Survivors return to Auschwitz 75 years after liberation

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By Patrick Smith and Associated Press  with NBC News World News
Image: A delegation of survivors of the Auschwitz and their families arrive
A delegation of survivors of the Auschwitz and their families arrive to lay wreaths at the camp's execution wall on Monday.   -   Copyright  Sean Gallup

When more than 200 survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp gather there on Monday to mark 75 years since its liberation, many will do so for the last time.Elderly survivors from the United States, Israel, Australia, South America, Russia, Slovenia and elsewhere will be among presidents, prime ministers and royalty from across the globe who will join the ceremony in southern Poland, which was under Nazi occupation during World War II.The event will recall the moment Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet army on Jan. 27, 1945.Polish President Andrzej Duda and the head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, will lead a commemoration for the more than one million people slaughtered at Auschwitz, the vast majority of whom were Jewish.

A delegation of survivors of the Auschwitz and their families arrive to lay wreaths at the camp\'s execution wall on Monday.
A delegation of survivors of the Auschwitz and their families arrive to lay wreaths at the camp\'s execution wall on Monday.Sean Gallup

World leaders gathered in Jerusalem last week for a separate event to commemorate the Holocaust. Poland's Duda boycotted that event over a disagreement with Russia over Poland's role in triggering World War II."This is about survivors. It's not about politics," Lauder said Sunday as he went to the death camp with several survivors.Lauder warned that leaders must do more to fight anti-Semitism, including by passing new laws to combat it.Many of the survivors lost parents and grandparents in Auschwitz or other Nazi death camps and some will be saying kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, some alongside their own children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren."I have no graves to go to and I know my parents were murdered here and burned. So this is how I pay homage to them," said Yvonne Engelman, a 92-year-old who came from Australia, joined by three more generations now scattered around the globe.She recalled being brought in from a ghetto in Czechoslovakia by cattle car, being stripped of her clothes, shaved and put in a gas chamber. By some miracle, the gas chamber that day did not work, and she went on to survive slave labor and a death march.A 96-year-old survivor, Jeanette Spiegel, was 20 when she was brought to Auschwitz, where she spent nine months. Today she lives in New York City and is fearful of rising anti-Semitic violence in the United States."I think they pick on the Jews because we are such a small minority and it is easy to pick on us," she said, fighting back tears. "Young people should understand that nothing is for sure, that some terrible things can happen and they have to be very careful. And that, God forbid, what happened to the Jewish people then should never be repeated."