The more than 200,000 children killed by Nazi Germany at Auschwitz were honoured on Wednesday in online ceremonies marking the liberation of the camp which has come to symbolise the Holocaust.
Survivors sounded the alarm over the modern-day dangers posed by the resurgence of racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial at a 76th anniversary event.
“Do not let us down,” Auschwitz survivor, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, now 95, said in an appeal to young people for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Do not allow the memory to be distorted and poisoned by the ugly resurgence of xenophobia and anti-Semitism.
“By denying these victims and poisoning ourselves with hatred we are murdering these victims a second time over,” she said at the ceremonies, held online only for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Build bridges, talk to each other, celebrate your differences because in reality we have more in common than separates us,” Lasker-Wallfisch added.
All told, Nazi Germany deported around 232,000 children to Auschwitz, including 216,000 Jews, 11,000 Roma, 3,000 Poles and the rest from Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere, according the to Auschwitz-Birkenau museum.
Only some 700 were still alive when the Soviet Red Army liberated the camp on Jan 27, 1945.
Part of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s plan of genocide against European Jews, dubbed the “Final Solution”, Auschwitz-Birkenau operated in the occupied southern Polish town of Oswiecim between June 1940 and January 1945.
Babies ‘killed on the spot’
Of the more than 1.3 million people imprisoned there, around 1.1 million – mainly European Jews – perished, either asphyxiated in the gas chambers or claimed by starvation, exhaustion and disease.
In all, the Nazis killed six million of pre-war Europe’s estimated 10-11 million Jews.
Zdzislawa Wlodarczyk, who was among the several hundred children still alive when the Red Army arrived at Auschwitz, said that babies born there were also put to death.
“Children were born in the camp, but they were not allowed to live because they were killed on the spot,” Wlodarczyk, now 88, said during the online ceremonies.
“They didn’t have names and they didn’t even have numbers. How many of these children died? Why? Were we enemies of the Third Reich?” she added.
From mid-1942, the Nazis systematically deported Jews from across Europe to six camps – Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi death and concentration camp, and the site where the most people were killed.
Victims were primarily European Jews, but also Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and Poles.