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Bundestag marks liberation of Auschwitz

January 27, 2015

Seven decades after the Soviet Red Army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, Germany's parliament has convened to pay tribute to more than 1 million victims.

German leaders pictured in parliament during the commemoration ceremony
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Political and religious leaders gathered in parliament in Berlin on Tuesday to pay tribute to the estimated 1.1 million people murdered at the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. Around 1 million of the camp's victims were Jews.

The speaker of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, opened Tuesday's ceremony by quoting a diary entry from Nelly Sachs - a future literature Nobel laureate born in Berlin, who survived internment in a World War II concentration camp.

"I have no place any more. I am place-less," Lammert read back. Somewhat unusually in comparison with previous commemorations, no former inmate was slated to take to the Bundestag floor.

After Lammert's address came a somber clarinet rendition of part of the "Quatour pour la fin du temps" (Quartet for the End of Time); composer Olivier Messiaen was himself a Nazi prisoner during the Second World War, while in his thirties.

Bundestag Holocaust Gedenkstunde 27.01.2015 Gauck
German President Joachim Gauck told parliament that Auschwitz became 'a symbol for the Holocaust'Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Gauck: Remembering Holocaust 'belongs to this country's history'

German President Joachim Gauck delivered the keynote address in parliament, urging parliamentarians and the public not to forget or lose interest in Germany's World War II history.

"There is no German identity without Auschwitz," Gauck said. "The remembrance of the Holocaust remains something for all citizens living in Germany. It belongs to this country's history."

Gauck paid tribute to the Allied forces for their role in liberating extermination camps like Auschwitz, noting the role of the former Soviet Union during a tense period of ties with modern-day Russia.

"The extermination camps in the east were freed by the Soviets," Gauck said. "Today, as well, we bow before them in respect and gratitude."

Despite urging Germans to recall the crimes of the past, Gauck concluded that memorials alone could not "fulfill the moral obligation that rests upon us," saying that present day actions were yet more important.

"The community in which we'd like to live will only exist where individuals' worth is respected and where solidarity is a way of life," Gauck said at the end of his address.

Survivors flock to Poland

Red Army Soviet soldiers overran Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. The site, situated in then-occupied Poland, remains as a memorial - still with the haunting "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) sign above its gates.

On Tuesday, hundreds of survivors from Auschwitz-Birkenau will return to the former camp, all of them now of advanced years. The ceremonies, with representatives from almost 40 countries, will not include Russian President Valdimir Putin; the Kremlin claimed last month that Putin had not received an invitation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel attended a memorial service for the camp's victims on Monday evening, saying that Germany "must not forget" the many millions of victims of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Simultaneously, Merkel lamented that Jews living in Germany today could still face animosity in some corners.

"It is a disgrace that people in Germany are harassed, threatened or attacked if they somehow identify as Jews or if they take the side of the state of Israel," Merkel said.

msh/gsw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)