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Senator Commemorates 70th Anniversary
of the Liberation of Auschwitz

“[The liberation of Auschwitz] was a triumph for our allies, but a melancholy day as the world began to see the films and photographs come out of this hell hole. I stand here today to remember and remind us all that more than any other word, Auschwitz is synonymous with evil,” Senator says 

WASHINGTON – On Thursday, (January 22, 2015) U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Co-Chair of the Senate Caucus on Poland, spoke on the Senate floor to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is on January 27.

“[The liberation of Auschwitz] was a triumph for our allies, but a melancholy day as the world began to see the films and photographs come out of this hell hole. As someone who is very proud of her Polish-American heritage, I visited Auschwitz. I wanted to see it when I had the chance to learn more about my own heritage. I wanted to see what happened there so that I would remember. And I rise today so that the world remembers what happened there, and the heroic effort of the Allied forces who joined together to save Europe and save Western civilization,” Senator Mikulski said. “For the people who fought in the underground. For people who fought in the resistance. For people who participated in the famous uprisings. To thank God also for the other fighters, the ones who in the camp gave whatever they could to keep other camp prisoners going. And for the Allied troops, led by the United States of America. That when we stood together, we stood and stared evil down. And when we opened up the doors of Auschwitz, for freedom and the ability of the few to survive, it was indeed a historic moment.”

brama-auschwitzThe Auschwitz extermination camp is one of the starkest symbols of the brutality of the Holocaust. Nearly 1.3 million innocent civilians, including Jews, Poles and other minorities, were deported to Auschwitz, and 1.1 million of these innocents were murdered. While there, the imprisoned were subjected to torture, starvation, rape and medical experiments. They were forced to carry out hard labor in inhumane conditions. Many were torn from their families upon arrival, never to be united again.

As Soviet forces approached Auschwitz in January 1945, the SS force marched nearly 60,000 prisoners from the Auschwitz camp system. More than 15,000 died during the death marches to Wodzislaw in Upper Silesia. On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces entered Auschwitz and liberated more than 7,000 prisoners who remained.

Senator Mikulski’s remarks on the Senate floor, as delivered, follow:

“Madam President, I want to take this opportunity to bring to my Senate colleagues’ attention a most momentous date that will occur next week. On January 27, it will be the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. It was a triumph for our allies, but a melancholy day as the world began to see the films and photographs come out of this hell hole. I stand here today to remember and remind us all that more than any other word, Auschwitz is synonymous with evil.

“As someone who is very proud of her Polish-American heritage, I visited Auschwitz. I wanted to see it when I had the chance to learn more about my own heritage. I wanted to see what happened there so that I would remember. And I rise today so that the world remembers what happened there, and the heroic effort of the Allied Forces who joined together to save Europe and save Western civilization.

“I’ve introduced a resolution honoring those who survived and those who were lost. It will remind us that we need to always work for tolerance, peace and justice, and always to end genocide.

“The horrors of Auschwitz are incomprehensible and indescribable. The numbers are grim and even ghoulish. Over one million people – men, women and children – lost their lives at Auschwitz. Ninety percent were Jews and hundreds of thousands were children, the largest number of any of the death camps.

“Auschwitz was first created as an internment camp for Polish dissidents. Hundreds of thousands of Poles who were not Jewish were murdered alongside the Jews at Auschwitz. In occupied Poland, a Nazi governor named Hans Frank proclaimed that ‘Poles will be forever enslaved by the Third Reich.’

“But Auschwitz went far beyond the Poles. German authorities brought in people from throughout Europe. Who were the people that came? They were teachers. They were politicians. They were professors. They were artists. They were even Catholic priests. They were executed or they barely survived.

“These are the stories of heroism that arise from the horrors. Many Poles risked their lives to save Jews. I am reminded of the story of Irena Sendler, who was a young social worker in Warsaw. She smuggled 200 Jewish children out of the ghetto into safe houses. The Gestapo arrested her in 1943. They first tortured her and then condemned her to death. Jan Karski, working for the Polish government, visited the Warsaw ghetto and did much to liberate people.

“In the late 1970s as a brand new Congresswoman, I traveled to Poland. I wanted to see my heritage, and I visited the small village my family came from where my great-grandmother left as a 16-year-old girl to come to the United States to meet up with her brother to begin a new life. She had little money in her pocket, but big dreams in her heart. And the story of America is the story of our family. Landing in Baltimore when women didn’t even have the right to vote, she came in 1886 – and exactly 100 years after to the year, I became a United States Senator.

“So I wanted to go back to see where we came from, to really know our story better. But I also wanted to see the dark side of the history of Poland, so I went to Auschwitz. Touring the concentration camp was an experience for me that was searing. Even today I carry it not only in my mind’s eye, but I carry it in my heart. I could not believe the experience. Madam President, you know me. You know I’m a fairly strong, resilient person. I think we’ve even shared stories that I was a child abuse social worker. I have seen tough things, but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw that day.

“As I walked through the gate of Auschwitz, I saw the despicable sign saying Arbeit Macht Frei. As we walked through, we saw the chambers where people had died. I even went to a particular cell of Father Kolbe, a Catholic Priest who in that death camp gave his life to protect a Jewish prisoner. When they were about to shoot the other man, Father Kolbe stepped forward to offer his life instead. Father Kolbe, in my faith tradition, has been canonized a saint for his heroic effort to show that he was willing to martyr himself for another human being, and in the belief that God was there in what he did.

“As I walked through there, I saw hard things, tough things, wrenching things, repugnant things. Then I got to the part that really broke my heart. I got to the part about the children. Pictures of children, little children. And I saw the bins – bins of the children’s shoes. Bins piled up with little shoes – size 2, size 3, size 4 – laced up shoes, because those were the shoes that they had in the 1930s and 1940s. I saw their suitcases. And then I saw over in another corner the eyeglasses that were taken from them and broken into pieces. And then I saw the pictures of the mothers. I will tell you, Madam President, I became unglued. I had to step away. And even today when I tell you this story, my voice chokes up, because it shook my very soul.

“So this anniversary is certainly both a celebration and a commemoration. A celebration of the liberation, but also a commemoration of what went on. I knew when I left Auschwitz, I knew and I understood why, first of all, we should never have genocide in the world again. The second thing, and also so crucial to my views, is that there always needs to be a homeland for the Jewish people. It’s the reason we always need an Israel. Why it has to be there, survivable for the ages and for all who seek a home there and refuge there.

“This is why I work so hard on these issues in terms of support for Israel, the end of genocide and also to express gratitude for all the people who fought. For the people who fought in the underground. For people who fought in the resistance. For people who participated in the famous uprisings. To thank God also for the other fighters, the ones who in the camp gave whatever they could to keep other camp prisoners going. And for the Allied troops, led by the United States of America. That when we stood together, we stood and stared evil down. And when we opened up the doors of Auschwitz, for freedom and the ability of the few to survive, it was indeed a historic moment. We don’t want history ever to repeat itself where there has to be a liberation of a death camp.

“I want to also take this opportunity to salute the Allies and all the American people who made us victorious in World War II. Let’s say, God Bless the United States of America. And let’s work together for a safe and secure Middle East.”

Office of Senator Barbara Mikulski