Leaders Gather to Mark Liberation of Auschwitz
By CRAIG S. SMITH
Published: January 27, 2005
"RAKOW, Poland, Jan. 27 - The presidents of Russia, Poland, Israel and Ukraine, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney and other world leaders, joined about 500 invited guests in a theater here today to commemorate the freeing of thousands of people from the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp 60 years ago.
Each of the leaders spoke in turn, at a forum sponsored by the European Jewish Congress and Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, about the need to keep awareness of the Holocaust alive after the last of its aging survivors have died.
Several also warned against the resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe.
"We call upon the European Union not to allow Nazism to life in the imagination of the youth of Europe like some kind of horror show," President Moshe Katsav of Israel said, adding the allies "did not do enough" to prevent the killing of Jews in World War II.
As many as 1.5 million people, including 1 million Jews, met their death at the Auschwitz complex, which included three main camps and 39 smaller camps 40 miles southwest of Krakow. Most were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the second of the main camps, that has come to symbolize the much broader Holocaust in which 6 million Jews died.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia spoke proudly of the Soviet soldiers who gave themselves for the liberation of Auschwitz.
"They switched off the ovens, they saved Krakow," he said. But he also said there was still much to be ashamed of in the current situation.
"We unfortunately still see signs of anti-Semitism in our country," he said.
A group of Russian nationalist legislators recently called for a ban on Jewish groups in the former communist state.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland presented medals to three surviving Red Army soldiers who took part in the liberation of Auschwitz.
Survivors, several wearing the coarse blue and white caps from their prison uniforms, dotted the crowd.
The commemoration, the largest ever, marks the liberation of the camp on Jan. 27, 1945.
The ceremony this year has an air of urgency as Jewish organizations work to ensure that awareness of the Holocaust persists after living memories of it die. This is likely to be the last major anniversary to be attended by both camp survivors and their liberators, all of whom are now in their 90's.
Leaders at the forum sought commitments from European leaders to institutionalize the teaching of the Holocaust, drawing on educational programs and materials developed by Yad Vashem.
"The numbers of world leaders coming and the readiness of the media to follow the commemoration is greater than before" with "a new anti-Semitism building in Europe," said the head of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, arguing that without a systematic approach to teaching about the Holocaust, its meaning for future generations may fade. "We need a concrete commitment out of this ceremony."
That commitment is all the more critical now because a growing number of Europe's young Muslims are resisting, even rejecting, efforts to teach them about the Holocaust, arguing that there is not enough attention paid to the killing of innocent Muslims by Israel or the United States-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Teachers are reluctant to teach about the Holocaust in some schools, particularly in France, Belgium and Denmark. Mr. Shalev said that most of his organization's educational exchanges with France are now with the country's private Jewish institutions.
A recent string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe and other unsettling events, such as the widely publicized photograph of Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, wearing a Nazi uniform at a costume party earlier this month and a walkout by far-right German legislators during a minute's silence for Nazi victims on Friday, have raised concerns that the horrors of the Holocaust are being forgotten." in 'The New York Times'