Auschwitz survivors mark anniversary online amid pandemic

APTOPIX_Virus_Outbreak_Israel_Holocaust_85127 Holocaust survivors wear face masks and keep a safe distance from each other while attending an annual International Holocaust memorial ceremony being held outside this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, during a nation wide lockdown, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
Germany_Holocaust_Remembrance_76879 Rabbi Shaul Nekrich, right, holds the Sulzbach Torah Scroll in a ceremony at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 to complete the historic Sulzbach Torah Scroll from 1792, rediscovered in 2013 and just restored. The ceremony takes place on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The railway tracks from where hundred thousands of people was directed to the gas chambers to murdered immediately inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II. in Oswiecim, Poland, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holocaust_Remembrance_41693 A pathway leading to an observation and security tower between what were electric barbed wire fences inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holocaust_Remembrance_99532 View of a wall inside gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz death camp in German-occupied Poland. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holocaust_Remembrance_68066 A view inside gas chamber one at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz I in Oswiecim, Poland, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. On Jan. 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz death camp in German-occupied Poland. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holocaust_Remembrance_89997 The remains of brick stone chimneys of prisoners barracks inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau or Auschwitz II. in Oswiecim, Poland, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holocaust_Remembrance_31352 File - In this Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 file photo, survivors of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz arrive for a commemoration ceremony on International Holocaust Remembrance Day at the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism inside Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holocaust_Remembrance_81083 This photo provide by the World Jewish Congress, Tova Friedman, an 82-year-old Polish-born Holocaust survivor holding a photograph of herself as a child with her mother, who also survived the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, in New York, Friday, Dec.13, 2019. Friedman is delivering a warning against rising hatred in the world during an online commemoration on Wednesday, the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops at end of World War II. The commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust at the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, will be mostly online in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Holocaust_Remembrance_77593 FILE - In this Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 file photo Rose Schindler, 85, right, a survivor of Auschwitz, and her husband Max, 85, visit the former death camp in Oswiecim, Poland. Schindler was among dozens of survivors who visited the site a day ahead of ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by Soviet troops in 2015, but this year the 91-year-old is marking the sombre anniversary from her home in San Diego. Commemorations for this year’s 76th anniversary will be mostly online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
APTOPIX_Germany_Holocaust_Remebrance_32758 Roses with a note saying "#weremember", are placed on the Holocaust Memorial on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
APTOPIX_Germany_Holocaust_Remembrance_67566 A Rabbi sits in front of Germany's heraldic Eagel as he attends a special meeting of the German Parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 commemorating the victims of the Holocaust on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Germany_Holocaust_Remembrance_69308 German Parliament Vice President Claudia Roth commemorates at the Memorial for the Victims of Nazi Euthanasia Killings on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
Holocaust_Remembrance_83062 FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019 photo the railway tracks where hundred thousands of people arrived to be directed to the gas chambers inside the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, are pictured in Oswiecim, Poland.
Germany_Holocaust_Remembrance_93145 A woman stand in front of the Memorial to Homosexuals, persecuted under Nazism, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021 during the International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Italy_Holocaust_Remembrance_Day_91284 A woman stands by stumbling stones, engraved with names of Jews killed by the Nazis, in Rome's Ghetto Jewish neighborhood, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, on the occasion of International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust and the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. On Oct. 16, 1943 German occupation soldiers gathered more than 1,000 Jewish men, women and children from their homes in the Roman Ghetto and sent them to Auschwitz.
Germany_Holocaust_Remembrance_25496 Flowers are placed at the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of the Holocaust on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021.
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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Jewish prayer for the souls of the people murdered in the Holocaust echoed Wednesday over where the Warsaw ghetto stood during World War II as a world paused by the coronavirus pandemic observed the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Most International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations were being held online this year due to the virus, including the annual ceremony at the site of the former Auschwitz death camp, where Nazi German forces killed 1.1 million people in occupied Poland. The memorial site is closed to visitors because of the pandemic.

In one of the few live events, mourners gathered in Poland’s capital to pay their respects at a memorial in the former Warsaw ghetto, the largest of all the ghettos where European Jews were held in cruel and deadly conditions before being sent to die in mass extermination camps.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a message to a World Jewish Congress and Auschwitz memorial museum event, said the online nature of remembrance events takes nothing away from their importance.

