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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
OSWIECIM, POLAND (BosNewsLife)– Government leaders and survivors are among those marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation by Soviet forces of Nazi-death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in ceremonies overshadowed by new concerns over rising anti-Semitism in Europe, and a row between Poland and Russia.
Tuesday’s event in Poland was expected to be the last big anniversary in which remaining elderly survivors would be able to come and pay their respects at the former camp, which became a symbol of the Holocaust.
It was here where Nazi-Germany murdered as many as 1.5 million people. Most of these men, women, and children were killed for being Jews along with many others the Nazis didn’t like.
On the eve of the 70th anniversary, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed concern about rising anti-Semitism in Europe, referring to recent attacks.
“It’s a shame when people in Germany are mobbed, threatened or attacked when they say they are Jewish or when they speak out for the State of Israel,” she told an audience in Berlin. “Auschwitz concerns us all, today and tomorrow and not only on anniversaries,” the chancellor added.
Auschwitz survivors Marian Turski from Warsaw and Eva Fahidi attended the opening event along with young people from Poland, Israel and Germany.
Though Soviet Red Army soldiers liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945, Russian President Vladimir Putin was not among those attending Tuesday’s ceremony amid political tensions: Poland has been one of the sharpest critics of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
Its Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, even credited Ukrainians for liberating the camp.
That led to an angry reaction from Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recalled that the Red Army consisted of “Russians, Ukrainians, Chechens, Georgians and Tartars”.
Yet amid the latest 21th century political battle, elderly survivors hope the world will still be united in saying never again.
And not to forget the Holocaust.