WARSAW, Poland – A Jewish prayer for the souls of those murdered in the Holocaust was repeated on Wednesday about where the Warsaw Ghetto stood during World War II as a coronavirus pandemic-disrupted world watched the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Most of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemorations this year were held online due to the virus, including the annual ceremony on the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp, in which Nazi German troops killed 1.1 million people in occupied Poland. The memorial is closed to visitors due to the pandemic.
At one of the few live events, mourners gathered in the Polish capital to pay their respects at a memorial in the former Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of all ghettos in which European Jews were held under cruel and fatal conditions, before they were subjected to mass extermination Camps were sent to death.
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Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a message to a World Jewish Congress and an event organized by the Auschwitz Memorial Museum that the online nature of commemorative events does not detract from their importance.
“It is a duty, but also a responsibility that we inherit from those who experienced the horrors of the Shoah and whose voices are gradually disappearing,” said Steinmeier. “The greatest danger to us all begins with forgetting. We no longer remember what we do to one another when we tolerate anti-Semitism and racism in our midst. “
“We need to remain vigilant, identify prejudice and conspiracy theories and fight them with reason, passion and determination,” he added.
Vatican Pope Francis said remembering is a mark of humanity and a prerequisite for a peaceful future, while warning that distorted ideologies could lead to a recurrence of mass murder on terrible levels.
In Austria and Slovakia, hundreds of survivors were offered the first doses of a vaccine against the coronavirus as a symbolic and life-saving gesture as older adults were threatened by the virus. In Israel, around 900 Holocaust survivors died from Covid-19 out of 5,300 infected last year.
Israel, which has 197,000 Holocaust survivors, officially celebrates its Holocaust Remembrance Day this spring. However, events also took place across the country, mostly virtually or without members of the public present.
Survivors and many others took part in a campaign by the World Jewish Congress that published photos of themselves and #WeRemember. At Auschwitz they were broadcast on a screen next to the gate, and a cattle truck showed the way camp inmates were transported there.
The online nature of this year’s commemorations is a sharp contrast to the events of last year’s anniversary, when around 200 survivors and dozen of European leaders and kings gathered at the site of the former camp. It was one of the last major international gatherings before the pandemic brought normal life to a standstill.