“It’s a duty but also a responsibility, one we inherit from those who lived through the horrors of the Shoah, whose voices are gradually disappearing,” Steinmeier said. “The greatest danger for all of us begins with forgetting. With no longer remembering what we inflict upon one another when we tolerate anti-Semitism and racism in our midst.”

“We must remain alert, must identify prejudice and conspiracy theories, and combat them with reason, passion and resolve,” Steinmeier said.

From the Vatican, Pope Francis said remembering was a sign of humanity and a condition for a peaceful future while warning that distorted ideologies could lead to a repeat of mass murder on a horrific scale.

In Germany, the parliament held a special session to honor victims. In Austria and Slovakia, hundreds of survivors were offered their first doses of a vaccine against the coronavirus in a gesture both symbolic and lifesaving given the threat of the virus to older adults. In Israel, some 900 Holocaust survivors died from COVID-19 out of 5,300 who were infected last year.

Israel, which counts 197,000 Holocaust survivors, officially marks its Holocaust remembrance day in the spring. But events were also being held across the country, mostly virtually or without members of the public in attendance.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg signed a deal agreeing to pay reparations and to restitute dormant bank accounts, insurance policies and looted art to Holocaust survivors.

Survivors and many others joined a World Jewish Congress campaign which involved posting photos of themselves and #WeRemember. They were broadcast at Auschwitz on a screen next to the gate and a cattle car representing the way camp inmates were transported there.

The online nature of this year’s commemorations is a sharp contrast to events marking last year’s anniversary, when some 200 survivors and dozens of European leaders and royalty gathered at the site of the former camp. It was one of the last large international gatherings before the pandemic brought normal life to a halt.

Due to the pandemic, most survivors today live in “isolation and loneliness,” said Tova Friedman, 82, a Poland-born Auschwitz survivor who attended last year’s event and had hoped to return this year with her eight grandchildren. Instead she recorded a message of warning from her home in Highland Park, New Jersey.

“Today, as anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head again, the voices of protest are not many and not loud enough,” said Tova, who at age 6 was among the thousands of prisoners to greet the Soviet troops who liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945.

Piotr Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, also warned of worsening anti-Semitism, populism and demagoguery.

“Our world is suffering (from) our own incapacity to react, our own passivity,” Cywinski said. “We are the bystanders of our times.”

The vast majority of those killed at Auschwitz were Jews, but Poles, Roma, homosexuals and Soviet prisoners of war were also murdered there.

In all, about 6 million European Jews and millions of other people were killed by the Germans and their collaborators. In 2005, the United Nations designated the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Of the 6 million Jewish victims, some 1.5 million were children, and this year’s commemorations included a special focus on them. All living survivors were either children or still young during the war that began more than 81 years ago.

While commemorations have moved online for the first time, one constant is the drive of survivors to tell their stories as words of caution.

Rose Schindler, a 91-year-old survivor of Auschwitz who was originally from Czechoslovakia but now lives in San Diego, California, has been speaking to school groups about her experience for 50 years. Her story, and that of her late husband, Max, also a survivor, is also told in a book, “Two Who Survived: Keeping Hope Alive While Surviving the Holocaust.”

After Schindler was transported to Auschwitz in 1944, she was selected more than once for immediate death in the gas chambers. She survived by escaping each time and joining work details.

The horrors she experienced — the mass murder of her parents and four of seven siblings, the hunger, being shaven, lice infestations — are difficult to convey, but she keeps speaking to groups, over past months by Zoom.

“We have to tell our stories so it doesn’t happen again,” Schindler said in a Zoom call from her home Monday. “It is unbelievable what we went through, and the whole world was silent as this was going on.”

Friedman said she believes it is her role to “sound the alarm” about rising anti-Semitism and other hatred in the world; otherwise, “another tragedy may happen.”

That hatred, she said, was on clear view when a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Some insurrectionists wore clothes with anti-Semitic messages like “Camp Auschwitz.”

“It was utterly shocking, and I couldn’t believe it. And I don’t know what part of America feels like that. I hope it’s a very small and isolated group and not a pervasive feeling,” Friedman said.

___

Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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