World

Bring Holocaust criminals to justice: Israel

Israeli President Shimon Peres called for the surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust to be brought to justice in a solemn address to the German parliament on Wednesday, the anniversary of the Auschwitz death camp's liberation.

Shimon Peres also issues warning on Iran in speech to German parliament

The German parliament in Berlin listens to President Shimon Peres on Wednesday, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the liberation of Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945. ((Markus Schreiber/Associated Press))

Israeli President Shimon Peres called for the surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust to be brought to justice and warned that Iran posed a new threat to peace in a speech to German legislators marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Peres, 86, addressed the German parliament in Berlin on Wednesday to mark the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz death camp, and told them that across the world, "survivors of the Holocaust are gradually departing from the world of the living."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel shakes hand with Peres after his speech in the German parliament. ((Gero Breloer/Associated Press))

"At the same time, men and women who took part in the most odious activity on earth — that of genocide — still live on German and European soil, and in other parts of the world," he added. "My request of you is: Please do everything to bring them to justice."

"This is not revenge in our eyes. This is an educational lesson," Peres said.

Peres also used his speech to raise his concerns about Iran, saying the country's current government posed a global threat that must be confronted.

"Like our neighbours, we identify with the millions of Iranians who revolt against dictatorship and violence," Peres said.

"Like them we reject a fanatic regime, which contradicts the United Nations Charter. A regime which threatens destruction, accompanied by nuclear plants and missiles and which activates terror in its country and other countries."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has drawn international condemnation for both questioning the Holocaust and calling for the demise of the Israeli state.

On Wednesday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted on his website predicting the destruction of Israel, saying the timeline for its demise depends on how Muslim nations "approach the issue."

Khamenei had made the remarks Tuesday during a meeting with the Mauritanian president in Tehran but did not elaborate.

Ceremonies at Auschwitz Birkenau

In the Polish town of Oswiecim, elderly survivors of the former Auschwitz death camp gathered in the cold and the snow to mark its liberation, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to join Polish leaders at Auschwitz Birkenau, where about one million Jews were killed.

Auschwitz survivor Jadwiga Bogucka, 84, stands in front of the entrance to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz Birkenau prior to commemorations marking the 65th anniversary of the camp's liberation. ((Alik Keplicz/Associated Press))

The ruins of watchtowers, barracks and gas chambers still stand in varying states of disrepair at the site of the former death camp, which operates as a museum and serves as a reminder of the atrocities inflicted by Nazi Germany on Jews, Poles, Roma and others during the Second World War.

One survivor, Jadwiga Bogucka, an 84-year-old Pole sent to Auschwitz in August 1944, recalled that the weather was similarly chilly on the morning of on Jan. 27, 1945, when she woke to find the Nazis had fled the camp.

"I left the barrack to see what was going on [and] there were dead bodies everywhere because the Germans had shot anyone still able to move or who tried to flee," she said.

At the Vatican, the German-born Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the horror of the crimes committed in the camps, and asked that the memory of the events "induce respect for the dignity of every person so that all men can perceive themselves as one big family."

With files from The Associated Press