KRAKOW TOURS- Polish wedding season is almost upon us. More and more foreigners are marrying Poles or getting invited to Polish friend’s weddings and there are things these people need to know. In this definitive survival guide to Polish weddings I will cover every potential pitfall, misunderstanding and health risk I’ve uncovered. Comparisons are made with British Weddings, the rest of you will have to wing it.
1. Read your invitation carefully
In Poland it is quite possible to be invited to the wedding but not the wedding party. In fact it’s more common to be invited to the ceremony than to the party.
Many Poles are still attached to the quaint notion that the union of two people in holy matrimony is a significant event that people might want to witness rather than a slightly tedious prelude to a booze up. Shocking I know, but there it is. If your invitation mentions “ślub” that’s the tedious prelude part. If it mentions “ślub” and “wesele” put on your best drinking shoes and pat yourself on the back, you’re going to a party.
2. The missing groom
In a British wedding ceremony the groom arrives at the church first and waits at the altar with his best man for the bride to be escorted down the aisle by her father or nearest equivalent. It’s a tradition that allows for all kinds of hilarious church-based shenanigans such as the groom fainting from stress or the best man passing out from alcohol poisoning. It’s also frequently used as a dramatic device in the kind of movies where brides decide not to turn up at the last minute. In Poland the bride and groom arrive at the church at the same time and walk down the aisle together, sometimes in leg irons. If you’re waiting in the church and notice the groom is missing don’t get excited, he’s coming. Expectations of a thrilling ‘jilted-at-the-altar’ scenario are unlikely to be met.
3. Polish best man – the world’s easiest job
Expectations of the best man at a Polish wedding are not high. The ability to walk in a more-or-less straight line and hold some envelopes are sufficient qualifications. Polish best men do practically nothing. He walks behind the bride and groom down the aisle along with the bridesmaid and then sits down. That’s pretty much it. Best men are often also witnesses, but not always. In a British wedding it is the responsibility of the best man to bring the ring (note, only one ring) and hand it over at the appropriate moment, another tradition that provides limitless opportunities for humor. Not so in the Polish service – the rings are already there in a holy cubby hole of some kind.
If you’re ever asked to be best man at a Polish wedding do not hesitate. No responsibilities, no speeches (more on this later), a definite invitation to the party and a guaranteed woman to go with. You can’t lose.
4. Throwing money around and sealed brown envelopes
On exiting the church the happy couple are traditionally showered with handfuls of loose change. They are then expected to pick it all up. Starting out on married life groveling around on the pavement for pennies like bums is, apparently, lucky. If you ever find yourself in this position I suggest bringing an umbrella which you can smoothly invert to catch the bulk of the incoming coinage.
Immediately following this potentially painful and humiliating indoctrination into marital finances everybody lines up to pay their respects to the couple and hand them wads of cash. Three kisses on the cheek and flowers for the bride, a handshake and an envelope full of money to the groom. I’m told the going rate is about 200 zloty. The bride hands her flowers to her bridesmaid, who needs to have forearms like tree trunks, and the groom hands the envelopes full of money to the best man, who needs to have moderately large pockets (I told you this job was easy).
5. The salt and the bread
Off to the party, which might be in a wedding hall, a restaurant, or somebody’s back garden. On arrival everybody gets a drink and the bride and groom get salt and bread. Again, if you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t panic – it’s just symbolic, it doesn’t mean you’re only getting salt and bread for the rest of the evening. One or other of the parents who’s job it is to provide the bread and salt may make a short speech and start blubbing at this point.
6. Songs, songs, songs
Immediately following the salt and the bread business all Poles in the vicinity will break into song. The song is known as “Sto lat” (”100 years”) and is the same song you will hear sung at birthday parties, presidential inaugurations and, in extreme cases, the opening of a tin of sardines. Here are the words — you’re going to hear them a lot in the next few hours:
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam.
