- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

OSWIECIM, POLAND (AP) - Thousands of young Jews and elderly Holocaust survivors marched Tuesday at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz to honor those who perished in the Holocaust, while an Israeli official condemned the Iranian president’s recent anti-Israel comments.

A shofar, or ram’s horn, sounded the march’s start. Around 7,000 people from more than 40 countries, many carrying the blue-and-white flag of Israel, then streamed through the infamous wrought-iron gate _ crowned with the words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Sets You Free” _ at the former Auschwitz camp.

Under a clear blue sky, the participants trekked 2 miles (3 kilometers) to the sprawling Nazi sister camp of Birkenau, home to wooden barracks and the gas chambers.

The annual March of the Living, which honors the memory of some six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, appeared this year as a counterpoint to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech Monday at a U.N. racism conference in Geneva.

Ahmadinejad, who has denied that the Holocaust happened and has called for Israel’s destruction, accused the Jewish state in his speech of being a “most cruel and repressive racist regime.” His official text had referred to the Holocaust as “ambiguous and dubious” but Ahmadinejad dropped that reference from his speech.

Speaking before Tuesday’s march, Israel’s deputy prime minister Silvan Shalom dismissed the Iranian leader’s address as “a speech of hatred.”

“What Iran is doing today is not too far off from what Hitler did to the Jewish people 65 years ago,” Shalom said. “He (Ahmadinejad) would like of course to develop these beliefs that Israel has no right to exist.”

But Shalom called Tuesday’s march the world’s answer to the Iranian president’s remarks.

“We are saying very clearly to the Iranian president and to the entire world that Israel will continue to exist, that the Jewish people will continue to exist, and that the world is much more united than he believes to stop such kind of phenomena, such kind of prejudice and hatred,” Shalom said.

At least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, but also non-Jewish Poles, Gypsies and others, died in Auschwitz-Birkenau’s gas chambers or from starvation, disease and forced labor before Soviet troops liberated the Nazi-run camp on Jan. 27, 1945.

After arriving at Birkenau, some marchers placed small wooden slabs with messages of mourning on them between the train tracks that brought Jews to their death. One read “I love and miss you Papa Adam,” while another read “In loving memories of families Gromb and Markovity, who were brutally killed by the Nazis.”

For camp survivors, the march presented an opportunity to remember those who perished and to pass on their knowledge to a younger generation.

“I’m back because for me this is a pilgrimage. I come back to pay tribute, first to the ones I did know, and then to the hundreds of thousands who died here and were murdered here,” said Noah Klieger, an 83-year-old journalist from Tel Aviv who survived the camp along with his mother and father.

“I feel it’s my duty to come because I was saved and many others were not,” he said.

The march ended in a ceremony with the Kaddish, or Jewish prayer for the dead, at the monument to the camp’s victims between the red-brick ruins of Birkenau’s crematoria.

Younger marchers said it was important to understand the horror the survivors went through.

“I’m here right now in memory of the people who perished, in honor of the people (survivors) who are coming back,” said Nathan Koreie, 18, who came from Los Angeles. “They had not only the strength to endure what they went through at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but that they’ve come back now and they are coming to teach us is a testament to their strength and will to survive.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide