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Thursday, 27 January 2005

Participation of the President of Poland in the ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the...

On 27 January 2005, the President of the Republic of Poland, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, and the First Lady participated in the ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, held at the International Memorial to the Victims of Nazism.

Delegations from 46 countries-represented by members of royal families, prime ministers and ministers of foreign affairs-attended, as well as former inmates and liberators of the Camp, politicians and young people.
Opening the ceremony, the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Poland, Waldemar Dąbrowski, welcomed all the guests. Former Auschwitz-Birkenau inmates: Władysław Bartoszewski and Simone Veil and Romani Rose were the next to speak. The former inmates signed a ‘Charter of the International Centre of Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust’.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, the Most Rev. Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk, read out a message from His Holiness John Paul II:

Sixty years have passed since the liberation of the prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. This anniversary calls us to ponder once again the drama which took place there, the final, tragic outcome of a programme of hatred. In these days we must remember the millions of persons who, through no fault of their own, were forced to endure inhuman suffering and extermination in the gas chambers and ovens. I bow my head before all those who experienced this manifestation of the mysterium iniquitatis.

When, as Pope, I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in 1979, I halted before the monuments dedicated to the victims. There were inscriptions in many languages: Polish, English, Bulgarian, Romani, Czech, Danish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Flemish, Serbo-Croat, German, Norwegian, Russian, Romanian, Hungarian and Italian. All these languages spoke of the victims of Auschwitz: real, yet in many cases completely anonymous men, women and children. I stood somewhat longer before the inscription written in Hebrew. I said: “This inscription invites us to remember the people whose sons and daughters were doomed to total extermination. This people has its origin in Abraham, our father in faith (cf. Rom 4:11-12), as Paul of Tarsus has said. This, the very people that received from God the commandment, ‘You shall not kill,’ itself experienced in a special measure what killing means. No one is permitted to pass by this inscription with indifference.”

Today I repeat those words. No one is permitted to pass by the tragedy of the Shoah. That attempt at the systematic destruction of an entire people falls like a shadow on the history of Europe and the whole world; it is a crime which will for ever darken the history of humanity. May it serve, today and for the future, as a warning: there must be no yielding to ideologies which justify contempt for human dignity on the basis of race, colour, language or religion. I make this appeal to everyone, and particularly to those who would resort, in the name of religion, to acts of oppression and terrorism.

These reflections have remained with me, especially when, during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Church celebrated the solemn penitential liturgy in Saint Peter’s, and I journeyed as a pilgrim to the Holy Places and went up to Jerusalem. In Yad Vashem – the memorial to the Shoah – and at the foot of the Western Wall of the Temple I prayed in silence, begging forgiveness and the conversion of hearts.

That day in 1979 I also remember stopping to reflect before two other inscriptions, written in Russian and in Romani. The history of the Soviet Union’s role in that war was complex, yet it must not be forgotten that in it the Russions had the highest number of those who tragically lost their lives. The Roma were also doomed to total extermination in Hitler’s plan. One cannot underestimate the sacrifice of life which was imposed on these, our brothers and sisters in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. For this reason, I insist once more that no one is permitted to pass by those inscriptions with indifference.

Finally I halted before the inscription written in Polish. There I recalled that the experience of Auschwitz represented “yet another stage in the centuries-old struggle of this nation, my nation, for its fundamental rights among the peoples of Europe. Yet another loud cry for the right to have a place of its own on the map of Europe. Yet another painful reckoning with the conscience of humanity”. The statement of this truth was nothing more or less than a call for historical justice for this nation, which had made such great sacrifices in the cause of Europe’s liberation from the infamous Nazi ideology, and which had been sold into slavery to another destructive ideology: that of Soviet Communism. Today I return to those words – without retracting them – in order to thank God that, through the persevering efforts of my countrymen, Poland has taken its proper place on the map of Europe. It is my hope that this tragic historical experience will prove to be a source of mutual spiritual enrichment for all Europeans.

During my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I also said that one should halt before every one of the inscriptions. I myself did so, passing in prayerful meditation from one to the next, and commending to the Divine Mercy all the victims from all those nations which experienced the atrocities of the war. I also prayed that, through their intercession, the gift of peace would be granted to our world. I continue to pray unceasingly, trusting that everywhere, in the end, there will prevail respect for the dignity of the human person and for the right of every man and women to seek the truth in freedom, to follow the moral law, to discharge the duties imposed by justice and to lead a fully human life (Cf. JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 [1963], 295-296).

In speaking of the victims of Auschwitz, I cannot fail to recall that, in the midst of that unspeakable concentration of evil, there were also heroic examples of commitment to good. Certainly there were many persons who were willing, in spiritual freedom, to endure suffering and to show love, not only for their fellow prisoners, but also for their tormentors. Many did so out of love for God and for man; others in the name of the highest spiritual values. Their attitude bore clear witness to a truth which is often expressed in the Bible: even though man is capable of evil, and at times boundless evil, evil itself will never have the last word. In the very abyss of suffering, love can triumph. The witness to this love shown in Auschwitz must never be forgotten. It must never cease to rouse consciences, to resolve conflicts, to inspire the building of peace.

Such, then, is the deepest meaning of this anniversary celebration. We remember the tragic sufferings of the victims not for the sake of reopening painful wounds or of stirring up sentiments of hatred and revenge, but rather in order to honour the dead, to acknowledge historical reality and above all to ensure that those terrible events will serve as a summons for the men and women of today to ever greater responsibility for our common history. Never again, in any part of the world, must others experience what was experienced by these men and women whom we have mourned for sixty years!

To those taking part in the anniversary celebrations I send my greetings, and upon all I invoke the blessings of Almighty God.


Addressing the guests President Kwaśniewski said:

Where we are now gathered, no words can render the entire terrifying truth about the horrors committed in this place. But we must speak, remember, cry out: this was hell on Earth. Here, humiliation, fear, pain, suffering, death – they were the everyday. The monstrosity of this crime is overwhelming. Nazi “death factories” were planned in cold blood. Disciplined butchers fervently did their job to make sure, that the crematory stacks kept spilling out smoke. We still cannot forget that “people brought this fate upon people”. We can never accept this!

This place presents in its terrible entirety what Nazism really was. A mere two months passed since Hitler came to power, when the first prisoners were thrown into the camp of Dachau. Shortly after the aggression against Poland, the Konzentrationslager Auschwitz was established at Himmler’s orders. Already in June 1940 was the first transport of Polish political prisoners routed here. In the first year of Auschwitz’s existence 17 thousand Poles suffered behind the barbed wire of this camp. Even more came to be imprisoned later into the Occupation. They included such eminent persons as Tadeusz Borowski, Bronisław Czech, Xawery Dunikowski, Józef Cyrankiewicz, Władysław Bartoszewski, Tadeusz Hołuj, Stefan Jaracz, Józef Szajna or August Kowalczyk.

As of 1941 the horror of Auschwitz became the fate of many nationalities. Transports starting arriving from all over occupied Europe. People from various countries, languages and religions gathered in a community of suffering, marked by the striped camp rags. Most of these people met their death here. Auschwitz is an enormous European cemetery, holding the ashes of one and a half million people of 25 nationalities.

Particularly terrifying was the fate of the Jews. Auschwitz-Birkenau is a symbol of the Shoah, genocide committed by the Nazis upon the Jewish people. The largest death camp was exactly here – build specially to kill. On a mass scale, industrialised, with precision. Together with other death factories – in Bełżec, in Chełmno on the Ner, in Majdanek, in Sobibór and Treblinka – it continues to give testimony to the enormity of this crime. During the War the Nazis murdered six million Jews, half of whom died in the camps. Total extermination was also to be the fate of the Romany community. It is indeed a nightmarishly horrific chapter in the history of Europe.

Our hearts weeping, full of grief, today we pay tribute to all those murdered in Auschwitz, to all victims of the Nazi crime. For us here in Poland this is a place of special reflection. We reflect on the martyrdom but also the steadfastness of our nation, which grappled with the invaders from the first day of the War until the last. We reflect on the suffering of fellow men. On the special bond connecting us with the Jewish people.

Brought by the Nazis, the Shoah was the end of the world, which Poles and Jews had built on this land in cohabitation. The Jewish community had lived here for eight hundred years, finding Poland to be a country of freedom and tolerance. Many generations of Polish Jews delivered a magnificent spiritual, cultural, economic heritage – and contributed greatly to our common history, at the same time drawing upon Polish influence and experience. This will be illustrated by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, arising now in Warsaw.

This day is a good opportunity to recall those great of spirit, the Polish heroes who demonstrated courage and solidarity with the Jews. To recall the members of the “Żegota” Council for Aid to the Jews; to mention Irena Sendlerowa, who save the lives of thousands of Jewish children; Jan Karski, who was the first to tell the Allies about the Shoah; or Henryk Sławik, known as the Polish Wallenberg, whose efforts saved over ten thousand Jews from the Nazi death machine.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

The Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was liberated on 27 January 1945 by Soviet troops. Some of the liberators are among us here today – those who saved the prisoners and uncovered the Auschwitz horror to the World. I had the honour today to present them with distinguished Polish decorations. With profound respect for the soldierly sacrifice of blood, Poland worships all the combatants, all who died a heroic death marching in the ranks of the Red Army to liberate our homeland from Nazi occupation.

We remember the enormous contribution of the Russians and other peoples of the Soviet Union to the victory over Nazism. We remember that it was on the eastern front that the outcome of World War II was determined to an enormous extent; that it was the Red Army, which seized Berlin. Twenty million killed – soldiers in action and civilians murdered by the Nazis – were a terrible price, which the nations of the Soviet Union paid for this historic victory. Together we bow our heads to their sacrifice.

We remember those, who survived the horror of the camp and today continue to live with the effects of their suffering, the diseases and often poverty and loneliness. It was exactly for them, with the motto “You will not be alone!” that the Polish-German “Reconciliation” Foundation and the victims’ associations established the Polish Union of Victims of Nazism last year. I am confident that the work of this new organisation will well serve the humanitarian, social and medical needs of the living victims of Nazism.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is a warning. This place is the terrible truth about the abysmal fall of humanity. We must find the strength to face up to this truth. We must always remember about it. It is our duty to pass this horrifying memento to future generations. Exactly because of this the despicable attempts to tamper with history, the so-called “Auschwitz Lie”, are being condemned and punished in all civilised countries. We must do everything for the monstrosity symbolised by Auschwitz-Birkenau never to happen again in the future.

Among us today are witnesses of events from 60 years ago. When I behold you I experience profound emotion, wonder and respect. I know that it is you, the guardians of this painful memory, like no one else know the value and need of peace, reconciliation, forgiving. And it is from you that the greatest learning can come to the next generations – young people building a united Europe and a better future for this planet.

May today, from this place our common cry sound, the cry for a world without hatred and contempt, without racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, for a world, in which the word “human” will always ring with pride.


The next speaker was the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, who said:

It is said that time heals. It does, indeed. But as we stand here in one of the most horrible concentration camps 60 years after its liberation everything that happened here still causes horror, indignation and shiver.
It is impossible and unfathomable to comprehend that people are capable of such atrocities, that they may be prone to such a truly universal insanity. It is impossible to ever reconcile with the fact that it all really happened.
Yet we see the railroad, which brought whole trains crammed with victims, and gas chambers with their incinerators thought out in every detail. This visible and horrible evidence leaves no doubt that there used to be a smoothly and uninterruptedly operating death machine. We will never stop asking ourselves over and over again the same question: how could this ever have happened?
Oswiecim calls out not only to our memory but also to our mind. Here, on this land that once soaked with blood and ashes of the Nazi victims we truly see what kind of future the Reich had in store for the civilized Europe, which was based on humanitarian values and traditions of democracy, which came a long way from the Inquisition to reformation and enlightenment.
Standing on this tormented soil we must firmly and unequivocally say that any attempts to rewrite history and place killers and their victims, liberators and occupiers on the equal footing are immoral and unacceptable for those people who consider themselves Europeans.
Today we pay tribute to the memory of all those who were mercilessly and cold-bloodedly killed by the fascist barbarians not only here in Oswiecim but elsewhere.
We bow our heads before tens of millions of people from different countries of the world, who survived the hell of concentration camps, who were shot and tortured to death, who died of starvation and diseases. We bow our heads before all the victims of that inhumane war launched by the fascists. We mourn over them and remember the immortal heroic deed of the allied armies that broke the backbone of the fascist beast.
We pay tribute to the valor of the Soviet soldiers who lost 600 000 lives for the liberation of Poland. We will never forget that the Soviet Union paid an enormous price of 27 million lives for that great victory.
However today we shall not only remember the past but also be aware of all the threats of the modern world. Terrorism is among them and it is no less dangerous and cunning than fascism. And it is equally cruel: it has already claimed thousands of innocent lives.
As there were no “good” and “bad” fascists there cannot be “good” and “bad” terrorists. Any double standards here are absolutely unacceptable and deadly dangerous for the civilization.
Dear friends!
Our today’s ceremony is in fact the opening of the 60th anniversary of the great victory. The celebration in Moscow in May, where many of us will gather again, will become its culminating event. Let’s make everything possible so that we, the modern-day politicians and statesmen, never feel remorse for our words and deeds, so that we could be honest and open to everyone who paid with their suffering, tears, blood or lives to bring that victory day closer.
We are standing before those who forever stayed here in Oswiecim and we must ensure that everything what happened here will never repeat again.
Never, nowhere and with no one!


Next, the President of Izrael, Moshe Katsav delivered his speech.

We have come today to Birkenau to commemorate the millions who were murdered here and throughout Europe and to give honor to the victims and the survivors of the Shoah.
I wish to thank the President of Poland, Mr. Aleksander Kwasniewski, for his invitation to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
I wish to thank the Allies - the Red Army which liberated Auschwitz, the United States of America which sent armies to Europe to liberate its peoples, to Great Britain, whose courage served as an example of heroic determination, to the undergrounds in occupied Europe and to the one and a half million Jewish fighters who fought the Nazi menace.

