WARSAW, Poland – European leaders remembered the Holocaust on Friday, the 61st anniverary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, with commemorations shadowed by concern over anti-Israeli remarks by Iran's president.
Several leaders used the occasion to reject President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement that Israel should be wiped off the map and his description of the Holocaust — the murder of 6 million Jews by Adolf Hitler's forces — as a "myth."
Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz was to place a wreath at the foot of the main Auschwitz memorial in honor of the some 1.5 million people who died at the Nazi-run camp.
Marcinkiewicz was joined by the Israeli ambassador to Poland, camp survivors and local leaders and representatives of the Jewish community.
Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz and the neighboring Birkenau camp on Jan. 27, 1945. Some 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, died there from gassing, starvation, exhaustion, beatings and disease. Other victims included Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals and political opponents of the Nazis.
In Germany, parliamentary president Norbert Lammert said the lessons of the Holocaust must influence national policy, referring to Ahmadinejad in warning of the danger of anti-Semitism.
Lammert stressed that the need to commemorate the millions of Jews and other victims murdered by the Nazis will not diminish with time.
"We want to — and we must — continue to be prepared to learn from our history," Lammert said at a special session of parliament.
"The past weeks have shown us how much not only we Germans need this (Holocaust) Remembrance Day," Lammert said. "With dismay we were forced to accept that today even presidents insist on describing the Holocaust as a "myth" and go so far as to make anti-Semitic remarks."
Germany has joined other nations in expressing concern about Ahmadinejad's comments.
In a statement released at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it was imperative the world remember the unique tragedy of the Holocaust and reject all attempts by "bigots" to deny the extermination of the Jews during World War II.
"It must be remembered, with shame and horror, for as long as human memory continues," Annan said in the statement, released to mark the first international day commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.