OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) - China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said on Friday a visit to the Auschwitz death camp where Nazis gassed to death 1.5 million people had left an indelible impression, and reinforced the importance of learning the lessons of history.
“This is an unforgettable, dark page in the history of humankind and cannot be forgotten,” Wen said after touring the former death camp in southern Poland that is now a museum containing gas chambers and crematoria, as well as personal items like shoes and even hair of those who perished there.
“Only those who remember history can build a good future,” Wen said.
As many as 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished during World War Two in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, a hallmark of the Holocaust, either in gas chambers or from freezing temperatures, starvation, sickness, medical experiments and forced labor.
Wen’s visit to Auschwitz appeared intended to show that he understood the scale of war-time suffering across Nazi-occupied Europe.
More than other Chinese leaders, Wen has cast himself as an advocate of moderate political reform and what Chinese liberal thinkers call “universal values”, even as his government has presided over crackdowns on political dissent.
China’s detention of dissident artist Ai Weiwei last year, and the continued imprisonment of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, are among examples that have sparked outcry from the international community critical of China’s human rights record.
Chinese memories of World War Two are dominated by their own history of often brutal occupation by Japan before and during the war, which started in Europe with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.
Wen has been touring European trade partners earlier this week as Beijing is seeking ways to diversify its foreign currency reserves, the world’s biggest.
Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community before 1939, but the Nazi-sponsored Holocaust all but wiped it out and oppression continued under the later communist regime.
Reporting by Zdzislaw Lanik, additional reporting by Kevin Yao in Warsaw and Chris Buckley in Beijing, writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Michael Roddy