Oswiecim, Poland Aging survivors of the Auschwitz death camp shared their stories with young Poles and Germans on Saturday in the first Holocaust education program financed by a German fund for Nazi-era slave laborers.
About 160 young people from across Poland and Germany are participating in the three-day program led by 35 survivors of the Nazi death camp.
The participants included young people from the southern Polish city of Oswiecim, where the Auschwitz death camp was built. Although raised in the presence of the camp, participants said they learned more about it from the survivors' tales than from their history books.
"I came here because I want to learn from witnesses about what happened here," said 17-year-old Joanna Jarosz.
The program, conceived by the International Auschwitz Committee, intends to warn new generations about the Nazi horrors. It also offers a unique cross-generational experience, giving the young a chance to hear those warnings from elderly survivors while they still are alive.
"If you want to build democratic societies you must know history, you must know where you come from," said Adam Koenig, 79, a survivor now living in Berlin.
Koenig, a German Jew, was brought in October 1942 to Auschwitz but was saved from the gas chambers a week later when he was selected for transport and metal work at the Auschwitz-Monowice camp.
"The program is important because history is part of life today, and we must pass it on to new generations to build and sharpen their consciousness," Koenig said in the heavy rain that poured on the stone-and-clay paths and brick buildings of the former camp.
The Nazis killed more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, from 1940 to 1945 in the gas chambers at Birkenau, about two miles away.