Polish PM, German chancellor attend Auschwitz foundation anniversary

2019-12-06 21:09 update: 2019-12-11, 20:26
Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, German Chancellor Angela Merkel . Photo  PAP/Łukasz Gągulski
Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, German Chancellor Angela Merkel . Photo PAP/Łukasz Gągulski
Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and three former inmates of the Nazi German death camp Auschwitz on Friday attended ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation at the former camp's site.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was set up in 2009 with a mission to gather EUR 120 mln in an endowment fund. The annual interest payments on the capital collected this way should allow the foundation to carry out systematic conservation work on the site of the death camp.

Nearly 40 countries as well as individual donors have already supported the fund, with declared contributions exceeding EUR 100 mln. Germany has contributed EUR 60 mln and is expected to donate another EUR 60 mln. Poland has paid in EUR 10 mln.

Friday's ceremony took place in the so-called central sauna building within the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp, where the Germans registered the incoming inmates, depriving them of their names and replacing them with numbers. Angela Merkel is the third German Chancellor, after Helmut Schmidt and Helmut Kohl, to visit Auschwitz.

In her address, Merkel said she felt shame at the thought of the atrocities committed by the Germans in Auschwitz, and stressed that the site symbolised the biggest crime in human history, whose memory had to be upheld.

"I feel deep shame when I think about the barbaric crimes committed here by the Germans. These were crimes and violations that transgressed all imaginable boundaries (...). What words could describe all the sorrow, all the suffering experienced by people who were murdered, tortured, and who perished here? (...) This place commits us to uphold the memory of what took place here. We must remember about the crimes perpetrated on this site, and define them clearly. The name Auschwitz symbolises millions of victims and killings, mainly of Jews, but also people of other nationalities, and is a symbol of the Holocaust," Merkel said. 

She also reminded that many of the camp's victims had been Poles, among them members of the intelligentsia and the underground resistance.

Recalling the camp's mass gas chamber executions, the cold, starvation and other adversities suffered by its inmates, including submission to heinous medical experiments, Merkel said that what went on at Auschwitz was "incomprehensible for the human mind." She reminded that the camp's 1.1 million victims, mostly Jews, were "murdered in a premeditated and systematic way," and stressed that each of them "had a name, dignity, an origin and a history."

Merkel also said it was necessary to remember that the camp had been "a German national-socialist labour and extermination camp" administrated by Germans, and stressed that this was its full description. "It was a German death camp administrated by Germans. It is important for me to underscore this and point clearly at the perpetrators," she said.

The German chancellor said that the Germans' responsibility for what happened in countries occupied by the Third Reich during World War II was "unnegotiable", and assured that awareness of the Holocaust was an inseverable part of the national identity of today's Germans and the German state. She also appealed for the reinforcement of values like human dignity, freedom, democracy and the rule of law, she praised today's relations between Germany and Israel, and deplored signs of rising anti-Semitism.

Merkel assured of Germany's "meaningful" financial contribution to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, and stressed that the camp site was a reminder that such crimes should never again take place. She also paid tribute to the camp's victims, stating that she "bowed her head deeply" before them and in homage to the Holocaust victims and their families.

Morawiecki said Poland felt obliged to uphold the memory of the Holocaust and Nazi-German crimes in a gesture of "belated justice" towards the victims. He added that there were fewer and fewer witnesses of those events, which all the more obliged today's generations to nurture their memory.

"Belated justice towards the victims requires remembrance (...) about those who are with us no longer, and to whom we owe this memory. (...) If this memory were to fade, it would be as if we were additionally wronging those who went through hell and unimaginable suffering here," the PM stated, adding that "the testimony of those days build today's reality."

In a letter to the ceremony participants, President Andrzej Duda wrote that Auschwitz had been the deathplace of people of various nationalities, and today stood as a reminder of what humanity was capable of.

"Murdered here were Jews, also Poles, Roma and Sinti, and Soviet POWs. This soil, these walls are permeated with the fear, shouts, tears and blood of mass-slaughtered people. This site will forever stand as a reminder for all generations of the crimes to which humans obsessed by hatred and contempt for other nations are capable of," the president wrote. 

The Nazi Germans established the Auschwitz camp in 1940, initially for the imprisonment of Poles. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was established two years later and became the main site for the mass extermination of Jews. There was also a network of sub-camps in the complex. The Germans killed at least 1.1 million people at Auschwitz, mainly Jews, but also Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war.

The camp was liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. In 1947, the camp site was declared a national memorial site. (PAP)