Holocaust Survivors Return to Auschwitz on 75th Anniversary of Nazi Liberation

A commemoration was held on Monday, where leaders laid wreaths in remembrance and urged people to stand up against anti-Semitism

Auschwitz Memorial Commemorates 75th Anniversary Since Liberation
Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty

Hundreds of Holocaust survivors gathered together in southern Poland on Monday to honor those who died under Nazi control at Auschwitz.

To mark the 75-year anniversary of Auschwitz being liberated by the Soviet army on Jan. 27, 1945, a commemoration was held at the site of the former concentration camp, which was built in March 1942 in the village of Brzezinka and occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II.

An estimated 1.1 million people, mostly Jews from across Europe, were killed at Auschwitz I and nearby Auschwitz II-Birkenau, in gas chambers or from systematic starvation, forced labor, disease, and medical experiments.

On Monday, approximately 200 survivors and their families showed up to the memorial, led by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and the head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, NBC News reported.

The survivors — hailing from the United States, Israel, Australia, South America, Russia and Slovenia, among other areas — paid tribute to the victims by laying wreaths at the execution wall, where thousands were shot by Nazis, according to the outlet.

Auschwitz Memorial Commemorates 75th Anniversary Since Liberation
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe at the commemoration. WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP via Getty
Auschwitz Memorial Commemorates 75th Anniversary Since Liberation
Survivors laying wreaths. JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty

Photos taken at the scene showed survivors overcome with emotion as they remembered those who lost their lives and reflected on their own inhumane experiences in the execution camp.

Other powerful images showed survivors and their families walking through the very gates that held them hostage for so long. The German phrase, “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translates to “Work sets you free,” can still be seen written above the doors.

“It’s been three generations since that day, the 27th of January 1945, when a few thousand prisoners, victims of cruelty, exhausted by slave-work, hunger, and diseases, lived to see liberation by the soldiers of the Red Army,” Duda told the crowd in a speech, according to NBC News.

Auschwitz Memorial Commemorates 75th Anniversary Since Liberation
A Holocaust survivor at the memorial. JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty
Auschwitz Memorial Commemorates 75th Anniversary Since Liberation
Survivors walking through the Auschwitz gates. Omar Marques/Getty

Many of the day’s visitors wore blue and white scarves as a nod to the striped uniforms they were forced to wear as prisoners, the BBC reported.

“Auschwitz to me is a cemetery, and I am going to honor my people,” Sally Jassy of Queens, New York, told NBC News.

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Jassy was born in Lodz, Poland, and survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, though she lost her mother, father, brother, two sisters and dozens of cousins to the former.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall also commemorated the 75th anniversary, attending the solemn service at the infamous death camp. Leading the U.K. delegation for the ceremony alongside Lord Eric Pickles, the U.K. Post-Holocaust Envoy, the duchess joined survivors and 40 officials from across Europe for the service.

In addition to the visits at Auschwitz, there were other events held to commemorate the anniversary around the globe, including a meeting in Jerusalem last Tuesday of dozens of world leaders, like Prince Charles.

<a href="https://people.com/tag/prince-charles/" data-inlink="true">Prince Charles</a>
Prince Charles and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. Mark Neyman / GPO / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty

“The magnitude of the genocide that was visited upon the Jewish people defies comprehension and can make those of us who live in the shadow of those indescribable events feel hopelessly inadequate,” Charles said in a powerful speech at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

Duda did not attend the event in Jerusalem “over a disagreement with Russia over Poland’s role in triggering World War II,” NBC News reported.

Lauder, however, argued that the mission was not about politics but about Holocaust survivors, and reportedly called on world leaders to put up a greater fight against anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke in Paris, and added 175 names to the Shoah Memorial, a wall of remembrance honoring the tens of thousands of French Jews taken to concentration camps, the BBC reported.

“It has to be remembered so that it should never happen again. It never should be forgotten. It is so important,” Auschwitz survivor Ruth Scheuer Siegler, 93, recently told PEOPLE. “I have three children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. That is my dividend. Hitler didn’t succeed.”

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