Jews, Poles Mark Auschwitz's Liberation

Article excerpt

The 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland was marked by two days of observances which drew survivors of the Nazi death machine as well as world dignitaries. Elie Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was President Clinton's official representative to the ceremonies.

Auschwitz, which has become a central memorial of the Nazi Holocaust, was overrun by the Soviet Red Army on January 27, 1945. An estimated 1.5 million people--90 percent of them Jews--died at Auschwitz and its sister camp at Birkenau, 35 miles away.

After they were unable to resolve differences over the commemoration, Jewish organizations and the Polish government held separate ceremonies on January 26 to begin the two days of observances.

The Jewish groups said they believed the official Polish government-sponsored ceremonies did not accurately reflect Jewish suffering at the camp. On January 26 Poland's President Lech Walesa delivered two speeches that stressed the Nazi crimes against Poles but made no mention of Jews and the genocide carried out against them at Auschwitz and other death camps. Jewish leaders were critical of the government ceremony's failure to include recitation of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, and other Jewish rituals.

Polish officials said that the ceremonies were meant to be ecumenical, reflecting the fact that Poles, gypsies, Russians, Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals were also put to death at Auschwitz.

"Fifty years ago 90 percent of those who died here were Jews," said Jean Kahn, president of the European Jewish Congress. "So they should have given a more important dimension to the Jewish martyrs. …