Holocaust remembered across Europe in observance of anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

Monday, January 28th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) _ For 50 years, Rudy Kennedy did not talk to anybody about the two years he spent as a slave laborer in Auschwitz, where his sister and mother were gassed the day they arrived and his father was murdered six weeks later.

The memories were too painful and he felt even if he told people, they wouldn't have believed him.

Then, hearing of the difficulties a group of survivors were having getting an official apology from the German government, Kennedy said he got angry and got involved.

On Sunday, the 57th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Kennedy came to Berlin for a special screening in Germany's parliament building of the film ``I was a Slave Laborer,'' a documentary which largely focuses on his key role in the legal proceedings that ended in the establishment of a compensation fund for Holocaust victims.

``We must convince them (the younger generation) that something terrible happened and it must not happen again, and we're relying on them,'' said Kennedy, who now lives in London.

The screening was one of many events held Sunday in cities across Europe marking the Jan. 27, 1945 liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army. An estimated 1.5 million people, most of them Jews, died at the Nazi death camp in then German-occupied Poland.

In Moscow, a former Red Army commander who participated in the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz said he is still haunted by what he saw that day.

``What struck me first were the boxes with children's footwear, eyeglass frames, human hair,'' Gen. Vasily Petrenko, 90, said during a Holocaust Day memorial event in the Russian capital, according to Interfax news agency.

Leonid Nevzlin, President of the Russian Jewish Congress and a member of Russia's Federation Council, called on young Jews to be ``more educated, active and intelligent'' to ensure that the lessons of Nazi terror are never forgotten.

The memorial event was attended by the ambassadors from Israel and Germany, Russia's Chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich and representatives of Jewish organizations, the news agency said.

In Poland, some 200 Auschwitz survivors and relatives of victims gathered at the former death camp on Sunday.

A local Polish priest and a rabbi from Berlin said prayers on the ruins of the gas chambers, and wreaths were laid against a wall where prisoners were shot and at a crematorium.

In a heavy rain, the participants _ including Israeli ambassador to Poland, Shevah Weiss, young Poles, Germans, and local officials _ laid flowers, lit candles and said prayers at a memorial to the people killed in the camp.

Arthur Obermayer, a Jewish American whose four grandparents were all German, flew into Berlin from Boston for an evening presentation of awards to five non-Jewish Germans for their research and efforts at preserving Jewish history and culture. It is the second year of the awards, which include an undisclosed stipend, that Obermayer established after being overwhelmed by the help he received from Germans in researching his family's past.

This year's recipients include Olaf Ditzel, a local historical society chair who helped rebuild and preserve several Jewish cemeteries, and Monica Kingreen, a teacher who wrote a 650-year history of Jewish life in her village near Frankfurt after learning her home had been inhabited by Jewish families for more than 200 years.

``These are people who've tried to bring to life the history of Jews in their communities _ they are people who are trying to bridge the gap and show that at one time Jews were a very important and significant part of German life,'' Obermayer said. ``It's not a matter of their feeling guilty, it's that they recognize the responsibility of Germany in dealing with its past.''