Parliament president Jerzy Buzek has described the Holocaust as “the greatest ever human tragedy”, 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Buzek, who grew up a stone’s throw from the Nazi death camp, returned to his native Poland for a commemoration ceremony, organised by the European Jewish Congress, World Holocaust Forum, and Yad Vashem.

Following an evocative opera performance in Krakow, which depicted the suffering of Jews at the hands of their Nazi occupiers, Buzek said that, for him, it wasn’t just a performance but a “demonstration of what it looked like”.

“I am here today as a representative of the citizens of a united Europe,” he said. “But the path to this point was a long and painful one.”

Paying tribute to the camp’s Soviet liberators – some of whom were in the audience for the ceremony – the president highlighted the importance of parliament’s role in promoting human rights and democracy.

European institutions are loudest in demanding respect for human rights, said Buzek, and “it is an obligation we have to follow”.

Heading a delegation of more than 25 MEPs from 11 countries, the former Polish prime minister said we must learn from our past, and warned that future generations are “not allowed to forget” what happened in Auschwitz.

“It is our duty as Europeans to ensure remembrance and to educate,” he said.

“Those who lived through the hell of the camps never forget.

“But there are fewer and fewer of them among us. The others – the younger generations – must not be allowed to forget.”

And it is the task of the European parliament, argued Buzek, to help educate younger generations to “guard” the memory of Auschwitz.

His comments were echoed by Aleksander Kwasniewski, chair of the European Council on Tolerance, who said, “We will not be content with not remembering. Here, the Nazis did not succeed.”

But he warned that “memory alone is not enough”, and said the world must ensure such suffering never happens again.

He said future generations had been safeguarded “in a way”. But pointing to cases such as Bosnia, Cambodia and Darfur, he argued that “the mantra of ‘never again’ proved, to an extent, powerless”.

No country can claim that the battle against intolerance has been won, Kwasniewski said, adding, “Tolerance is continually being put to the test.”

Iran

Iran was singled out for criticism by speakers at the Krakow event.

Earlier this week, EU foreign policy chiefs meeting in Brussels decided that there would be no unilateral sanctions imposed on Tehran over its uranium enrichment programme without UN security council approval.

However, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said, “I see another horror coming to our world. I am talking about Iran.

“We have a man who denies the Holocaust, who talks about the destruction of Israel and hatred of Jews.”

Referring to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Lauder called on international leaders to “take him [Ahmadinejad] seriously”.

“Unless we do, we have great problems in store,” he warned. “The EU must continue to fight against this tyrant with the rest of the free world.”

Meir Lau, the chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, told of his own experience as a seven year-old when, as prisoners were lined up to be taken away, his mother pushed him into the arms of his elder brother. “She saved my life,” he said.

And he called on world leaders to “be brave enough and determined enough” to save lives if faced with a similar threat.

“Take decisions, don’t hesitate,” the Holocaust survivor said.

“Decisions are better late than never. Don’t stand on the blood of someone. Do what is possible.”

The third international forum, “Let my people live”, took place within the framework of the international Holocaust remembrance day, ahead of an official state commemoration ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau.