The magnitude of the crime is terrifying.

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The magnitude of the crime is terrifying'. Survivors gathered at the spot where more than a million Jews were killed Former prisoners dressed in the blue and white of their old uniforms as they visited Auschwitz Image Credit: Alamy 2020.

The magnitude of the crime is terrifying. Survivors gathered at the spot where more than a million Jews were killed. Former prisoners dressed in the blue and white of their old uniforms as they visited Auschwitz Image Credit: Alamy 2020.

‘The magnitude of the crime is terrifying’: Tributes and tears as Holocaust survivors gather at Auschwitz’s ‘gates of death’

IIt was once described as the place where Europe reached the darkest ends of hell. Seventy five years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the last remaining survivors of one of the most evil chapters in modern history on Monday returned to the “gates of death” to remember more than a million killed there by the Nazis. Wearing blue and white striped scarves echoing the color of the prison uniforms they were forced to wear by Adolf Hitler’s sadistic SS, they recalled the horrors of the Holocaust during what, for many, will be the last major commemoration on the site of the world’s biggest mass grave. Fellow inmates wept and held their heads in their hands as painful memories were recounted of the “criminal nightmare” inflicted on them at the extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland from 1940 to 45.

Royals including Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, and the King and Queen of the Netherlands joined world leaders and delegations from 61 countries at the complex 30 miles south of Krakow, four survivors gave heartbreaking testimonies of the cruelty they endured and witnessed there during the Second World War.

Polish Israeli Batsheva Dagan, 94, who was deported to Auschwitz in May 1943 told how she “barely recognized” herself after being tattooed with the number 45554 and having her head shaved. “Human dignity was treated as if it was dirt,” she said.

 

The magnitude of the crime is terrifying. Dignatories and former prisoners at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Image Credit: Rex, 2020.

The magnitude of the crime is terrifying. Dignatories and former prisoners at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Image Credit: Rex, 2020.

Covered in lice, her hands would bleed 12 hours a day as she was forced to pick nettles. She described how camp doctor Dr Josef Mengele would make children “stand in rows naked and be driven to death”. She added: “I said I wouldn’t go and I hid under a bed and somehow I saved myself this way.”

She was applauded as she asked: “Where was everybody, who could hear that, who could see that, but still did nothing?”

Stanislaw Zalewski, 94, who was arrested aged 18 for his underground activity in Poland and sent to Auschwitz said he could still hear the screaming of naked women being driven to the gas chambers. “I remember nicely dressed people with Star of David armbands being led to the crematorium. I saw sick prisoners killed in the hospital. I saw the suicide of prisoners who electrified themselves on the barbed wire fence. I witnessed executions. It was premediated,” he said. Elza Baker, 83, was eight years old when she was taken to Auschwitz in 1944 from her home in Hamburg because the Nazis considered her. Because she is sight-impaired, a speech she had written “from the heart” on behalf of the 21,000 Romany people who were killed there was read out for her. Recalling hearing “ear splitting screams” she said: “We saw a large area of open fire blazing. As a little girl, I overheard adult conversations saying, ‘They must have run out of gas and are burning people alive’.”

In August 1944, Lodz-born Marian Turski, 93, was deported to Auschwitz, where his father and brother were murdered on arrival. Speaking directly to his grandchildren in the audience, he admitted younger generations “can find talk of the Holocaust and genocide boring” but pleaded: “Do not be indifferent.” Opening the commemorations, Andrzej Duda, president of the Republic of Poland, praised his nation for helping to preserve the site near Oświęcim. Despite having been the first target of Nazi aggression, he said Poland had established the largest underground resistance movement to Third Reich. Half of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis were Polish and six million Poles perished altogether.

“We are speaking about numbers but these numbers represent people, their life stories and their suffering,” said Mr. Duda. “We will certainly never get to know the exact figures but we are speaking about numbers because we are in the factory of death – that is the industrial nature of the crimes committed here. At no other time and at no other place was extermination carried out in a similar manner.

“For years the factory of death operated in full capacity – smoke bellowed from chimneys, people walked in their thousands to meet their deaths. “It’s hard to understand – the magnitude of crime perpetrated is terrifying but we must never walk away from it and we must never forget it.”

American businessman Ronald Lauder, 75, heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire, reminded the audience that 1.5 million Jewish children were killed. Lauder, who is president of the World Jewish Congress, which paid for many of the 200 survivors to attend the ceremony and has helped to fund the preservation of Auschwitz, asked: “What could they have created for us all, what symphonies? What new technologies? What medical breakthroughs?”

Pointing out that “not one German was killed in retribution” by the 200,000 Jews liberated from the camps, he called for tougher laws to combat the rising tide of anti-Semitism. “Now I see something I never thought I’d see in my life-time – the open and brazen spread of anti-Jewish hatred again.

After the service, the Duchess joined survivors and foreign dignitaries for a 700m walk along the railway lines that brought in prisoners, to place candles at the main memorial at Auschwitz-II Birkenau, the largest of the three camps on the site.

The magnitude of the crime is terrifying. Former prisoners wept at the camp's execution wall. Image Credit: Getty Images, 2020.

The magnitude of the crime is terrifying. Former prisoners wept at the camp’s execution wall. Image Credit: Getty Images, 2020.

They included UK-based survivors Renee Salt, 90, and Hannah Lewis, 82, who travelled with the Holocaust Memorial Trust. Both were born in Poland but made their home in Britain after the war. Speaking to the Telegraph before the ceremony, grandmother of five Mrs. Salt said this would “probably” be her last visit to Auschwitz. “It breaks my heart every time I come back here. I say I’m still alive, Hitler is dead. That’s my satisfaction.” Her father “disappeared into thin air” when they jumped off the train, ”Without a kiss, without a goodbye, I never saw him again,” she said. She was later transferred to Bergen Belsen with her mother who died in hospital days after it was liberated. “I don’t really talk about that. It is still too painful.”

Mrs. Lewis also witnessed her mother’s death when she was shot in front of her during a round-up of prisoners in Adampol, a slave-labor sub-camp of Sobibor. When her father managed to find her weeks later, she asked him: ‘Where’s Mama?’ only to be told: “You know she’s not coming back. You saw it.” She said: “My father said I didn’t make a sound for about an hour.”

Asked if she could forgive those who perpetrated such unspeakable acts against her, her family and her fellow Jews, she added: “For me, I don’t have forgiveness. It wasn’t done in anger. It wasn’t done because we had a dispute. It was done in cold blood. So, I don’t have forgiveness. I have acceptance, because it happened and I can’t change it.”

 

Information and Images are shared from an Article by Camilla Tominey, Associated Editor in Poland, published at The Telegraph, London, UK on January 27th, 2020. Image Credits: Alamy. Rex and Getty Images, 2020.


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