In the snow and freezing cold, a group of 100 people gathered in Harmeze, five kilometres from the main camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau and the site where ashes from the camp’s crematoria were dumped.
Among the assembled were survivors of the infamous Nazi death factory where more than one million people, mostly Jews, died.
The exact number of people killed will never be known as those victims who were selected for immediate extermination by German SS officers were not registered at Auschwitz.
Estimates range from 1.1 million to 2 million.
World leaders, along with former Soviet soldiers present at the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, will shortly join survivors in a ceremony at a memorial located on the ruins of the two camp’s gas chambers.
The former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski – Auschwitz prisoner number 4427 – will give a speech on behalf of 150,000 Poles who died, aside from the hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews.
Speaking for the Jewish victims will be the former French Health Minister Simone Veil – Auschwitz prisoner number 78651.
Romani Rose, the president of Germany’s Central Council of Sinti and Roma, will give an address on behalf of the 23,000 Roma who died in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Homage to the 14,500 Soviet soldiers sent to the concentration camp was paid by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.
As the son of one of only 95 Soviet soldiers to survive the camp in southern Poland, Mr Yushchenko recalled with emotion a previous visit to the Auschwitz museum when he was given receipts signed by his father.
Andrei Yushchenko was held at Auschwitz from February to July 1944 as prisoner 11367.
He was tattooed three times by the Nazis, and escaped from various camps seven times.
He died in 1992.
Sixty years after the liberation of Auschwitz, though, the world has again been alerted to the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
“The situation in Europe is similar to what happened just before World War Two,” Moshe Kantor, the head of the European Jewish Congress said.
“The speed with which the Kristallnacht of 1938 turned into the infamous Wannsee conference of 1942 was just a historical second.”
The Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, was a nationwide pogram against Jews in Germany, while the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 saw Nazi leaders discuss “the final solution to the Jewish question in Europe.”
“Today we are standing on pieces of crystal in Europe again,” Mr Kantor said.