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam,
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech żyje/żyją, żyje/żyją nam,
Niech żyje/żyją nam!
which translates roughly into English as:
A hundred years, a hundred years,
We want him/her/them to live.
A hundred years, a hundred years,
We want him/her/them to live,
Once again, once again, we want him/her/them to live,
We want him/her/them to live.
7. First dinner, first dance
Once the singing has died down everybody sits down to the first meal. Note my use of the word ‘first’ here. There may be additional singing in the form of traditional demands for the bride and groom to kiss like alien face-huggers, but there’s nothing important going on there that you need to worry about. Immediately following the first meal the newlyweds are invited to embarrass themselves horribly by performing the first dance.
8. A lot more dinners
I often advise people going to Polish weddings to beware of the amount of food they will be required to consume. “There will be a lot of food” I say “I mean, really a lot.” “Oh good” they say. I shake my head and hold my tongue. A few days later I see them again and they say “Why didn’t you tell us there would be so much!” “I did!” I say “I tried to warn you.” “My god” they say with the horror of recollection in their eyes “I didn’t know there was that much food…”
This is how it works. Immediately after the first toast you will sit down to an excellent meal of something roasted, with vegetables and potatoes and a side salad preceded by soup. You will eat this and then help yourself to the various cakes, cold meats, breads etc. scattered liberally about the table. At this point you will be completely stuffed and saying to yourself “Hey, that guy was right, there really was a lot of food, but I could handle it.” You will probably be quite satisfied with yourself and think me a moaning minnie with the food handling capacity of a small rodent. About an hour later the waiters will be bearing down on you with exactly the same thing all over again. An hour after that they will be back again. By now you’ll be feeling the fear. Fortunately there are only three or four more courses to go, each one the size of a hearty Sunday dinner. And then cake.
Do not attempt to eat everything served to you. You will die. You have to regard the food as symbolic. It’s a symbol of wealth and plenty, an overwhelming feast for the happy event, it’s not an actual meal.
9. The vodka situation
Vodka is a big deal at Polish weddings. Talk of who is going to buy the vodka and where they are going to get it begins at least six months before people start considering less significant details such as wedding dresses or who to marry. Presumably there was a time when vodka was in short supply or had to be manufactured in the woods because, as far as I can see, the entire problem can me solved in a ten minute trip to the local supermarket. However, I digress.
Assuming the vodka is there and, to be honest, the wedding would have been canceled if it wasn’t there are a few things you should know. Vodka is only drunk collectively. Glasses are filled, somebody proposes a toast, vodka is drunk, and glasses are refilled in readiness for the next toast. There’s no casual solitary sipping. It’s all or nothing every time. Sometimes it will be a special wedding vodka prepared according to a traditional recipe known only to 84-year-old uncle Bogdan. These are often sweet and pleasant tasting but can still kill an elephant at 20 paces. Do not be tempted to fill in the time between toasts with a beer or a glass of wine, that way lies very messy but dimly recalled madness.
10. Throwing bouquets and ties
The throwing of the bouquet will be familiar to British readers and it has the same function at a Polish wedding, except that it takes place at the party and not outside the church. The difference at a Polish wedding is that it is taken much more seriously. In the half an hour before the tossing of the bouquet is due you’ll notice a gradual but complete evacuation of the building by all unmarried females over the age of about 24. To be 25 or older and still in that circle around the bride is a powerful shame.
Unlike men at British weddings Polish men also get the chance to make utter fools of themselves scrambling after discarded clothing. The groom’s tie is the sought after item in this case. By this time of the night any male who is still able to stand, regardless of age, is considered a good catch.
11. Proper dancing
Dancing is also a big deal a Polish weddings. It’s the women’s vodka. The first time I went to a Polish wedding my girlfriend said “You know there will be dancing, don’t you?” “Well yes” I said “that’s normal.” I had in mind the vague individual flailing around that every self-respecting Brit regards as dancing. Not so. Proper dancing is expected. In pairs, with feet and everything. Dancing schools make a killing in Poland.
