“Seventy-five years ago today, when Soviet troops entered these gates, they had no idea what lay behind them. And since that day, the entire world has struggled with what they found inside,” said World Jewish Congress president Ronald S. Lauder.
On the hallowed grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Monday, Holocaust survivors and world leaders gathered to commemorate the 75 anniversary of the liberation of the camp, where a stark message about the growth of anti-Semitism was delivered.
About 200 survivors of the concentration camp attended the program, many of them elderly Jews, in addition to non-Jews who traveled from across the world from countries including Israel, the United States, Australia, Peru, Russia, Slovenia and elsewhere.
Joined by their own children, grandchildren and even great-grandchild, the ceremony was held in a large heated tent that straddled the infamous train tracks that had transported people to the camp where some 1.1 million people were killed, including 960,000 Jews. The Soviet Red Army liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945.
Delivering the keynote address was World Jewish Congress president and former U.S. Ambassador to Austria Ronald S. Lauder, who warned about the rise in anti-Semitism as the world commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Lauder presented keynote remarks on behalf of the Pillars of Remembrance, private donors who support the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation and its mission to preserve the authenticity of the site, at the memorial ceremony on the grounds of the death camp marking the liberation. On Monday, the U.S. announced that it would donate $2 million to the foundation.
Lauder emphasized that it was unbridled anti-Semitism, combined with world indifference, that led to the Holocaust. As such, and in the shadow of a resurgence of anti-Jewish, anti-Israel activity worldwide, he urged citizens and government leaders everywhere to speak out against intolerance and hatred.
‘Do not be silent. Do not be indifferent.’
“Today is about you, the survivors, and I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am that you are here, and in some cases, here with your children and grandchildren,” he said. “Seventy-five years ago today, when Soviet troops entered these gates, they had no idea what lay behind them. And since that day, the entire world has struggled with what they found inside.”
Lauder continued, saying “when we hear something that is anti-Semitic, when we hear someone talk about Israel unjustly, when Jews are attacked on your streets, do not be silent. Do not be indifferent. And do not just do this for the Jewish people around the world. Do this for your children, do this for your grandchildren.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda, who earlier marched through the infamous entrance to the camp with Polish survivors, also addressed the gathering.
“We have with us the last living survivors, the last among those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes,” he said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also attended the ceremony, which followed the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on Jan. 23, which brought nearly 50 leaders and a sizable international gathering together for commemorative speeches and joint remembrance of World War II devastating Europe, and in particular, European Jewry.
Rivlin met earlier with Duda, who boycotted those proceedings after he was not included as a main speaker. Poland, along with a number of other Eastern European countries, has been criticized for downplaying its role and the acquiescence of its citizens in the Holocaust.
“We remember that Nazi Germany initiated, planned and implemented the genocide of the Jewish people in Poland and other places, and that it takes full responsibility for its actions. And we also remember, with distress, that significant assistance came from across all of Europe, and that also demands the acceptance of responsibility,” said Israel’s president.
Among other leaders in attendance was German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.