KRAKOW, Poland – World leaders gathered in Poland, EU lawmakers observed a minute of silence in Brussels and a Holocaust survivor warned German leaders to be vigilant against anti-Semitism in ceremonies Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp (search).
In Poland, where leaders from 30 countries gathered to remember the victims of the Holocaust (search), Vice President Dick Cheney noted that it did not happen in some far-off place but "in the heart of the civilized world."
"The story of the camps shows that evil is real and must be called by its name and must be confronted," he said.
Maj. Anatoly Shapiro (search), 92, who commanded the unit that captured the camp on Jan. 27, 1945, greeted leaders and survivors at a Holocaust forum in Krakow ahead of the main ceremony at the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.
"I would like to say to all the people on the earth: Unite, and do not permit this evil that was committed," Shapiro said in a recorded video greeting played in Krakow's Slovacki theater. "This should never be repeated, ever."
The forum began with applause for Shapiro, who lives in the United States and was too ill to travel, and three other Soviet army veterans who helped liberate Auschwitz. They appeared on stage to received medals from President Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kwasniewski and Israeli President Moshe Katsav joined survivors later at the infamous rail siding at the nearby Birkenau camp, where Nazi doctors carried out the "selection" of new arrivals. That meant choosing those deemed able to be worked to death from the majority who were immediately sent to the gas chambers.
Putin won long applause when he acknowledged that anti-Semitism and xenophobia had surfaced in Russia, tackling an issue that the Kremlin had long failed to confront directly. Putin said many in the world should be ashamed of new manifestations of anti-Semitism six decades after the defeat of fascism.
"Even in our country, in Russia, which did more than any to combat fascism ... we sometimes unfortunately see manifestations of this problem and I, too, am ashamed of that," Putin said.
In Brussels, members of the European Parliament stood in a minute of silence to pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust and to mark the anniversary.
"Everyone is surprised such a thing happened, but it did," said EU Parliament President Josep Borrell. "It's difficult to pay just memory to it. It is a battle against the weakness of memory, something which should never happen again."
The EU assembly then passed a resolution by 617 votes to 0, with 10 abstentions, condemning anti-Semitism and racism and paying homage to the victims of Nazi Germany.
Some 1.5 million people, most of them Jews from across Europe, died in gas chambers or of disease, starvation, abuse and exhaustion at Auschwitz and Birkenau — the most notorious of the death camps set up by Adolf Hitler to carry out his "final solution," the murder of Europe's Jewish population.
Soviet troops reached the camp in January 1945, finding some 7,000 survivors, many barely alive. The retreating Nazis had driven most of the prisoners who still had strength to walk out into the snow on a "death march" toward camps further west.
Six million Jews died in the Nazi camps, along with several million others, including Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies, homosexuals and political opponents of the Nazis.
Germany's President Horst Koehler was to attend but was not scheduled to speak — an acknowledgment of Germany's role as the perpetrator of the Holocaust.
In Germany, a Holocaust survivor warned Germans to be vigilant against anti-Semitism, particularly in the Muslim world.
Arno Lustiger told German leaders gathered in parliament for the national Holocaust Remembrance Day that everyone must fight anti-Semitism.
"The hate toward Israel and its people, the denial of the right to life of the Jewish state by the Arab-Muslim world, the violence against Jews and their institutions fills me with pain and anger," Lustiger said.
"Anti-Semitism and particularly its Islamic stamp should not just be the concern of the Jews because forces are working in Europe that want to bomb our civilization back into the Middle Ages," he said.
Parliament president Wolfgang Thierse called on Germans to fight continued anti-Semitism in Germany, especially in light of the regional resurgence of the far-right National Democratic Party — which took nearly 10 percent of the vote in elections in the eastern state of Saxony last year.
Newly elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko addressed the youth gathering, and members of the audience stood and applauded as he entered the hall.
Survivors who returned for the commemoration stressed that each new generation needs to be educated about the Holocaust.
Reports in western Europe of increasing anti-Jewish incidents such as vandalizing graves and a walkout last week by members of a small German far-right party from an Auschwitz commemoration in the Saxony state legislature were cited as examples of why it's important to go on teaching about the Holocaust.