12. Midnight cake
The cake is cut and distributed to the groaning overstuffed guests at midnight. Or at some other random time. Then they wheel in an entire roasted cow just in case anybody is feeling peckish. Knocking off time will probably be sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning.
13. The two-day wedding
It is true that Polish weddings sometimes go on for two days. The second day is known as “poprawiny” and you’re most likely to come across it at a traditional village affair. At first the idea of a party that goes on for two days sounds quite appealing to the average Brit. By the fifth course of the first night the idea becomes less attractive. The first time I went to a two-day wedding I imagined a Bacchanalian blow-out that would literally go on for 48 hours. In fact the truth is less terrifying. On the first night everybody goes home in the early hours of the morning, sleeps for 10 hours, then comes back and does the whole thing all over again minus the tedious mucking about in church.
The second night is traditionally much more relaxed than the first. It’s a no-holds-barred party to celebrate the fact that the previous night’s party went well, or to rectify the fact if it didn’t. Boys are sorted from men.
For a fantastic wedding photographer in Southern Poland have a look at Lukasz Lisiecki’s website.
Traditional Sundays Dinner are now being served in The Dorsz every Sunday.
Come and taste the Traditionally Roast lamb mint sauce, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and seasonal vegetables. For dessert we serve our famous apple Crumble topped with custard.
Price for Sunday Dinner is 45zł – which includes glass of wine or pint of beer or The Dorsz Ale.
Bookings required, must be made before 9 PM every Friday.
Good citizens of Poland, run for the hills: Big Stig is coming!
He’s nine metres tall, made of fibreglass and, according to the instruction manual, should only be hand-washed in warm soapy water. We don’t know where he came from, or what his mission upon this mortal coil may be. Frankly we’re worried to ask.
All we know is that he is Big Stig, and that he today departed the hallowed Top Gear test track on the back on a flatbed, bound for the Polish capital Warsaw, via Amsterdam, Berlin and Poznan. If you’re anywhere near those cities over the next few days, keep an eye out. You’re unlikely to miss him.
What’s all this in aid of, you ask? A fair question. It’s all about a new global channel called BBC Brit, which launches in Poland on February 1 and will be the new home of Top Gear in many countries around the world.
More, we hope, shall become clear in the coming days. For now, fair burghers of northern Europe, we ask you not to panic. Big Stig means no harm. If you spot him, simply stay calm, avoid eye contact, back quietly away and, whatever you do, don’t feed him any Wotsits. We don’t need another electrical substation trashed…
UPDATE, 27 January: After departing the UK on Sunday, we have word Big Stig has reached Germany, via the Dutch capital Amsterdam. And, having escaped the throngs of cameraphone-wielding spotters at Kent’s glamorous Clackett Lane service station, it seems Big Stig’s journey across mainland Europe hasn’t been exactly plain sailing.
“We had a brief stand-off with a tram in the narrow streets of Amsterdam,” reports Simon ‘Premium’ Bond, TG’s man on the ground. “And the journey through Germany to Berlin was fairly biblical in terms of weather. Good thing Big Stig’s waterproof…”
Last we heard, Big Stig’s rig was loose on the derestricted autobahn, clocking a fearsome v-max of 56.2mph en route to Poznan, Poland. Let us know if you spot the big lad…
A taste of home at the Dorsz
The Sunday roast (praise be unto it) has finally arrived in Kraków.
Brought to you by the amiable folks at The Dorsz, their take on the English classic is giving me yet another reason to stay in Poland…
The former Nazi German concentration camp of Auschwitz attracted 1 million 534 thousand visitors in 2014.
The figure is an all-time record not only for Auschwitz, but for all European sites of remembrance.
The director of the Auschwitz Museum, Piotr Cywinski, has said that Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of the Holocaust and of the World War Two crime of genocide, a place which for present generations is a key to understanding the realities of today and the challenges facing the contemporary world.
