Rivlin: Nazis greatly assisted in murderous acts by European countries

'Thou shall not be indifferent,' says Holocaust survivor.

President Reuven Rivlin at the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz (photo credit: TOMER REICHMAN/COURTESY)
President Reuven Rivlin at the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz
AUSCHWITZ/KRAKOW – There was hardly a dry eye in sight as world leaders and Holocaust survivors commemorated the 75th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Monday.
Thousands gathered at the entrance of the former Nazi concentration and death camp to take part in the ceremony, where survivors shared their testimonies and leaders spoke.
Several survivors wore bandannas around their necks with the colors of the pajamas they were forced to wear while incarcerated in the camp.
For Holocaust survivors who went through the horrors of Auschwitz and the Shoah, returning to the place where some 1.1. million Jews were murdered by the Nazis was not easy.
Speaking to survivors over Sunday and Monday about what it meant to be back and why they decided to return, several highlighted that as the world once again faces the scourge of antisemitism, they need to give their testimonies “so it will never happen again.”
“It is very difficult for me to be back here,” Miriam Ziegler told The Jerusalem Post. “But I have to be here for the memory of all the people [who were murdered].”
She stood near the entrance to Auschwitz with a picture hanging around her neck. She pointed to the picture – a well-known photograph of child survivors standing by the fence of the camp after being liberated by the Red Army – and pointed at one of the children: “This was me.”
When Ziegler was nine years old, she was deported to Auschwitz from Ostrowiec, Poland, after she had been smuggled into the work camp there to join her parents. While children were not allowed in the camp, she, together with some five or six others, remained hidden there.
After deportation to Auschwitz in 1944, “They tattooed my arm, shaved my head and took me to the showers.”
“I was lucky to get out of the showers because at that time we were told that most of the people were being gassed,” she recalled. “They put me in the children’s block where they did experiments on us, and I was there until liberation on January 27, 1945.”
Ziegler remembered the day the Soviets liberated the camp and the feeling of finally being free.
“My immediate family was killed aside from my mother, who I reunited with after the war. She was in Czechoslovakia with my aunt,” she said.
Ziegler said that this was her third time back in Auschwitz.
“And I am here to give honor to those who did not survive,” she said. “It was lucky that I survived – that I am alive.”
Ziegler stressed that she was there to teach the next generation.
“I don’t want anyone to ever live through these horrors ever again, and that is why we are doing this,” she said, adding that still today, walking under the entrance gate with the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ (Work Sets You Free) “still makes me very nervous because the nightmares and memories have stayed with me all my life, and being here does bring it back.”
Ziegler said her last time back was five years ago. “This will be my final time returning,” she said.
Freida Weinreich, 95, who was in Auschwitz for a few days before being deported to a camp in Czechoslovakia, told the Post she was there because “the Holocaust has to be remembered.
“This is the most important thing because there are some people right now who say the Holocaust didn’t happen,” she said. “It has to be a reminder because God forbid, it can happen again anywhere in the world, and as there are dictators in other parts of the world, you never know what they can do, so we have to tell the next generation of people.”
Prior to the event, President Reuven Rivlin made several remarks to his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda that created some contention.
Rivlin stressed that “history, along with the difficult events that took place [during the Holocaust]... are inextricably linked to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
“The history is a connection to the future with an unwavering commitment to remembering past facts,” he said. “It is a connection that must conserve the purity of history... [we must] leave the work of fact research in the hands of expert historians.”
Rivlin said he regretted that relations between Poland and Israel were compromised “due to political preoccupation with the historical issues.” Discussions about history should be held between historians and experts, while political leaders should preserve and promote relations between states and peoples, he said.
“We remember that Nazi Germany initiated, planned and executed the Jewish genocide in Poland as well as elsewhere, and that it bears full responsibility for its actions,” Rivlin said. However, it is also remembered that Nazi Germany was “greatly assisted in its murderous acts by [occupied countries] throughout Europe, and even this conduct demands responsibility.”
Rivlin said the Jewish people “will always cherish the courage of the Righteous of the Nations, among them thousands of Poles who risked their lives to save Jews. But that aside, it was too few to change the Nazis’ plan that turned Poland into the main site of the extermination of the Jews.”
He said Israel and Poland cherish the bond they have, emphasizing that “our duty is to fight a determined, clear, uncompromising battle against antisemitism and racism.”
“We reach out to the Polish people today and ask to work together for the future of the next generation, respecting history and inspired by peace, justice, tolerance and partnership,” Rivlin said.
During his speech at the memorial event, Duda stressed: “We in Poland know well the truth about what was happening here since it was recounted to us by our compatriots who had camp numbers tattooed on their bodies by the Germans.”
He said the Holocaust was “perpetrated in this spot by the... Nazi Third Reich,” which targeted “Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war – but first and foremost Jews,” adding that this factory of death functioned at full capacity for three years.
“This very place, preserved as tangible evidence and [a] symbol of Holocaust,” Duda said. “Hence, [we] stand here today, [at the] premises of former Auschwitz camp.”
The Polish premier said all who have gathered “bow our heads for those who suffered at [the] hands most horrendous crime in history.”
Duda promised “to always nurture memory and guard [the] truth about what happened here,” and he called on people across the world to do so, too.
Several Holocaust survivors shared their testimonies, with tears streaming down the faces of many of the attendees who listened with the utmost attention.
Survivor Marian Turski appealed to the world not “to be indifferent when you see historical lies.”
“Do not be indifferent when any minority is discriminated against,” he said. “Democracy hinges on rights of minorities being protected.”
Turski stressed that the “11th Commandment” must be: “Thou shall not be indifferent.”
“If you don’t heed the 11th Commandment... you cannot be surprised when you see [another] Auschwitz fall from the sky,” he said.
Turski said being indifferent when small steps of prejudice are implemented little by little is what leads to events like the Holocaust.
The writer is a guest of the World Jewish Congress and The Jerusalem Press Club.