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Australian Holocaust survivor returns to Auschwitz

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Australian Holocaust survivor Yvonne Engelman, now 92, has walked through the gates of Auschwitz ahead of the 75th anniversary of the Nazi concentration camp's liberation.

Holocaust survivors, world leaders and dignitaries are gathering at Auschwitz to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation - including 92-year-old Australian Holocaust survivor Yvonne Engelman.

Survivors from countries including Canada, the United States, Europe, Israel and Australia are at the Auschwitz Museum in Poland to mark the freeing of the Nazi extermination camp.

In 1945, soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front entered the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in the south of what was Nazi-occupied Poland.

The former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland
The former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland.
AAP

Close to 7,000 emaciated Jewish prisoners greeted the soldiers of the Red Army who liberated the Nazi regime's  largest killing centre and concentration camp.

More than 1.1 million people, mainly Jews, were killed between 1940 and 1945.

January 27th 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of that liberation.

Events are taking place at Birkenau - the largest camp at the Auschwitz complex - and in Jerusalem, where over 40 presidents and prime ministers, kings, princes and grand dukes will attend the Fifth World Holocaust Forum.

Walking between the barracks at Auschwitz, Australian Holocaust survivor Yvonne Engelman said it is a miracle that she lived. 

"Today, standing here, after all the years, it's very painful but I have survived, I'm here, I was able to make the journey, I am surrounded by my children, grandchildren and the spouses of my children so I am the victor," Ms Engelman said.

The 92-year-old was destined for the gas chamber but survived because of a technical malfunction.

Ms Engelman said she can still recall the horrors of the camp.

"We could hear children coughing, crying, choking from the gas and also the smelling of the human flesh and the great fear, what we experienced, is that maybe you will be the next victim," she said.

The majority of prisoners died in gas chambers, or from disease, starvation, or being overworked.

Others perished in death marches heading west of Auschwitz to other concentrations camps in an attempt by Nazi soldiers to hide the brutality.

At a remembrance event held in the Polish city of Oswiecim ahead of 75th-anniversary commemorations in Europe, Holocaust survivor David Lewin said he cannot forget the pain he experienced.

"I was punished with 25 beatings in Majdanek. I had to lie down on a bench and then they started to punch. I told myself – either you escape or you're dead. Somehow I managed to smuggle myself into the kitchen where I worked as a potato peeler. At least I had something to eat," Mr Lewin said. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki visit the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki visit the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz in 2019.
NurPhoto

World leaders including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky are paying tribute to Holocaust survivors.

Speaking at a World Jewish Congress dinner in the Polish city of Krakow , Mr Zelenskiy admired the bravery of the survivors.

"You are truly amazing. You are strong and incredibly courageous. So you are an example that we should follow," Mr Zelensky said.

"You must never give in. So the Holocaust is named the dark period in the history of humanity. And you are the rays of sunshine that penetrated the darkness."

Meanwhile, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has apologised for the Netherlands' lack of action against the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.

He is the first Dutch leader to make an official apology.

The issue of rising anti-Semitism is also at the forefront of commemorations for the 75th anniversary.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has warned a large number of Jewish people could leave the country as anti-Jewish insults and attacks are becoming a daily occurrence.

Auschwitz survivors are urging the world not to forget the atrocities of the Holocaust after they are gone.

Ninety-year-old Jona Laks said he remembers feeling utterly helpless.

"I'm trying to think a moment how it can be explained, it can't be explained really, there's nothing you can do against what they order or want us to become so you do it, now whether it pleases you or it doesn't please you, there is nothing you can do to change it so if it hurts, you just have to accept it," Mr Laks said.

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