According to Pawel Sawicki of the Auschwitz Museum Press Office, Poles constitute the most numerous national group among the visitors.
Yet, the number of Polish visitors fell from 610, 000 in 2011 to just under 400, 000 last year. The falling trend is attributed to recent changes in the school curriculum and the lack of a government programme of financing youth visits to remembrance sites.
There were 199, 000 visitors from Britain, 92, 000 from the United States, 84, 000 from Italy and 75, 000 from Germany.
Israelis, Spaniards, French, Czechs and South Koreans were next on the list of the most sizeable national groups.
Around 10, 000 people from around the world took part in various educational projects in Auschwitz. The site was also visited by several hundred journalists and 180 film crews from over 30 countries.
On 27 January, ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp by the Soviet Army will bring together up to 300 of its former prisoners. The most sizeable group – numbering about 100 persons – will be of Polish inmates of the camp. Roughly the same number of people will come from around the world thanks to financial support from the World Jewish Congress. Former Auschwitz prisoners will also come as members of official state delegations.
And on Wednesday, 7 January, a group of Polish inmates of Auschwitz will take part in an audience with Pope Francis. They will present the Pontiff with the ‘Gift of Remembrance’ Statuette of the International Auschwitz Committee. Members of the Polish group will include the writer Zofia Posmysz, author of the novel The Passenger, which was made into a film and an opera.
The concentration camp of Auschwitz was founded in 1940. Some 1.1 million people, mostly European Jews, but also Poles, Soviet POWs, Roma and Sinti, as well as people of other nationalities perished in the camp. It was liberated by the Soviet Army on 27 January 1945.
David Cameron visits Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp
Prime Minister David Cameron lit a candle at a memorial for Holocaust victims as he visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
In a message in the book of remembrance, he said the concentration camp was “this place where the darkest chapter of human history happened”.
More than a million people died at the camp, in what was Nazi-occupied Poland, during World War Two.
Mr Cameron said the world must “never forget” what had taken place there.
He made the visit on the way back from Turkey, where he held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
During a 90-minute tour with the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Mr Cameron was shown train tracks that brought people to the camp and gas chambers where many of them were murdered.
Speaking later, the prime minister said his visit to the camp had filled him with “an overwhelming sense of grief for all those who were killed simply because of their faith, their beliefs or their ethnicity”.
David Cameron visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau today 10th December 2014
Jane Haining was a quiet farmer’s daughter from the south of Scotland who ended her life as a slave labourer in the most notorious extermination camp the world has ever known.
She is the only Scot to be officially honoured for giving her life for Jews in the Holocaust.
But her life began a long way from the barbed wire fences of Auschwitz – among the rolling hills of rural Dumfriesshire.
Jane Haining was born in Dunscore in 1897. Her mother died when she was just five years old and she took on much of the care of her younger sisters.
After leaving Dumfries Academy, where she was an excellent student who was good at languages, Jane took a secretarial job at the huge JP Coats weaving factory in Paisley.
While there she attended church at Queen’s Park West in the Crosshill area of Glasgow.
It now has stained glass windows in memory of a woman who was driven by a strong Christian faith.
In 1932 she saw an advert for a job as matron to the Scottish Mission to the Jews in Budapest.
Rev Stevens describes Jane’s role as the mother for those who were not living at home any more.
For her pupils Jane Haining embodied the values of fairness, tolerance and equality that drove the whole Scottish mission.
Less than a year after Jane arrived in Budapest, Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany. He was the most powerful force in the turning against Jews which occurred across Europe in the 1930s.
Hungary’s Nationalist government began to concede anti-Semitic laws in a bid to undermine its more demanding fascist sympathisers before then allying itself with Germany.
The authorities started to detain Jews who had lived in Budapest for decades without citizenship.
As more and more territories fell to the Nazis, Hungary’s alliance with Germany kept invasion at bay.
The government continued to protect the lives of its Hungarian Jews. But they did lose jobs, social position, civil rights and respect.
