More than 300 Holocaust survivors traveled Tuesday to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp in Poland to commemorate the 70th anniversary of its liberation by Allied forces. Several European heads of state were expected to make an appearance at the site to pay their respects.
Auschwitz 70th anniversary ceremonies were expected to include a church service, a wreath-laying and a candle-lighting, the BBC reported. Officials expected the occasion to be one of the last milestone events for the aging survivors of Nazi atrocities. About 1,500 survivors attended a 60th anniversary ceremony in 2005, the Associated Press reported.
“Their voices have been silenced by gas chambers and crematoria, so we survivors have the duty to honor their memory and speak the best we can for them, and tell this unprecedented story of destruction of millions of people," Marcel Tuchman, a 93-year-old Auschwitz survivor, told NBC News. French President François Hollande, German President Joachim Gauck and Austrian President Heinz Fischer were expected to be among the world leaders present at the 70th anniversary ceremony. United States Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew, also attended. Russian President Vladimir Putin was not present at the ceremony due to an ongoing dispute with Poland’s leaders over Russia’s support of separatist rebels in war-torn Eastern Ukraine.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke Monday on the rise of renewed anti-Semitism in Europe, calling such acts against the Jewish people a “disgrace.” “We’ve got to fight anti-Semitism and all racism from the outset,” Merkel said at a Holocaust memorial event in Berlin. “We’ve got to constantly be on guard to protect our freedom, democracy and rule of law.”
Director Steven Spielberg, who won an Oscar for the 1993 Holocaust film “Schindler’s List,” delivered a speech Monday to Auschwitz survivors hours before the official ceremony began. Spielberg spoke of his own Jewish faith and warned of the rise of hate crimes and anti-Semitism in Europe, the Associated Press reported.
More than 1 million prisoners were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau before the Soviet Union’s Red Army liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. Approximately 90 percent of prisoners killed at the camp were Jewish.