A total of 120 million euros is being collected for the restoration of the camp museum, with 60 million euros of the total donation being made by Germany.

Most of the 1.1 million people murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau were Jewish. The camp was liberated by Soviet forces on Jan. 27, 1945. In 2005, the U.N. established Jan. 27 as the official day of commemoration for the victims of Nazi atrocities.

Turkey marks Holocaust Remembrance Day in high-profile ceremony 

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked in Ankara for the first time by high-level officials, in a bid to highlight the importance Turkey attaches to the remembrance of 6 million Jews who perished in World War II.

“We hope that every person develops an understanding of the Holocaust, which constitutes one of the darkest moments in human history, and will consider the importance of working together so that such a tragedy, and the conditions that made this inconceivable crime possible, will never re-emerge,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a written statement early Jan. 27.

“We observe that anti-Semitism, which formed a basis for the inhuman Nazi ideology, still survives today and therefore we believe in the importance of fighting tirelessly against this phenomenon,” it said.

Jan. 27 marks the day on which the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, established in Poland by the Nazi regime and where the highest number of people were massacred, were liberated by the Soviet Union. The day was designated as “International Holocaust Remembrance Day” by a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2005.

“Turkey respectfully commemorates millions of innocent people who lost their lives, primarily the Jews, and conveys our condolences to their relatives,” said the statement, recalling that Ankara had been participating in the activities of the “International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance” (IHRA) as an observer country since 2008.

Parliamentary speaker in Czech Republic

Underlining that Turkey clearly enunciates its sensitivity in all humanitarian matters, including the Holocaust, on every occasion, the Foreign Ministry said Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was to represent Turkey in a commemoration ceremony to be held on Jan. 27 at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The delegation accompanying Çavuşoğlu includes representatives of the Turkish Jewish community as well.

Turkey’s chief rabbi, İzak Haleva, speaking to Anadolu Agency, welcomed Çavuşoğlu’s attendance at the ceremonies to be held in Poland. “This is very positive, excellent. The state and the government is participating. This is the best way,” Haleva said.

The ministry also stated that Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek attended the Holocaust commemoration activities held by the Czech legislature in cooperation with the European Parliament in Prague on Jan. 26-27 and delivered a speech to the related international forum. 

“Holocaust Remembrance Day, which has been observed in Turkey for the last four years with various activities under the organization of the Turkish Jewish community, will be held this year in Ankara, at Bilkent University, with the participation of the speaker of the Turkish Parliament, on the occasion of its 70th anniversary,” it added.

“We hope that all these activities will provide ample opportunities to enhance the awareness against the Holocaust and other human tragedies and that such atrocities will never reoccur in the future,” it said.