However, the Church of Scotland was increasingly alarmed for the safety of its missionaries and sent repeated letters urging Jane Haining to come home.
She refused and wrote: “If these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in these days of darkness?”
“She could not grasp the evil in which she was functioning,” says Annette Lantos, former pupil.
“It was not part of her ability to understand what she was confronted with. She lived in a different world. A world that was civilised and reasonable and rational, where people did not kill each other for no reason.”
Then the outlook suddenly darkened further, when Hitler turned his attention to Hungary and its Jews.
On a Sunday afternoon in March 1944 Nazi troops marched into Budapest.
Jane Haining is said to have wept as she sewed on the yellow stars that branded her children as Jews.
Her open sympathy put Jane in grave danger.
It only took one incident to light the touch paper.
Within weeks of the invasion Jane scolded the cook’s son-in-law for eating food intended for the girls. He informed on her. The next morning a Gestapo police car arrived at the school.
She was arrested on suspicion of “espionage on behalf of England”.
She was originally taken to the local prison but soon she was taken to Poland, to Auschwitz, as the industrial slaughter of Jews was reaching its zenith.
About 12,000 Hungarian Jews every day were being packed off to Auschwitz. Most went straight to the gas chambers.
In all, more than a million human beings were killed at Auschwitz.
Jane Haining was a political prisoner so she was taken to the labour camps where inmates were screamed at, beaten and chased with dogs.
She survived just two months. She was just 47.
According to her death certificate, she died of “cachexia following intestinal catarrh”.
Whether Jane died of starvation, illness or disease and died in hospital or whether she was actually gassed like many women who became too ill to work cannot be known for sure.
It took a long-time before Jane Haining’s death was recognised.
In 1997 after an initiative from Queen’s Park church and a 10-year investigation by an Israeli board, Jane was named as Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem’s sacred Yad Vashem.
In 2010 she was awarded a Hero of the Holocaust medal by the British government.
Her death was anonymous and without show but her quiet sacrifice for those Jewish children has now been recognised throughout the world.
When people ask me about music during the Holocaust, they are often surprised to learn about the orchestras in Auschwitz. It seems impossible to imagine emaciated prisoners making music in the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps.
There were actually several ensembles in the Auschwitz complex, including a large orchestra in the main camp, orchestras in the men’s and women’s camps of Birkenau, and several other ensembles in various satellite camps. These orchestras were comprised of amateur and professional musicians who were recruited from the prisoner population and required to perform as part of their forced labor. The Nazis commanded the prisoners to play German marches at the camp gates, to provide a cheerful façade and rhythmic orderliness as the work details marched out of camp every morning and returned every evening. Day in and day out, their schmaltzy tunes formed a macabre counterpoint to the brutal realities of life in Auschwitz.
As a reward for their contributions to camp life, the orchestral musicians sometimes received preferential treatment. This included lighter work details such as copying music and repairing musical instruments. Some of the performers were assigned to work in the kitchen, giving them access to extra food while also allowing them to work inside.
Not surprisingly, some prisoners grew to resent the orchestras. Holocaust memoirist Primo Levi wrote of the disdain he felt for the musicians while convalescing in the Auschwitz III infirmary. The patients could barely hear the camp orchestra — just the monotonous beating of the bass drum and the crashing of cymbals accompanied by the faintest hints of melody. “We all look at each other from our beds, because we all feel that this music is infernal,” he wrote in Survival in Auschwitz. “The tunes are few, a dozen, the same ones every day, morning and evening: marches and popular songs dear to every German. They lie engraven on our minds and will be the last thing in camp that we shall forget.”
But other survivors have credited the orchestras with helping them stay alive. Kazimierz Gwizdka recalled dragging his fatigued body back to Birkenau after long days of tortuous labor. As he and his fellow prisoners stumbled along, they would begin to hear the Birkenau Men’s Camp Orchestra playing from afar. The peppy music would renew their strength and their will to survive. To Gwizdka, the performers seemed to be reassuring their fellow prisoners through the music, “Don’t give up, brothers! Not all of us will perish!”
