The Duchess of Cornwall to Mark the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

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THE DUCHESS OF CORNWALL ATTENDS COMMEMORATIONS IN POLAND TO MARK THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE LIBERATION OF AUSCHWITZ

The Duchess of Cornwall will attend commemorations in Poland to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Her Royal Highness will arrive at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and join survivors and Heads of State and Government for a service marking 75 years since the liberation of the camp. A tent will be erected above the gate house, referred to as ‘The Gate of Death’ by prisoners, where the service will take place. Andrzej Duda, President of the Republic of Poland, will deliver the welcome address, followed by readings from a series of Auschwitz survivors. Ronald Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress will speak before Dr. Piotr Cywinski, Director of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum offers thanks. The service will end with Ecumenical Prayers.

At the conclusion of the service The Duchess will walk with the other delegations, including survivors, 700m alongside the railway lines that brought prisoners to Auschwitz. At the end of the walk candles will be placed at the main monument, paying tribute to the victims of the Holocaust.

Background

Around 200 Auschwitz and Holocaust survivors from the United Kingdom and several other European countries, the United States, Canada, Israel and Australia will take part in the service. The Holocaust Educational Trust will bring two Holocaust survivors to the commemorative service – Renee Salt and Hannah Lewis. The trust is a UK-based charity set up in 1988 to educate young people from every background about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today.

Renee Salt was born in Poland, in 1929. In 1944 after many years of hardship under Nazi control, Renee and her parents were taken by train to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Renee and her mother managed to survive before being transported to Hamburg, in Germany, to work in a warehouse. In March 1945, Renee and her mother were once again moved, this time to Bergen-Belsen. During the journey, Renee was separated from her mother, but managed to find her again in the camp. Renee and her mother were liberated from Bergen-Belsen on 15th April 1945 by the British Army. Sadly, Renee’s mother died in hospital 12 days after the liberation. After marrying a British soldier in 1949, she moved to the UK and now lives in north London. She has two children and five grandchildren. Renee regularly speaks in schools about her experiences during the Holocaust. She met Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall in February 2016 during a visit at a Holocaust Survivors Centre in London, where Her Royal Highness met with survivors supported by the centre and Jewish Care.

Hannah Lewis was born in Poland, in 1937. In 1942 German troops began rounding up Jews in the market town her family lived in, sending them to extermination and labour camps. In 1943 Hannah and her family were forcibly marched to a labour camp, over time most of her family disappeared. Only Hannah and her mother remained at the camp. In the last winter of the Nazi occupation, Hannah’s mother was shot by German police. Hannah remained in the camp and survived as best she could, finally being liberated by a Soviet soldier. In 1949 Hannah was brought to Britain to live with her great aunt and uncle in London. She married in 1961 and has four children and eight grandchildren. She has been sharing her experiences in schools and universities for several years so that young people today can seek to understand the impact the Holocaust has had on the contemporary world.

Over 40 national delegations including Heads of State and Government from across Europe will attend the ceremony. A full list can be found here. Her Royal Highness will lead the UK delegation and will be joined by Lord Eric Pickles, the UK Post-Holocaust Envoy, as well as representatives of the Jewish community in the UK including the survivors Renee and Hannah.

Two further anniversaries are to be marked in 2020 on 27th January. The 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration, under which the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research was established, today known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. And, the 15th anniversary of the adoption of 27th January as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations General Assembly. It is a day for remembrance of those killed in the Holocaust but also in the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Her Royal Highness and The Prince of Wales attended the National Holocaust Memorial Day service in London in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Their Royal Highnesses met survivors of the Holocaust and of subsequent genocides. His Royal Highness became Patron of The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in 2017 and has written a foreword for this year’s 75th anniversary event. During their overseas spring tour in 2017, Their Royal Highnesses visited the Jewish Museum in Vienna where they met with Holocaust survivors.

History

From August 1944 through to mid-January 1945 the Nazis transferred approximately 65,000 prisoners out of Auschwitz and began to destroy the evidence of their crimes.

In mid-January 1945, when the front line was broken by the Red Army and its troops were around 70km away from the camp, the final evacuation of prisoners started. From 17th to 21st January 1945, approximately 56,000 prisoners were taken out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps in marching columns – often referred to as death marches. They were evacuated by train or on foot, and the routes were littered with the bodies of prisoners who had either been shot or had died due to exhaustion or cold. An estimated 9,000 prisoners of Auschwitz died during that period.

On 20th January 1945 the SS blew up the gas chambers and crematoria that had already been put out of service. The last one, still fully operational, was blown up on 26th January.

After the final evacuation almost 9,000 prisoners, mostly the ill and exhausted left behind in the camp, found themselves in an uncertain situation. Approximately 700 Jewish prisoners were murdered in the period between the forced departure of the last evacuation columns and the arrival of the Soviet soldiers.

On 27th January 1945, the Red Army entered the area of the town of Oświęcim, facing the resistance of the retreating German troops. More than 230 Soviet soldiers died while liberating the area. Approximately 7,000 prisoners lived to see the liberation of the Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Auschwitz III-Monowitz camps. Approximately 500 other prisoners were liberated in the sub-camps before 27th January and shortly after that date.

The ill were taken care of by several Soviet field hospitals and the so-called Camp Hospital of the Polish Red Cross, which was set up by Polish volunteers, mainly residents of Kraków and nearby towns. Around 4,500 mostly Jewish survivors, including more than 400 children and citizens of more than twenty countries, were treated there.

Those prisoners who were in a relatively good physical condition left Auschwitz immediately after the liberation, going home on their own or in organised transport. Most patients admitted to hospitals did the same three or four months later.

It is estimated that at minimum 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945; of these at least 1.1 million were murdered.

 

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