Address by the President of the Republic of Poland Mr Andrzej Duda during the March of the Living in Auschwitz
Distinguished President Rivlin,
All Esteemed Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today we meet at a place which is a symbol for the whole world, for the entire humanity, the synonym of the Holocaust. We meet in Auschwitz-Birkenau – German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp.
In the years 1941-1945 more than one million Jewish people were deported here from almost all over Europe. After arrival, the path of most of them was short, tragically, horribly short. When the train cars were opened, they got off on a loading ramp after which a selection process took place. Terrorized, separated from their loved ones, they were deprived of their belongings and driven to gas chambers. Oftentimes less than one hour would lapse from arrival till death.
Hence, we meet at the place where Nazi Germans perpetrated the most horrendous genocide in history. It is beyond comprehension how such cruel crimes could have been committed.
We come here together – Jews, the nation of Survivors, and Poles, the nation who was also brutally persecuted by Hitler`s Third Reich – in order to jointly pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. We come together because we do remember and want to pass on the truth about what happened here to future generations. We come together to demonstrate that the demonic plan of Germans, who wanted to wipe out the entire Jewish nation, failed.
Extermination claimed 6 million lives, including 3 million Polish citizens of Jewish descent. But the Jewish nation has survived. Therefore, we meet here today: the Survivors and their descendants, the heirs of those dramatic experiences, the depositaries of the memory and truth about the Shoah.
Our joint presence in this place is a sign and a proof of the victory of life over death, the victory of memory over oblivion.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we stand here today it is hard to imagine that for many centuries the old, historical Polish town of Oświęcim had not been associated with antisemitism, racism, extermination. Such associations were evoked only after the invasion by Nazi Germany, who in 1939 destroyed the independent Polish state and brought its death factories, gas chambers and crematoria to our lands.
Before that however, from the 16th century onwards, Oświęcim was the place of coexistence of Poles and Jews. For 1000 years, the Jewish nation regarded my country as the land of Polin – a hospitable, safe home. Also here, in Oświęcim, there were houses of worship and schools. Jewish religious, cultural and economic life flourished. Just 80 years ago – during the Second Republic of Poland – Jews accounted for almost 50% of the city`s population. Together we lived as fellow citizens in one sovereign state. Together we were fighting for Poland`s independence from 1918 until 1920. Together we were building the country throughout 20 years of the interwar period.
That very coexistence of our nations was brutally interrupted by Germans, who imposed their own, inhumane laws upon the occupied Polish lands. They confined Jews to ghettos and punished with death any assistance to them. They wanted to break solidarity among the citizens of the Republic of Poland, they separated our nations with walls and barbed wire fences.
Despite that, Poles helped Jewish people in many different ways. On the institutional level, the Polish resistance movement organized the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota”. A big number of my compatriots also tried, individually and spontaneously, to rescue our Jewish neighbours. Today all those Righteous are the heroes of both our nations.
Auschwitz concentration camp was established in the spring of 1940, with its first inmates being representatives of the Polish elites active in the anti-German resistance movement. Soon more camps followed, including the largest one in Birkenau on the premises of which we are standing right now.
In that way, the former Polish-Jewish town of Oświęcim vanished in the shadows of Auschwitz-Birkenau. And the land of Polin – a blessed place which for centuries welcomed Jews from abroad fleeing persecution – turned into the place of the Shoah, ominously prepared by Germans.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We, Poles, consider it our duty to spread the testimony about the Holocaust across the globe. We were doing it already at the time when Germans were executing it. Crimes perpetrated by them here, in Auschwitz, were documented by Cavalry Captain Witold Pilecki in his reports. Jan Karski, the emissary of the Polish government-in-exile gave account of the extermination of Jews carried out by the German occupiers directly to the highest authorities of the Allied Powers: the United Kingdom and the United States.
But our alarming calls fell on deaf ears. The scale of indifference is exemplified by the fact that the call of the Polish Government to help rescue Jews was published in a brief note by “The New York Times” on 11 December 1942, as far as page 8. One would not believe that such horrendous developments were unfolding in the very heart of Europe.
Today it is us, the contemporary Poles, who are fulfilling the duty and preserving the memory and truth about the time of the Holocaust. It is reflected through Polish authorities taking care of the places of remembrance, predominantly of this one here, which is guarded by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. Also my presence here today, at the March of the Living, together with President Reuven Rivlin, for whose participation I am deeply grateful, is a sign of tribute paid by the Republic of Poland to the victims of the German genocide and a testimony to their memory.
Polish institutions and social organizations do their utmost to disseminate knowledge about the Holocaust. Since 1988, they have also supported the March of the Living, attended by tens of thousands of people from all over the world for the past 30 years. Let me use this opportunity and extend my gratitude to the organizers of the March and to the management of the local Museum, who have jointly decided to dedicate part of the exhibition hosted in the new building to the March.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Memory and truth about the Holocaust have made both our nations realize, perhaps more profoundly than in case of anyone else, that it is necessary to have a strong state, which is the only entity capable of ensuring our security, prosperity and unrestrained development.
We, Poles, repeatedly fought for Poland`s freedom, arm in arm with our Jewish fellow citizens. That was also the case 100 years ago, when Poland was reborn as a free state.
Today we look with respect, admiration and affinity at the State of Israel which will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of independence in one month`s time. Its existence, strength and sovereignty constitute the ultimate proof of the defeat of German criminals. The Nazi annihilation plan failed. The Jewish nation has survived. And may nobody ever again dare raise their hand to harm it.