Membership in an orchestra did not by any means guarantee that a musician’s life would be spared. But it did offer opportunities to live a little longer, if only for one more day. In some cases, the small perks of being assigned to an orchestra offered just enough advantages to allow musicians to outlive the Nazi regime. “Music has kept me alive,” confirmed Henry Meyer, who played violin and cymbals in the Birkenau Men’s Camp Orchestra. “There is no doubt about it.”
Auschwitz was certainly not the only place where music saved lives during the Holocaust. In “Violins of Hope,” I also write about Bronisław Huberman, who in 1936 recruited seventy-five Jewish musicians to form a new orchestra in Palestine (now the world famous Israel Philharmonic Orchestra), providing the performers and their families with the financial and legal means to leave Europe before it was too late. I write about Ernst Glaser, the Jewish concertmaster of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra who used his musical influence to escape a riot during a concert in Nazi-occupied Bergen in 1941 and then to flee to safety in Sweden. And then there’s the story of Feivel Wininger, an amateur violinist who performed at weddings and parties in the ghettoized Romanian territory of Transnistria in exchange for leftovers that he could bring back to his family. By playing music, Wininger was able to spare himself and sixteen family members and friends from starvation.
The stories of Jewish musicians who were able to leave Nazified Europe and those who were interned in concentration camps and ghettos are very different from each other, but they all have one thing in common: music gave them hope and, in some cases, saved their lives.
Also attending the opening ceremony on Wednesday were Father Dariusz Raś, the director of the museum, culture minister Bogdan Zdrojewski and Archbishop of Krakow Stanislaw Dziwisz, a long-time aid to John Paul II until he died on 2 April 2005.
The museum, now with multimedia exhibits, was closed almost four years ago for an extensive refit at a cost of over 6 million euros.
“Pope John Paul II continues to speak to millions of Christians around the world,” Stanislaw Dziwisz said at a special mass at the Basilica of St Mary in Wadowice before the official opening ceremony, adding that the Polish Pope’s “holiness will be confirmed by Pope Francis in 17 days time”.
John Paul II will be made a saint with John XXIII in a double canonization ceremony in the Vatican.
Earlier, President Bronislaw Komowoski and First Lady Anna were taken on a tour of the new permanent exhibition in the building where John Paul II, then Karol Wojtyła was born on 18 May 1920 and where he lived till he went to the Jagiellonian University in Krakow in 1938.
Among the new exhibits at the museum is the pistol used by Turk Mehmet Ali Ağca when he tried to assassinate the pontiff in May 1981.
A memorial to Ireland’s only Holocaust victim Ettie Steinberg has been unveiled at a secondary school in Malahide, Co Dublin.
Holocasut survivor Tomi Reichental, who was incarcerated in Bergen-Belsen at the age of nine-years, addressed the students of Malahide Community School following the ceremony this afternoon.
“We have people today that would deny the Holocaust,” he said. “After my lecture if somebody should tell you that the Holocaust was Jewish propaganda you can say: ‘No, we met someone who was there.’”
Mr Reichental then went on to speak about his childhood in Slovakia and his experience in Bergen-Belsen.
“This is a special day,” said Lynne Jackson, chair of Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, adding that it was Mr Reichental’s third visit to the school since he started speaking publicly nine years ago about his time in the concentration camp.
She said the stone memorial to Ettie Steinberg was a way for the school to create a permanent Holocaust memorial.
Steinberg’s family were from Czechoslovakia and came to Dublin from London in 1926. In 1937 she married a Belgian man and later moved to Belgium and then Paris, where she had a son. In 1942 she and her little boy were transported to Auschwitz and killed.
VISITING the site of Auschwitz is a powerful experience for anyone who goes there.
