President Christian Wulff has called on Germans to prevent an event like the Holocaust from ever happening again. In an unprecedented speech for a German head of state, he spoke at Auschwitz on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
German President Christian Wulff marked Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday with a historic speech at Auschwitz, the site of the largest Nazi death camp during World War II.
"We all carry responsibility that such a breach of civilization does not happen again," he said.
Wulff was the first German president ever to speak at the Auschwitz commemoration. He also met camp survivors with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.
"Since World War II, across the globe there has not been a single day without war," Wulff said. "This is an appeal to youth to take responsibility for what is happening. Indifference is the worst threat to democracy and liberty."
January 27 marks the day when Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1945. Around 1.5 million people were murdered there, the vast majority of them European Jews.
The anniversary was declared an international day of remembrance for the six million victims of the Holocaust by a 2005 UN General Assembly resolution. Germany has marked the day since 1996.
About 1.5 million people were killed at Auschwitz in Poland
Roma Holocaust survivor speaks
Official ceremonies took place across Germany. Roma Holocaust survivor Zoni Weisz addressed the country's parliament in Berlin. The speech symbolized an effort by Germany to give more recognition to the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Weisz, 73, told the Bundestag that Sinti and Roma probably represent the most persecuted ethnic minority in Europe today, and that their genocide during Nazi Germany was a "forgotten Holocaust."
"Society has learned little to nothing from this, but rather it has dodged its responsibility to us," he said. "The vast majority [of Roma] have no opportunity, no work, no education and live without regular medical care."
Historians estimate that between 220,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti, otherwise known as gypsies, were killed by the Nazis, out of a total population of around one million in Europe before World War II. They were also systematically persecuted, confined to ghettos, deported and subjected to grotesque medical experiments..
Weisz said Roma and Sinti are the most persecuted minority in Europe today
Since then, their population has swelled to around 12 million in Europe. Tens of thousands live in Germany, many of them refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo.
West Germany did not officially recognize the genocide of Roma and Sinti until 1982.
New focus for memorial day
Weisz was born in Holland to an instrument maker and grew up in the eastern town of Zutphen. His family was deported to the east in 1944 when he was 7, but he survived thanks to a policeman who helped him escape.
Weisz lived out the rest of the war in hiding, but his parents, sisters and younger brother were all murdered in Auschwitz. He said he was "surprised and honored" when asked to speak to the Bundestag
"It is the first time that the fate of the Sinti and Roma of Europe has been placed at the center of the commemorations - finally," said the head of the Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany, Romani Rose..
The Topf & Söhne factory in Erfurt is to become a Holocaust memorial site
There was also a special commemoration at the eastern German city of Erfurt, where the Topf & Söhne engineering plant, which manufactured crematoria for Nazi death camps, is to be turned into a Holocaust memorial site.
"The factory was not a place were people were murdered or tortured, but it was a place where engineers calculated how dead bodies could be burned as quickly and effectively as possible," said the exhibition's leader, Annegret Schüle.
Later this year, Germany will inaugurate a national memorial to Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis.
Authors: Andrew Bowen, Shant Shahrigian (epd, dapd, dpa)
Editor: Nicole Goebel