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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
WARSAW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- A record number of more than 1.5 million people have visited the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland last year, officials say. The announcement comes ahead of commemorations marking the liberation of what became a symbol of the Holocaust.
The Auschwitz museum claims 1,534,000 people from around the world visited the grounds of the former camp.
In a statement the museum says that never before have so many people "familiarized themselves at first hand with the original grounds."
It is also believed to be the highest attendance within a year in the history of European memorial sites.
Most visitors came from within Poland, with large numbers of tourists also arriving from Britain, the United States, Italy and Germany.
"The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial has become the world's symbol of the Holocaust and the crimes of World War Two," explains Piotr M.A. Cywiński, the site's director.
"Without the reference to the history of this place it would be hard for new generations to understand our reality and challenges of the contemporary world,” Cywiński adds.
Between 1940 and 1945, at least 1.1 million people died in the gas chambers or from forced labor, hunger and disease in the camp.
Most victims were Jews, but there were also Poles, Roma and other nationals among those killed.
Visitors flood the former camp while preparations are underway for the 70th anniversary of its liberation by the Soviet army.
People are made aware of the January 27th ceremonies in a video recording showing those who suffered, including children, in what became a symbol of the Holocaust.
Some survivors will attend the gathering, amid concerns over renewed anti-Semitism in Europe.
The museum says, "the world will be listening to the voices of Auschwitz".