Officials in Germany solemnly commemorated the liberation of two Nazi concentration camps 70 years ago in the closing days of World War II.
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At the same time, hundreds in Poland marked the 72nd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Poland's first lady, Anna Komorowska, joined in remembrance activities Sunday at the site of the Ravensbrueck women's camp in northern Germany. Many of the prisoners came from Poland.
Komorowska, wife of Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, planted a memorial rose along with Daniela Schadt, partner of German President Joachim Gauck, and camp survivor Annette Chalut.
Elderly survivors joined black-clad Polish nuns, some of whom held red and white Polish flags. A Mass was said in Polish.
Ceremonies have been held across Germany and Poland throughout the spring marking the advance of Allied troops as Nazi Germany neared defeat. They are even more poignant this year because of the dwindling number of survivors and witnesses to the Holocaust, the murder of 6 million Jews by the racist and anti-Semitic regime of German dictator Adolf Hitler.
Ceremonies also were taking place at the former Sachsenhausen camp near Berlin.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum says 30,000 to 50,000 people died at Sachsenhausen, where inmates included Jews, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and opponents of the Nazis.
At Ravensbrueck, more than 130,000 women passed through the camp and 20,000 to 30,000 died there. Inmates were subjected to forced labor in the armaments industry. Many died because of malnutrition and disease in filthy conditions; thousands of others were shot or sent to gas chambers if considered too weak or injured to work.
Days before Allied troops arrived, Nazi officials forced thousands to start death marches away from the camps. Many of those prisoners died of hunger or disease or were killed by guards along the way.
Sachsenhausen was liberated by Polish troops under Soviet command on April 22, 1945, Ravensbrueck by Soviet forces on April 30.
Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, prays during the 72nd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Photo by AP.
Remembering the Warsaw Ghetto uprising
In Poland, hundreds of people commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
The main ceremony was held on Sunday afternoon in Warsaw at the monument to the ghetto heroes in front of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Polish authorities and visiting Israeli youth joined Warsaw residents at the commemoration.
Many of those on hand wore paper daffodils pinned to their clothes, symbolizing the memory of the uprising.
Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, secretary of state in the Prime Minister’s Office of Poland, participated in the uprising and spoke at the ceremony. Bartoszewski, 93, was an Auschwitz prisoner and a Resistance fighter who was recognized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel as Righteous among the Nations for his help in saving Jewish lives.
“This is not the speech of the representative of the government, but a man who was and is witness to historical events,” he said. “It is the fulfillment of my life that after 72 years since those events, I talk about it also in the name of those absent.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out on April 19, 1943, and lasted for a month. It was the first military action of underground organizations against Germany and the first urban uprising in occupied Europe.
“The insurgents were fully aware that they were fighting only for a dignified death,” Piotr Kadlcik, a board member of the Warsaw Jewish Community, told JTA.
Before the main ceremony, the Jewish Military Union fighters were commemorated at the memorial plaque.