THOUSANDS of young Jews and elderly Holocaust survivors marched yesterday at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz to honour those who perished in the Holocaust.
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 3km to the sprawling Nazi sister camp of Birkenau, home to the gas chambers.
The annual March of the Living, which honours the memory of six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, appeared this year as a counterpoint to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech on Monday at a UN 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 yesterday’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 yesterday’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.
For camp survivors, the march presented an opportunity to remember those who perished and to pass on their knowledge to a younger generation.
“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.
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