Holocaust Remembrance Day
A musician playing in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Memorial during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo by AP
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For the first time, a German and Polish president have taken part in the main ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day. At the ceremony yesterday at the former Auschwitz concentration camp, German President Christian Wulff asked the German people to “keep the memory alive.”

He said they must “forever be the guarantors” of commemoration. “We bear historical responsibility that does not depend on individual blame. We must never allow these crimes to happen again.”

Wulff and his Polish counterpart, Bronislaw Komorowski, also talked with Holocaust survivors and German and Polish students. Auschwitz, which the Germans set up in occupied Poland during World War II, was liberated 66 years ago yesterday.

Four Auschwitz survivors who live in Germany accompanied the German delegation to the former camp. With them was the president of Germany’s Jewish organizations, the president of the World Jewish Congress, and the chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma ‏(Gypsies‏).

The ceremony was one of several across the world on the global Holocaust commemoration day established by the United Nations in 2005.

A survivor representing the Gypsies, Zoni Weisz, spoke at Germany’s parliament. At the start of his speech he noted the “500,000 victims of genocide perpetrated by the Nazis on the Sinti and the Roma.”

A memorial is now under construction in Berlin to commemorate these victims.

In Jerusalem, the main ceremony was held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial; on hand were Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry.

Ayalon said that although the Holocaust was a Jewish Holocaust, it had a universal lesson. He said that as survivors pass away, international education and commemoration become ever more important.

Ayalon also linked the lessons of the Holocaust to the need to stop Iran’s nuclear program. He said an insane and extremist leader was in power in Iran who denies the Holocaust while preparing for the next one. Ayalon called on the international community to unite to stop him.

Also yesterday, Turkey held its first official commemorations on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Turkish officials joined members of Turkey’s Jewish community to remember the victims of the Nazi death camps.

In a message ahead of the ceremony, Turkey said it would continue to remember the Holocaust and draw lessons to combat racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the world body was paying special tribute this year to the women who suffered in the Holocaust.

“They joined the resistance, rescued those in peril, smuggled food into ghettos and made wrenching sacrifices to keep their children alive,” he said. “Their courage continues to inspire.”