Auschwitz survivors mark death camp liberation anniversary

Auschwitz was a Nazi concentration camp where European Jews and others were held and killed during World War II. Auschwitz was liberated by Allied troops 69 years ago.

Czarek Sokolowski/AP
Auschwitz survivors lay a wreath and flowers at the former Nazi death camp's Executions wall in Oswiecim, Poland, on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, to mark 69 years since the Soviet Red Army liberated the camp.

A European Jewish leader condemned anti-Semitism as a crime on Monday as Auschwitz survivors and Israeli officials marked 69 years since the liberation of the Nazi death camp.

The ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, established by the United Nations in memory of some 6 million Holocaust victims, and some 1.5 million victims of Auschwitz, who were mostly Jews.

Some 20 survivors walked through the gate that bares the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free) sign and laid a wreath at the former camp's Executions Wall, where the inmates, mainly Polish resistance members, were shot to death.

Around 60 members of the Knesset, or half of the Israeli legislature, joined the survivors for the observances that included visits to the red brick Auschwitz barracks which house a collection of the victims' belongings and hair, and a list of the names of some 4.2 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

In a special ceremony in Birkenau, also called Auschwitz II, they also heard from one of the survivors, Noah Klieger, about the Death March when some 15,000 died after Nazis fleeing the advancing Soviet army in January 1945 forced inmates still able to walk to march west in freezing weather. They remembered Jan. 27, 1945, when the Red Army entered the camp and freed the remaining inmates, mostly children and sick people.

Israeli coalition leader, Yariv Levin, speaking on behalf of Knesset lawmakers, said that people in Israel should rely on themselves and aim to build a safe world.

"Walking here, on this soil soaked with blood of our brothers and sisters, we must assure our children and future generations that a different world, full of hope and free of fear can be built."

Speaking at the European parliament ceremony in Brussels, European Jewish Congress President, Moshe Kantor, rejected free speech arguments over what he called the worldwide spread of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is "not an opinion — it's a crime," he said.

Kantor pointed to the "quenelle," a gesture invented by the French comedian Dieudonne that some have called an inverted Nazi salute. The comic, who has been convicted more than half a dozen times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism, says it is merely an anti-establishment symbol. The gesture made headlines when soccer star Nicolas Anelka used it to celebrate a goal.

"Today we are witnessing the absolute democratization of anti-Semitism," Kantor said. It is "a symbol invented by a so-called comedian that allows young people out for a drink, soldiers having a laugh and even a footballer scoring a goal, to have their own unique opportunity for Jew hatred."

In Italy, meanwhile, President Giorgio Napolitano condemned as a "miserable provocation" threats against Rome's Jewish community in recent days, including the delivery of packages containing pig heads to Rome's main synagogue.

Napolitano said Monday during Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations that recent insults made against the Jewish community are "comparable only to the repugnant material in those packages."

Italian police also detained two men, ages 33 and 47, on suspicion of instigating racial hatred for anti-Semitic graffiti, including denial of the Holocaust, near the main judicial offices in Rome. Authorities say the men belong to different far-right groups. No arrests have been announced for the delivery of the pig head's.

Also Monday, the Holocaust Survivors' Foundation USA called on Germany's Allianz to pay aging survivors benefits that their families bought before they died in the Holocaust.

"It is shameful that today, Holocaust survivors are not allowed to even bring a lawsuit in a US court to recover these unpaid policies," they said. Legislation that would allow survivors in the US to sue European insurance companies has lingered in Congress for years.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.