Holocaust survivors joined world leaders in southern Poland on Wednesday to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the infamous World War II Nazi concentration camp.
Hundreds of people braved snow and sub-freezing temperatures to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz, Nazi Germany's most infamous concentration camp.
The event marked the 65th anniversary of the day the camp was liberated by the Soviet Red Army.
Holocaust survivors and their families gathered with the leaders of Poland and Israel to lay candles at the Monument of the Victims in neighboring Birkenau, where the majority of Auschwitz prisoners were murdered.
In a speech before the ceremony, Polish President Lech Kaczynski said that what happened at Auschwitz was an atrocity conceived and perpetrated by a modern state.
"We need to remember that not everyone who is strong is right," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also attended the ceremony. He delivered a message of sadness and hope.
"We sit here in a warm tent and remember those who shivered to death," he said. "And if they didn't freeze to death, they were gassed and burned in a horrible conflagration. As we stand here together to commemorate the past, we are helping to build a future of decency, and of truth and hope for all the peoples represented here, and for all mankind."
Auschwitz and nearby Birkenau, were the largest of the concentration camps and the epicenter of Adolf Hitler's "final solution." It is estimated that more than one million Jews perished in the two camps along with hundreds of thousands of Poles, Roma and others who were considered undesirable by the Nazi state. Most were gassed in Birkenau's gas chambers; others died from starvation, disease and physical abuse.
When the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, they found fewer than 8,000 survivors. The Nazis had destroyed most of Birkenau in their retreat. Today all that is left of the site are a few wooden barracks and a ghostly forest of brick chimneys where dozens of other barracks once stood.
Eva Mozes Kor, 75, was one of the Holocaust survivors who attended the memorial. She lost most of her family in Auschwitz, and spent nine months in the camp before being liberated. She was 10 years old at the time.
Despite her ordeal, Kor says she hopes the ceremony will inspire peace and forgiveness.
"I believe that the world has not learned how to heal, and that's the reason we keep seeing these tragic human events happening," she said. "Because victims pass on to their children pain and anger. And many times, children of victims become victimizers. If I am going to be lighting a candle today with the president of Poland, I would like to tell him that he and his people should forgive the Nazis for everything they have done. Forgiveness, in my opinion, is a seed for peace. Anger is a seed for war."
The sign over the gate to Auschwitz that reads "Arbeit Macht Frei," or "Work Makes You Free," was stolen in December. Although the sign has been recovered, it has yet to be reinstalled.
Related report by Deborah Block