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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 21:50 GMT
Auschwitz survivors honour the dead
By Tamsin Smith
BBC News, Auschwitz

Barbed wire and fences surrounding the Birkenau Nazi death camp
Snow fell as it did on the day of liberation 60 years ago
Swaddled in thick fur coats and hats, hundreds of Auschwitz survivors returned to remember those who perished.

Tall burning orange columns had been set up to tower over the twisted gas chamber ruins.

The pillars sent clouds of smoke billowing into the snowy skies, above the very spot where the Nazis gassed and burnt hundreds of thousands of people.

Then the sound of trains echoed across the snow-covered camp - clattering tracks and whistles and screeching of breaks followed by a terrifying clanging of doors. But there was no train. Just a line of candles stretched alongside the tracks, the noise a symbolic reminder of the train journey that for so many ended in death.

"I remember being pushed out onto the platform. There were lots of Germans shouting," said Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor.

"My mother was holding onto me and my sister. I will never forget the look in her eyes as we were pulled apart. She stretched her arms out towards us in desperation."

Eva and her sister survived because they were twins and useful for the Nazi doctor's medical experiments.

High emotion

She clearly remembers the moment the Soviet troops marched into the death camps 60 years ago and liberated them.

"It was a very cold and snowy day, just like today," she said. "There had been a lot of fighting, a lot of gunshots. Then suddenly the shooting stopped. I stood on the steps of my barracks and looked out. I couldn't see anything through the snow.

I am standing here now, and 60 years ago I was 16 years old and standing here naked
An Auschwitz survivor

"Then I saw some figures. They were dressed in white. I knew they weren't Nazis so I ran towards them shouting. The soldiers gave us hugs, chocolates, cookies. It was my first taste of freedom."

With such vivid memories evoked by the ceremony, emotions were running high.

One woman, a Jewish survivor from Israel, jumped up from her seat spontaneously. She tore off her coat, scarf and hat and ran to the podium.

"They took my name, and gave me a number," she shouted, rolling up her arm to show her tattoo. "I was a number. Why did they burn the Jewish nation and take our freedom?"

She tugged at her thin jumper, tears streaming down her face. "I am a Jew from Israel. I am standing here now, and 60 years ago I was 16 years old and standing here naked."

Shared memories

Hundreds of ordinary people braved the cold to come and watch the ceremony.

They brought flasks of hot soup and tea, and shared many personal memories and motives.

Many clutched bunches of flowers that soon wore a thick covering of snow.

Empty Zyklon B gas canisters on display in Auschwitz
Construction began in 1940 on site which grew to 40 sq km (15 sq mile)
At least 1.1 million deaths, one million of them Jewish
Other victims included Polish political prisoners, Roma (Gypsies), Soviet POWs, homosexuals, disabled people and dissidents
Of 7,000 Nazi guards, 750 were prosecuted and punished after the war

"This is the first time I have come to Auschwitz," said Philip Cazaban, an artist from Poznan. "I never felt I could take it before. It's just too emotional for me. But for today, I had to be here."

"I feel really chilled standing in this place and thinking about what happened," said Anna, a German student who travelled here from Berlin.

Her grandmother, a German Jew was killed in the gas chambers.

"I am young but I live with what happened to her in my mind every day. At home in Germany, my friends and I talk about this every day, every day," she said.

As the ceremony drew to a close, the line of columns, which had burned and smoked at the start of the afternoon, sent powerful beams of white light into the sky, converging in a blurry haze of snowflakes high above the gathering.

And from the gates of Auschwitz, two lines of flame crept slowly along the train tracks towards the ruins of the gas chamber.

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