KRAKOW - "A new Amalek is appearing and once again threatening to annihilate the Jews," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday, in a speech at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Invoking the name of the biblical enemy of the Jews, Netanyahu added, "We will not allow it... We will never forget and always stand guard," reasserting the right of the Jewish people to self-defense amid increasing concern over the Iranian threat.
"Remember what Amalek did to you," cautioned Netanyahu, quoting a passage from Deuteronomy. "I have come here today from Jerusalem to tell you: We will never forget. We will not allow the Holocaust deniers or those who desecrate [Jewish] graves and signs to erase or distort [our] memory."
Some 150 Auschwitz survivors and European leaders were on hand for the ceremony, one of scores around the world marking the global day of commemoration established by the United Nations in 2005.
Bundled tightly against the cold and snow, elderly Auschwitz survivors walked among the barracks and watchtowers of Auschwitz and Birkenau on Wednesday, many clad in scarves bearing the gray and blue stripes of their Nazi prison garments decades ago.
Moving later into a heated tent to escape the -10 Celsius temperatures, they heard Netanyahu vow that his country would never allow anyone to erase the memory of the victims of Nazi Germany's death camps.
"We sit in a warm tent and remember those who shivered to death, and if they didn't freeze to death, they were gassed and burned," Netanyahu said.
Speaking at the Third International Holocaust Forum, Netanyahu told an audience of European Parliament politicians, survivors of Auschwitz and Poland's President Lech Kaczynsk and Prime Minister Donald Tusk that "Murderous hatred must be stopped in its tracks, stopped right from the beginning.
"All countries in the world must learn this lesson, just as we did after losing a third of our people in blood-soaked Europe. We learned that the only guarantee for the protection of our people is the State of Israel and its army, the IDF."
"I promise, as head of the Jewish state, that never again will we allow the hand of evil to sever the life of our people and our state," said Netanyahu.
The Iranian threat permeated the speeches and remarks of many of the speakers during the events commemorating the former Soviet Union's liberation of Auschwitz 65 years ago.
Ronald Lauder, the head of the World Jewish Congress, told a packed audience of dignitaries and EU politicians at the Krakow Opera House on Wednesday that the "horror" of the past can be equated with a present horror.
"What is happening today in Iran is a man who denies the Holocaust. A man who talks about the destruction of Israel. A man who has great contempt for Jews.
"Hitler had the same words and people did not take him seriously," he said. "We must take him [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] seriously. I pray that the European Union and the free world will continue to fight against this tyrant."
The International Holocaust Forum at Auschwitz was the brainchild of Moshe Kantor, the head of the European Jewish Congress. He warned against a policy of "appeasement" toward Iran.
"This appeasement is expressed completely in economic cooperation with the Iranian regime. Six thousand European companies cooperate with Iran on a daily basis," said Kantor.
He told The Jerusalem Post that the "main danger comes from Iran," and the "plan is to frighten Israel through Hizbullah."
Kantor, a who has a hard science background, earning his doctorate in Spacecraft Automatic Control Systems, said the Iranians could deliver their "nuclear weaponry" to the terror group Hizbullah.
With the destruction of European Jewry as his background, Netanyahu left no doubt that national security interests are setting the agenda for his administration.
Choosing frosty Poland as the place to rebuke to those who claim the Jewish population of Israel is comprised mostly of emigrants from Europe, he said, "Am Yisrael Chai, we have returned to our homeland, to the land of our forefathers, to Jerusalem, our capital. We have converged from all corners of the world, Holocaust survivors, Arab Jews, Jews from former Soviet Union states, Ethiopian Jews."
He peppered his speech with a steady interplay between the past and present, stressing the self-determination of the Jewish people in Israel.
"From the cursed ground at Auschwitz, Birkenau and other camps rise the voices of our brothers and sisters, our people who choked to death and were burned and murdered," said the prime minister, in English, wishing "decency, truth and hope ... for all mankind" before switching to Hebrew, "the language the Nazis sought to exterminate."
"We bow our heads in memory [of Holocaust victims] and raise our heads as our flag waves with its two blue stripes and the Star of David at its center. We still haven't lost our hope."
Two former Red Army soldiers who participated in the liberation of Auschwitz were invited to attend the ceremony.
Auschwitz was the largest German extermination camp, where the Nazis and their collaborators murdered 1.5 million mainly Jewish victims. Yakov Vinnichenko, one of the Red Army soldiers, told the Post that he was "shocked" by the dimension of the extermination when his battalion entered the camp.
He was proud to have participated in the liberation of the camp, recalling that he and his comrades "could barely understand" the prisoners because there were so many from "different nations."
Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report.•