Events took place at sites including Auschwitz-Birkenau, the former death camp where Hitler’s Germany killed at least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, in southern Poland.
In Warsaw, prayers also were held at a monument to the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.
Pope Benedict XVI, speaking from his window at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, warned that humanity must always be on guard against a repeat of murderous racism.
“The memory of this immense tragedy, which above all struck so harshly the Jewish people, must represent for everyone a constant warning so that the horrors of the past are not repeated, so that every form of hatred and racism is overcome, and that respect for, and dignity of, every human person is encouraged,” the German-born Pontiff said.
The United Nations in 2005 designated Jan. 27 as a yearly memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust — 6 million Jews and millions of other victims of Nazi Germany during World War II.
The day falls on the anniversary of the liberation in 1945 of Auschwitz, the Nazis’ most notorious death camp.
“Those who experienced the horrors of the cattle cars, ghettos, and concentration camps have witnessed humanity at its very worst and know too well the pain of losing loved ones to senseless violence,” President Obama said.
As every year, Holocaust survivors gathered in the cold Polish winter at Auschwitz — but they shrink in number each year.
This year, the key event was the opening of an exhibition prepared by Russian experts that depicts Soviet suffering at the camp and the Soviet role in liberating it.
Several years ago, Polish officials stopped the opening of a previous exhibition because the Russians depicted Poles, Lithuanians, and others in Soviet-controlled territory as Soviet citizens. Poles and others protested this label because they were occupied against their will by the Soviets at the start of World War II. The new exhibit removes such terminology.