WARSAW, Poland – Dozens of Auschwitz survivors placed wreaths and flowers Friday at the infamous execution wall of the former German death camp, paying homage to the victims of Adolf Hitler's regime exactly 72 years after the camp's liberation.
Jan. 27, the anniversary of the day that the Soviet army liberated the camp in German-occupied Poland in 1945, is recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Commemorative events were also being held across Europe and Israel.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the term "Auschwitz" stands for all the death camps and the entire Nazi "persecution and murder machinery" that remained part of Germany's history
While Germany cannot change or undo what happened, he said the country has a continued obligation to commemorate the genocide, honor the memory of the victims and take responsibility for the crimes.
Noting the political instability in the world today, Steinmeier said that "history should be a lesson, warning and incentive all at the same time. There can and should be no end to remembrance."
Steinmeier's statement came hours before he was due to hand over the post of foreign minister to the current economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres vowed to "be in the frontline of the battle against anti-Semitism and all other forms of hatred."
"Tragically, and contrary to our resolve, anti-Semitism continues to thrive," Guterres said. "We are also seeing a deeply troubling rise in extremism, xenophobia, racism and anti-Muslim hatred. Irrationality and intolerance are back."
Elderly survivors at Auschwitz, which today is a memorial site and museum, paid homage to those killed by wearing striped scarves reminiscent of the garb prisoners once wore there.
They walked slowly beneath the notorious gate with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Will Set You Free) and made their way as a group to the execution wall, where they lit candles and prayed.
Janina Malec, a Polish survivor whose parents were killed at the execution wall, told the PAP news agency that "as long as I live I will come here," describing her yearly visit as a "pilgrimage."