Ceremony marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

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Candles were lit and prayers were said at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum at Laxton this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Events took place across the globe yesterday, 27th January - the day the death camp was liberated by the Allies in 1945.

Newly-arrived prisoners at Birkenau death camp awaiting selection. Around 90 per cent of those who arrived were sent straight to the gas chambers. Picture credit: http//:grahamsimages.com

Newly-arrived prisoners at Birkenau death camp awaiting selection. Around 90 per cent of those who arrived were sent straight to the gas chambers. Picture credit: http//:grahamsimages.com

More than one million people, mainly Jews, were systematically murdered at the camp on an industrial level, while millions more were killed at other Nazi camps across Europe.

The museum near Ollerton welcomed local dignitaries and even survivors of the Holocaust to a special service and light candles in memory of those who perished.

Among those at the sombre ceremony was 83-year-old Czechoslovakia-born Bob Norton, whose family fled from the persecution of the Nazis in July 1939.

Although initially planning to head for America, the war broke out months later and his family settled in England.

Around 30 members of his family died at the hands of the Nazis, and he recalls the persecution as a seven-year-old child in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

“We were not allowed into cinemas, or to parks, Jewish shops were closed and we were thrown out of our home,” said Bob, who now lives in Nottinghamshire and worked for a number of years at Mansfield Hosiery Mills.

“I was very lucky that my parents arranged to get a visa.

“This (Holocaust Memorial Day) is important, I come here to teach children tolerance and understanding.

“It’s not about people feeling sorry for other people, it’s about trying to prevent further genocide. It has occurred in Cambodia and Rwanda since, but not on the scale of what happened (in Nazi-occupied Europe).”

Although there were dozens of prison, forced labour and extermination camps set up by the Nazis, Auschwitz in south-west Poland became the most infamous for being the site of the largest mass murder in human history.

More than a million Jews were transported to the camp between 1940 and 1945, with the majority dying in purpose-built gas chambers and their bodies burnt in industrial-size crematoriums.

Others died from starvation, disease, random executions or were worked to death.

The Nazis had fled from Auschwitz days before Soviet army arrived at the gates on 27th January, 1945.

Thousands of starving Jewish prisoners deemed to ill to be marched west were left behind, as were piles of bodies that the Nazis did not have time to burn.

James Smith, co-founder and life president of the museum, said this week: “It’s hard to imagine 70 years ago a place on earth that is beyond anything that science fiction or horror could create or describe.

“A factory that was designed by human beings to destroy human beings - one million souls from around Europe.

“They were displaced from their homes because of hatred that was allowed to exist across the continent for centuries.

“These memories are here as a warning and was our hope 20 years ago that children would come here to learn as they do today.”

Founded in 1995, the museum is the only centre dedicated to Holocaust remembrance in the UK.

More than 20,000 young people visit the centre each year which has an overriding aim to educate the young and ensure the atrocities are never repeated.

As the years roll on, and a the number of survivors continues to dwindle, the National Holocaust Centre and Museum is now embarking on a unique project to preserve their stories.

Using advanced digital technologies, the stories of survivors will eventually be beamed onto a stage in 3D vision, and even answer hundreds of questions from intrigued visitors.

“It’s important to remember all the people who died, and to remember their stories. It’s a warning for our children and grandchildren,” said Mr Norton.