Helen Clark shocked by visit to Nazi death camp

Prime Minister Helen Clark says she was sobered by her visit today to Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

"It’s a scene of mass murder and it is horrific, as one would expect," Miss Clark told NZPA.

New Zealand’s embassy in Poland was opened by Miss Clark yesterday, and today she had an extensive visit to the Nazi death camp.

Up to 1.5 million people died in the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War 2 as the main centre of their "Final Solution", the genocide of six million European Jews.

Auschwitz this year marks the 60th anniversary of its liberation.

On January 27, 1945, stunned soldiers from the Soviet army released 7000 emaciated prisoners left behind as the Germans withdrew.

It was Miss Clark’s first visit to the camp.

"It was extremely sobering to see where such clinical, cynical mass extermination took place," she said.

The camp had been preserved much as it was when the Nazis left, she said, with the inclusion of displays showing the remains of victims’ belongings.

"There were pairs of shoes, baby clothes, people’s hairbrushes and clothes brushes, people’s artificial legs - because they took them off before they put them in the crematorium."

Miss Clark said the Poles had a tragic history, and everyone had stories to tell.

"It’s a very very tragic history and a relatively recent history," she said.

"There’s just so many family connections."

During her time in Poland she had spoken to a minister whose family had been sent to Soviet labour camps, and others from Warsaw who had had their city destroyed by the Germans.

Poland’s history was a reminder of how fortunate New Zealanders were by comparison, she said.

"I think that compared with the experience of so many people we have been a very lucky people. A very fortunate people."

Miss Clark will now leave Poland for Turkey where she will attend the commemoration ceremony at Gallipoli on the 90th anniversary of Anzac day.

It will be the third time Miss Clark has attended the ceremony --having also been present at the 80th and 85th anniversaries.

"It’s going to be a major occasion," she said.

- NZPA

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