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27/01/2012Survivors, officials mark Auschwitz liberation
Holocaust survivors joined Israeli and Polish officials Friday marking global Holocaust Remembrance Day at ceremonies for the 67th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
"This place remains a wound on the soul of Europe and the world," Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski said, speaking at the site of the former camp where the Nazis killed more than a million people, most of them European Jews.
Participants also mourned the passing of Kazmierz Smolen, an Auschwitz survivor who after World War II helped found a Polish state-run memorial and museum created at the site and served as its director from 1955 to 1990.
"He died in hospital today. We learned this sad news at the very moment that the ceremonies were under way for the 67th anniversary of the camp's liberation," museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki told AFP.
Fellow survivors led a minute's silence in Smolen's honour.
On Friday, the museum also put on public display for the first time doors that had been used on the camp's infamous gas chambers 70 years ago.
"In front of us stand doors. Solid wooden doors through which naked, humiliated and terrified people passed. Tens of thousands of families passed through them, never to return," Auschwitz Museum director Piotr Ciwinski told those present at the ceremonies.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most notorious, and enduring, symbol of the Holocaust, Nazi Germany's wartime campaign of genocide against Europe's Jews.
A year after invading Poland in 1939, the Nazis opened what was to become a vast complex on the edge of the southern town of Oswiecim -- Auschwitz in German.
They later expanded it to the nearby village of Brzezinka, or Birkenau.
Of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, one million were murdered at the site, mostly in its notorious gas chambers, along with tens of thousands of others including Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war.
Soviet troops who were rolling back the Germans arrived at the camp on January 27, 1945, and the date is now marked as an international Holocaust memorial day.
Poland, which has covered the bulk of the costs of preserving the site since the war, launched an international appeal in 2009 aiming to create an endowment to ensure its long-term future.
© 2012 AFP
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