Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Ceremonies of 65th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

European Jewish Press - 27 January 2010

Yossi Lempkowicz

OSWIECIM, Southern Poland ---Sirens wailed at the former Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp Wednesday afternoon as ceremonies began in a biting Polish winter cold to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the symbol of the extermination of the Jews by the Nazis.

Auschwitz survivors, Soviet veterans and leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gathered for the emotionally-charged memorial event in a tent specially dressed for the event in Birkenau near the remnants of a crematorium where dozens of Jews were burned alive every day between 1943 until the liberation of the camp by Soviet soldiers on January 27,1945.

Netanyahu was to deliver a speech following addresses by survivors and Poland's President Lech Kaczynski.

Tel Aviv's Polish-born Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a Holocaust orphan who survived as a child in Nazi camps, was to recite the Kaddish, or Jewish prayer of mourning.

A total of 1.3 million people perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau --- 1.1 million of them Jews from across occupied Europe -- mostly killed in gas chambers but also from shooting, hanging, starvation, disease, slave labour and pseudo-medical experiments.

The former death camp has become an enduring reminder of Nazi German genocide during World War II which claimed the lives of six million European Jews.

In 2005, the United Nations declared January 27 International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Ahead of the official ceremonies, US President Barack Obama spoke of the "sacred duty to remember the cruelty" of Auschwitz and of "resisting anti-Semitism and ignorance in all its forms" in a video address aired at a forum organised by the European Jewish Congress (EJC) in Krakow.

"Auschwitz is the symbol of absolute evil that remains seared on the human conscience," French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote in a message to Polish and European Jewish leaders as he underscored France's commitment to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.

Members of parliaments visit Auschwitz-Birkenau

Some hundred members of the European Parliament, MPs from national parliaments and members of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, - including an Arab Israeli MP- brought for the third consecutive year by the "European Friends of Israel" (EFI), a body whose objective is to build strong bridges between Europe and Israel, had an emotional visit in the extermination camp Wednesday morning.

For some of them it was the first such experience, like British MEP Charles Tannock who said he was particularly moved by the picture of a young children in the Auschwitz Museum. “I just thought of my own girl, of the same age” he said.

"It is very important to be here and what you see is a depressing memory, something not understandable. It’s a journey that gives you food for thought and inspiration on how to avoid atrocities like this here,” Gunnar Hokmark, EFI President and Vice-Chairman of the European People’s Party group at the European Parliament, told EJP.

“I really cannot understand those who express doubts about the Holocaust. The evidence is so clear,” he added.

Hungary’s ambassador in Warsaw stressed that Auschwitz “is the largest Hungarian cemetery” since around 500,000 Hungarian Jews died in the camp. “I come here regularly and I say loudly this must never happen again,” Robert Kiss declared.

Accompanied by rabbis and carrying European and Israeli flags, the group lit six candles in memory of the six million Jews from across Europe who were exterminated in the Holocaust.

Lithuanian-born Holocaust survivor and Tel Aviv resident Baruch Shub, 85, said he still bore the emotional scars of his suffering.

"There's a lot of sorrow, because when I came home, I found nobody in my family alive. But also a bit of happiness because the war was over and I'd somehow stayed alive," Shub said.