27 Jan 2015

NZers mark Auschwitz liberation

3:06 pm on 27 January 2015

Hundreds of people are attending ceremonies throughout New Zealand today to mark 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp.

Commemorations will take place worldwide on the anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi death camp, where 1.1 million people were murdered.

The ruins of the barracks at the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The ruins of the barracks at the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo: AFP / Valeriy Melnikov / RIA Novosti

Holocaust survivors have said the tiniest of details about their time spent at camps such as Auschwitz remain etched in their memories.

Seven decades on, the horrors of his time spent at Auschwitz remain vivid for Benjamin Steiner, then just eight years old.

In 1943, life took a sudden turn for him and his family, who lived in Hungary, when the country was invaded by Nazi Germany.

He was sent to hide in a covent but just two weeks later Nazi soldiers carried out a midnight raid.

"We lined up and they made an announcement that all the Jewish children step forward.

"And I wouldn't step forward, I mean, I was only eight-and-a-half but I had no idea what was going on.

"So I chickened out and was hanging on to my friend, Eva Goldberg, who was another Jewish girl, she was three years older than I [was], and we were holding hands and we're scared."

Mr Steiner said they were packed on to a truck, along with the 15 other children. Three days later, they arrived at Auschwitz.

He was then selected to be subjected to medical experiments, almost every second day.

He was reunited with his parents 18 months after the camp was liberated.

"I never cried so hard in my life. It was a wonderful, absolutely wonderful ... not just because of my parents ... but finally I was out of hospitals and doctors and ... it was an absolute relief."

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The gates at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photo: 123RF

Carol Calkeon's mother, Hanka Pressburg, was an Auschwitz survivor who died just last year.

"We knew that she had survived a concentration camp because of the number on her arm, Said Ms Calkeon.

"We never asked any questions and probably now we regret that we didn't ask any questions.

"But I think later on in life she started talking a lot more, after the 40th anniversary actually of the liberation of Auschwitz she started talking, and then she became an educator. She educated students, adults until, actually until her deathbed."

Wellington Regional Jewish Council chairman David Zwartz said ambassadors from Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Israel and Italy had each contributed essays to a new book, Auschwitz: Seventy Years On.

"The point that they have all made is first of all how their countries have continued Holocaust remembrance because they see it as an important part of modern society.

"And secondly, how important they feel it is to maintain remembrance everywhere in the world, not just in Europe, because the threat of racism and anti-semtism can exist anywhere."

Ceremonies are being held in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch this afternoon and tonight.

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