But the trip had special significance for one 16-year-old girl from Yorkshire whose grandmother was born in the concentration camp and lived there for the first two years of her life.
Celine Bickerdike took part in a visit as part of a Lessons from Auschwitz Trip organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.
The project is now in its sixteenth year based on the premise that “hearing is not like seeing”.
Thousands of pupils have been taken to where the camps were to get a sense of the horrors of the Holocaust but few have been on the journey which Celine took.
David M. Crowe’s book Oskar Schindler: The Untold Account of His Life, Wartime Activities and the True Story Behind The List should be considered a classic in investigative and historical research. Based on interviews with dozens of Holocaust survivors saved by Oskar Schindler and with access to documents unavailable to Schindler’s List author Thomas Keneally, Crowe sheds light on one of the most dramatic and important stories to come out of World War II.
Care to spare a dime to save Auschwitz?
That was the question posed to us last week when the government-appointed leader of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland visited our offices. For the last six years, museum director Piotr M.A. Cywinski and his team have been on a mission to raise $165 million to preserve the cursed concentration camp, where nearly 1.1 million Jews were exterminated.
Turns out, the Nazi penchant for fine art did not extend to architecture. Auschwitz was actually shabbily built, bricks-and-mortar style, designed to be a temporary slaughterhouse and then disappear. It wasn’t built to last — or matter.
It should surprise no one that the Nazis were better at destroying than building, but in fact, it is alarming that in the decades since World War II, the site that proves Hitler’s horrors existed has been slowly crumbling away.
German police on Thursday raided the homes of nine elderly men suspected of serving as SS guards at the Auschwitz death camp and arrested three of them on allegations of accessory to murder.
The arrests came five months after federal authorities announced they would investigate former guards at Auschwitz and other Nazi-era death camps.
Their effort was inspired by the precedent-setting trial of former Ohio autoworker John Demjanjuk, who died in 2012 in a Bavarian nursing home while appealing his conviction on charges he served at the Sobibor camp.
“This is a major step,” said Efraim Zuroff, the head Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, when told of the arrests. “Given the advanced age of the defendants, every effort should be made to expedite their prosecution.
“Ukrainian-born Demjanjuk was the first person convicted in Germany solely on the basis of serving as a camp guard, with no evidence of involvement in any specific killing.Munich prosecutors successfully argued that anyone who was involved in operating a death camp was an accessory to murder. Demjanjuk maintained he had been mistaken for someone else and never served as a guard.
Following the Munich precedent, Germany’s special federal prosecutors’ office responsible for investigating Nazi war crimes announced in September it was recommending charges against about 30 suspected former Auschwitz guards. State prosecutors since have worked to build cases.
The three men arrested, aged 88, 92 and 94, all live in state of Baden Wuerttemberg in southwest Germany. They were taken to a prison hospital, Stuttgart prosecutors’ spokeswoman Claudia Krauth said.
Krauth said officials had yet to uncover enough evidence to merit the arrests of three other suspects aged 94, 91 and 90.
She said authorities seized “diverse papers and documents from the Nazi era” from the suspects’ homes. She declined to provide details.
Five men made no statements, while the 88-year-old admitted being a guard at Auschwitz but denied committing any crimes, Krauth said.
Prosecutors in Frankfurt said more documents and photographs were seized during raids on the homes of two men aged 89 and 92 in the neighboring state of Hesse. A spokeswoman, Doris Mueller-Scheu, said neither suspect was arrested nor made statements.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, state police said they raided the apartment of a 92-year-old man who admitted being an Auschwitz guard but denied participating in any crimes. They found no incriminating material during the search.
The Nazis built six main death camps, all in occupied Poland: Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka.
About 1.5 million people, primarily Jews, were killed at Auschwitz from 1940 to 1945. Overall, about 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.
Since handing off the Auschwitz cases to state prosecutors, federal authorities say they are focusing on identifying guards from other camps, starting with Majdanek. Results of that investigation are expected in a few months.