Camp Survivors Recall Horror and Freedom | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 17.04.2005
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Germany

Camp Survivors Recall Horror and Freedom

Hundreds of Nazi concentration camp survivors from around the world marked the 60th anniversary of their liberation over the weekend as they mourned the millions who lost their lives.

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A former inmate at the dedication of a commemorative plaque

Former prisoners joined German leaders Sunday at the Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen camps north of Berlin and Bergen-Belsen near the northern city of Hanover, some wearing blue-and-white striped scarves recalling the camp uniforms.

"We cannot erase the horror of what was Bergen-Belsen when the English tanks arrived in April 1945," recalled Simone Veil, a camp survivor and former European Parliament president.

Veil, who was 17 was she was deported in March 1944, called for special attention to be given to those who were children as prisoners at the camp.

"For those of us who were older when we were deported, time is running out. But for them, they still have time to live. Even if we tend to say too often that there will soon be no more survivors, they live on. It is time to listen to them and say they are bearing a memory that must be passed on."

Gedenken an KZ-Befreiung

Lower Saxony Premier Christian Wulff, left, Paul Spiegel, the head of Germany's Central Council of Jews

The head of Germany's Central Council of Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel (photo, right), whose own family cheated death by fleeing to Belgium, said Germany had still not stamped out right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism. He called for more support from all sectors of society in the fight against extremism, since he said racism and discrimination are still serious dangers in Germany.

"Those who feel threatened must speak up more loudly and self-confidently," he warned.

Tens of thousands of deaths

Some 125,000 Jews, political opponents, gypsies and Jehovah's witnesses were held at the camp from 1940 until its liberation by British troops on April 15, 1945. More than 50,000, including diarist Anne Frank, were killed or died from hunger and disease, in addition

to 20,000 prisoners of war.

Denken an KZ-Befreiung

Some 14,000 prisoners died after the camp's liberation from illnesses contracted at the camp.

Meanwhile dozens of survivors of the Ravensbrück camp, where some 132,000 women and children were held captive between 1938 and 1945 and tens of thousands died, joined a solemn memorial ceremony with German Family Affairs Minister Renate Schmidt.

"Ravensbrück makes us shudder at the capacity of human beings to do the unthinkable," she said.

The camp was liberated on April 30, 1945 by the Soviet army.

Keeping the memory alive

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer presided over an afternoon ceremony at Sachsenhausen, where some 200,000 prisoners were held between 1936 and 1945 until the Red Army reached it on April 22.

He also called for a determined fight against xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism. "Our democracy is hurt everywhere where intolerance and violence against minority groups or those who think differently arises," he said.

He said Germans "cannot and will not" ever escape responsibility for the crimes against humanity committed in their names. He said the memory of those crimes must be kept alive for future generations.

A national memorial to the Jewish victims of the Nazis is due to open in central Berlin on May 10, two days after the 60th anniversary of Germany's capitulation. New laws have been passed to prevent neo-Nazi protesters from being able to approach the site near the Brandenburg Gate on that day.

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