On 62nd anniversary of Auschwitz liberation, Poland honors those who tried to save inmates

The Associated Press
Published: January 27, 2007

OSWIECIM, Poland: Poland's president paid homage on the 62nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to those people living near the Nazi death camp who risked their lives to help inmates during World War II.

At a ceremony outside the site Saturday, Holocaust survivors and local residents listened to a letter from President Lech Kaczynski in which he said that the world has underestimated the determination of people outside the camp to save prisoners.

A presidential aide, undersecretary of state Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, pinned medals on about 40 people from the town of Oswiecim, where Auschwitz is located, and surrounding villages to honor them.

"World public opinion has often held that the residents of the area were completely indifferent to the fate of the prisoners," Kaczynski said in the letter, which denounced "such unjust statements."

Nazi Germany set up Auschwitz after occupying Poland, at first mostly imprisoning political prisoners. However, it was later expanded into a complex where up to 1.5 million people were murdered, most of them Jews, but also Gypsies, Roman Catholics who opposed the Nazi regime, homosexuals and others.

The camp was liberated Jan. 27, 1945 by the advancing Soviet army.

Also Saturday, politicians and survivors gathered at the former Buchenwald concentration camp in eastern Germany to remember the victims, marking what the U.N. has established as an annual day of Holocaust remembrance.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a statement that the day "underlines both our duty to remember the horrors of the past and the responsibility of each of us to shape the future so they are never repeated."

"We must reflect ... that intolerance, hatred, even genocide did not end 60 years ago," he said.