Address at the commemoration ceremony of the 71st anniversary of the liberation of KL Auschwitz-Birkenau
Your Excellency, Distinguished Madam President, Your Excellencies Ambassadors, All Distinguished Dear Guests,
First and foremost, in the spirit of utmost respect and profound gratitude, I would like to direct my words of welcome to the former inmates of concentration camps, who are present in this room, and in particular to those of the Auschwitz Birkenau camp. Thus, my special welcome goes to the survivors who went experienced this horrible, unimaginable place, and yet are with us today. See also: Officials mark 71st Auschwitz liberation anniversary
I can only imagine how difficult it is for you to come here, and this in spite of the time flow, of the 71 years that have lapsed. Not only because of the age but also because of the meaning that this place has for you and the images which must revive before your eyes whenever you step onto this soil. The soil which will always hold ashes of almost 1.5 million victims, according to the statistics, though the numbers quoted vary. Undoubtedly, these were unfathomable losses that nations have suffered, the Jewish People in particular, but also the Polish nation, the Roma, the Russian nation. Thank you for being here as eye-witnesses of the history which took place back then.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Auschwitz is more than merely a museum. Auschwitz is more than a vast grave, and with ashes of those murdered present everywhere here, one could say that this whole place stands as a one great grave. So this is more than just a commemoration ceremony. Auschwitz, the way I would like to see it, has been and will always continue to be the present-day, the present-day for the whole world, the way we experience it in our conscience.
This is a great sign and warning against what could happen if the authority goes astray and blindfolds a whole society. What may happen if the social, public and political life is dominated by hatred. What may happen if international law is broken and the international community fails to react in time. What may happen if states pursue an aggressive conduct towards others, if they seize the others’ territories, if they spread warfare and hatred.
Auschwitz is and will always be a great warning. And this is why I so earnestly thank you for your presence here today, yourselves being witnesses of this horrible truth about Auschwitz, about German Nazi concentration camp built on the land which used to belong to the Polish state but which were treacherously seized by Hitler’s Germany. And it was here that this horrid annihilation machine was constructed,
Primarily, when it was established in the early 1940, it was Poles who were its inmates. Thereafter, there also came Russian prisoners of war, the Roma people. But most importantly, as of 1942, this place has emerged as a place of the most shocking annihilation of the Jewish People. They were ruthlessly murdered. Only a part of them were set aside to be directed to exterminating labour. All others were slaughtered at once, without delay. Fathers could see their wives and children being led directly to gas chambers. This is unfathomable and this was unfathomable – this truth being so horrifying that initially nobody wanted to give credence to it.
And yet there were witnesses who were spreading the word about it in the West. The Polish Underground State sent here Rittmeister Pilecki, its great hero, who let himself be arrested in order to set up here a clandestine resistance cell in the camp and to bring the truth about Auschwitz outside to impart it to the world. And this is what he did.
There was a fine, great Pole and hero Jan Karski, the emissary of the Polish Government in London, the government in exile, himself also a member of the polish Underground State, who referring to the intelligence gathered from Witold Pilecki though also based on his own knowledge wrote reports which he then submitted to the Allied Governments, which he also submitted to the UD Government. Most unfortunately, the image that presented itself was so atrocious that people would not believe his reports, would not believe his words, not matter who much he begged and implored. Sadly enough, it was only after Hitler’s Germany was defeated, when the camps themselves were liberated and the truth surfaced, that the world came to realize what had actually happened in Auschwitz-Birkenau and what had happened in other extermination camps. And then the Allied Forces could see with their own eyes the depths of crime and of human misery.
Ladies and Gentleman, we must do our utmost, and this is incumbent not only on politicians, but also on all people alike, to make sure that those atrocious events which were perpetrated here and in other places of martyrdom, should never recur in the world. It takes more than just to observe international law, much as is it is important, much as it needs to be remembered and discussed.
It also takes education, Ladies and Gentleman. Education in all countries: in Poland, in Israel, all across Europe, and worldwide. I’m extremely proud and moved to be accompanied here today by Mrs Zofia Pilecka, the daughter of Rittmeister Pilecki, to be accompanied here by Miss Marysia Jopek, a high-school student who won the competition for the best essay on the subject: “What does Auschwitz mean for me today?”. It is education that should make Auschwitz the present-day in the minds of young people. So that neither in our lifetime nor in the lifetime of future generations should such a tragedy ever recur.
What is also essentially important in this respect is truth. Only if history is founded on truth, it teaches us and contributes to security and good co-existence among nations. Preaching this truth is a great responsibility resting on the shoulders of the Polish people since it was on those lands where their state used to exist that extermination camps were later created. They are also the ones who were incarcerated in such camps and know the truth about the Holocaust, about this horrifying massacre unprecedented in mankind’s history. This is also the responsibility of the State of Israel whose people suffered such horrible atrocities escaping any description. And this truth needs to be preached today. The truth about that these were German Nazi extermination camps and the truth about the identity of their victims and the identity of the perpetrators of murder.
This is a grand task which is underway and, as I trust, will be further realized. And I think that we all present in this room, starting from you, Ladies and Gentlemen, the former inmates, the survivors, and including also those of you for whom this place and the events back then are very important, we must all see this as our great obligation.
I must tell you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that this is my approach. Every time I visit this place I feel internally disturbed. Since the depth of the tragedy, and primarily the tragedy of the Jewish people and also of my own Polish nation, is simply unimaginable. And this is why today I pay tribute to all the victims who perished here, I also pay tribute to all of them who survived. Please accept the expression of this tribute and my utmost respect together with my thanks for your presence here.
What I want to tell you is the following: for me, as a Pole, and now the President of the Republic of Poland, but also for the State of Israel from its very outset, Auschwitz has been a great lesson telling that one ought to do go to great lengths to protect the security and lives of one’s citizens, and this stands as a primary responsibility of the authorities.