Excellencies, Heads of State,

The mind of man fails to grasp the horror which took place inside these fences.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most horrendous crime scene in the history of humanity. Here in Birkenau, the largest graveyard of the Jewish people, we are witness to the gas chambers and the crematoria.
We see the barracks, the fences, the guard towers, the final station of the railway tracks which brought the condemned, from the far corners of Europe to these burning ovens. It seems as if we can still hear the dead crying out.
Thousands of people, trembling from terror, pouring out from the train wagons by a satanic plan of modern technology.

Day and night and with unfailing precision, the Germans conducted a genocide industry, a killing factory for the murder of our people in Europe.

It happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the capital of the death empire. It happened in Maidenek, Treblinka, Sobibor, Chelmno, Belzec and many other sites of mass murder.
When I step on the earth of the death camps, awe and trembling seize me, lest I tread on the ashes of the victims in Europe`s soil. I fear lest the water running in Europe`s rivers carries in it the blood of the Shoah dead.
Here, in the heart of Auschwitz-Birkenau, a scream seeks to burst from depth of our soul, and yet there is a spark of pride. The Jewish people have risen from the death camp ashes, as a brand snatched from the burning fire. We have returned to our homeland.

Three hours flight from here, we have re-established our homeland, but not in time to shelter those who were murdered here. We are a determined and proud nation which looks forward with great hope. Our strong ties with the nations whose leaders stand here with us, are a symbol of solace and a foundation of our security.
The Jewish people survived the destruction, suffering, exile, expulsions and the greatest tragedy – the Shoah. Despite it all, we have returned to our homeland and built a modern, developed, democratic state, which has ingathered the Jewish people from the four corners of the earth. In all of human history, there has been no similar event.
You, my brothers and sisters, martyrs of the Shoah who were not able join the State of Israel, you are the lost citizens of our homeland. World leaders have come to this place which was your hell, in order to remember you.

Excellencies, Kings, Queens, Presidents, Leaders of European states - in Auschwitz-Birkenau more than one million Jews were slaughtered, all of them sons and daughters of your lands, citizens of your countries.
We know that Europe was a land occupied by the German-Nazi regime. But we also remember that in European countries there was rabid anti-Semitism based on racism and hate, which left the Jews with no escape and without hope.
In Europe, in the heart of civilization, a nation rose up against another nation, to annihilate it and wipe it off the face of the earth. The destruction was the work of a people who produced renowned scientists and musicians.

A multitude of nations knew of the murder, but were indifferent. The world knew about the destruction of the European Jewry, but remained silent.
Opposition and hesitation of the Allies to bomb the death camps and to destroy the railways carrying the Jews to them, claimed more victims from our people, and this too remains a mark on the forehead of humanity.

Sixty years later, we face a reemergence of anti-Semitism in Europe. Is it possible that the deterrent power of the Shoah weakened? The answer is in the hands of Europe`s leaders, it is in the hands of the educators and the historians. It is in our hands.

On this day, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau, we feel closer than ever to the victims and the survivors. On this day we draw closer to our human heritage, to mankind`s morality, to the Divine command.
Beyond all difference of opinion, we are united in our memory of the horror and we share the moral lesson:
We, the Jewish people are bound by history to commemorate the Shoah and to light with an eternal flame. This is demanded of us by our brothers and sisters from their graves, from the killing pits, from the gas chambers and the trains.

Humanity must pass on the knowledge and lessons of the Holocaust from one generation to another.
The victory over Nazism is the victory of humanity`s values. It is the victory of morality and faith in mankind.
World leaders must know that dangerous doctrines can again emerge in the world, false doctrines which are based on ignorance, brainwashing, incitement, hatred, blindness, deceit and falsification, on coercion and on base instinct, on totalitarianism, on the exploitation of democracy to achieve dictatorship, on terrorism and bloodshed, on crematoria and fire, on murderous fanaticism.

The world leadership is responsible for the fate of humanity. We ought not place our hope in mankind`s resilience.
Human progress and technology do not ensure the prevention of totalitarianism and may even be used by tyranny to achieve its goals.
We have seen that thinkers and philosophers, great musicians and composers, scientists and doctors may place themselves at the disposal of despotic rulers and become partners to ruin and bloodshed. This is what happened in the Shoah.
I wish to honor the exceptional persons, members of the Polish people and other nations, Righteous Among the Nations, who felt the pain of the persecuted, who provided shelter and thereby risked their lives.
We praise the survivors - for returning to life, for daring again to feel that you belong to the world, for finding the inner strength to again raise families, for again believing in man.

May the memory of the victims be blessed.


Subsequently, ecumenical prayers were said as part of the ceremony, whereupon the inmates and liberators of the Camp and members of foreign delegations lighted candles at the Auschwitz-Birkenau International Memorial to the Victims of Nazism.

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