On the way to Warsaw to attend a United Nations climate conference this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made another stop in Poland.
Walking on Monday through the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign over the front gate of the death camp, the secretary-general toured the grounds where 1.6 million people, 1.3 million of them Jews, died during World War II.
Ban, center, talks at Auschwitz with former Israeli Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, left, and Marian Turski, a leader of Poland’s Jewish community who serves as chairman of the Council for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The rabbi and Turski are Holocaust survivors.
After viewing an exhibition of life — and death — at Auschwitz, Ban said, “I stare at the piles of glasses, hair, shoes, prayer shawls and dolls, and try to imagine the individual Jews and others to whom they belonged,” the Associated Press reported. “I stand in disbelief before the gas chambers and crematorium — and shudder at the cruelty of those who designed this death factory.”
The UN leader laid a wreath at the foot of Auschwitz’ Wall of Death, where thousands of prisoners, most of them members of the Polish resistance, were shot.
“Auschwitz-Birkenau is not simply a register of atrocities,” he said. “It is also a repository of courage and hope.”
Ban also visited the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue in the town of Auschwitz, which now is known as Oswiecim.
He wrote in the building’s guestbook that he was leaving “saddened but also with huge determination to build this world of equality, human dignity and peace.”
Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1995 became the first US secretary-general to visit Auschwitz.