Auschwitz liberation's 70th anniversary focuses on survivors

A record 1.5 million people visited former Nazi death camp in 2014 By Aleksandra Sagan, …

Georgia (Jan 29, 2015)By Aleksandra Sagan, CBC News Posted: Jan 25, 2015 5:00 AM ET


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A record 1.5 million people visited former Nazi death camp in 2014

As the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazis' most notorious concentration camp approaches, historians are grappling with how to preserve the memory of Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

No one knows how many of the survivors remain alive today, but it's a group that is dwindling as age takes its toll.


To mark the liberation's anniversary, about 300 former Auschwitz prisoners are travelling to Oświęcim, Poland, to pay tribute on Jan. 27 at Birkenau's Gate of Death, the unloading ramp at the camp's rail entrance.

"In 10 years, during the 80th anniversary, we'll not have this opportunity," says Pawel Sawicki, a press officer for the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Ten years ago, he explains, 1,500 survivors commemorated the 60th anniversary.

About 1.1 million people who passed under the camp's infamous sign "Arbeit macht frei" (one translation reads "Work will set you free") between 1940 and 1945 never left, many of them murdered in the camp's gas chambers. Only some 200,000 are believed to have survived that fate.

The Red Army freed 7,000 of these survivors from Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945. 

In the days before liberation, the Nazis had removed nearly 60,000 others, forcing them to march to other camps. Some were later liberated at other concentration camps. A small number of survivors escaped, while others only stayed at Auschwitz temporarily before being relocated to nearby labour camps….

Preservation a 'huge challenge'

These survivor stories will be the focus of the anniversary, which won't include any political speeches, Sawicki says.

When all the survivors have died, the opportunity to hear them tell their stories and to ask them questions will be gone as well. Then, the physical structures of Auschwitz and other concentration camps will be the only remaining witnesses, says Catherine Lewis, a history professor at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, who also runs its Museum of History and Holocaust Education.

​"In some ways, the buildings, the barracks, the bunk beds, the toilets are all kind of a silent witness to this historical moment," she says.

That idea propels the extensive preservation efforts at Auschwitz, she says. …


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