BIRKENAU – No place is more symbolic of the dangers posed by the recent surge in antisemitism than Auschwitz-Birkenau.
A stark reminder of those dangers was issued on Thursday as the March of the Living reached its climax at a powerful ceremony alongside the ruins of the Birkenau gas chambers, where more than one million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Accompanied by 60 Holocaust survivors, over 10,000 participants from 41 countries across the globe marched in silence from the infamous gates of Auschwitz to the crematoria of Birkenau, pledging to keep alive the legacy of the six million Jews who perished at the hands of Nazi Germany.
This year’s march was dedicated to the ongoing fight against antisemitism and hatred, and was led by Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog; Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila; US ambassadors, including Israel envoy David Friedman; and an international group of ambassadors led by Danny Danon, the permanent representative of Israel to the United Nations.
At the ceremony, six torches were lit in commemoration of those murdered in the Holocaust and other genocides, as well as to honor survivors, the State of Israel, the Righteous Among the Nations and members of the resistance.
A yahrzeit (memorial) torch was lit by Iris and Yuval Lifshitz-Klieger, the daughter and grandson – an IDF officer – of prominent Auschwitz survivor Noah Klieger, who died at age 93 in December.
“From this place, I call on world leaders to fight the rampant antisemitism erupting the world over – especially the shocking and dramatic rise of hate crimes against Jews in Europe,” said Herzog, whose father – former president Chaim Herzog – was an officer in the British forces that liberated Bergen-Belsen in April 1945.
“It cannot be that 74 years after this wretched war, Jews are once again unsafe on the streets of Europe. Jews cannot be murdered in Pittsburgh and San Diego or anywhere. Let us heed the warning and take to heart the lessons of the Holocaust. World leaders must unite in zero tolerance for hate crimes – of any kind.”
Friedman, leading an inaugural delegation of US envoys, was accompanied by US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher and ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell. US Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism Elan Carr also attended the march, and will now travel to Ukraine, Hungary and Belgium to meet with Ukrainian government officials and Jewish community representatives.
“I have no words to capture the pain, anger, sadness and horror that I feel now at this solemn site. And even if I had the words, they would be drowned out by the shrieks, cries, shouts and agony of the victims in this death camp that have never been silenced and that are amplified right now,” Friedman said.
“There are also no words to capture the triumph of the Jewish people, who were never consumed by hate and who rebuilt their lives and their ancient homeland: the miraculous State of Israel.”
Danon was joined at the annual pilgrimage by 30 fellow ambassadors to the United Nations, who will now travel to Israel for a week-long visit.
“Antisemitism is on the rise, here in Europe and in the United States,” Danon told The Jerusalem Post.
“The fact that we brought dozens of UN ambassadors here to Auschwitz to see for themselves the role of the Holocaust will help us to fight antisemitism. They become witnesses to the Holocaust and partners in our fight against antisemitism.”
This year’s march also remembered the once-thriving Jewish community of Greece, of whom almost 90% perished in the Holocaust. Among those joining the march from Greece were Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Nikos Voutsis, speaker of the Greek Parliament.
“These two names – Auschwitz-Birkenau – encapsulate what humankind, when motivated by pure hatred, can do to desacralize and deface the dignity of the human person, who is created in the image of God,” said Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.
“The future can be no better than the past, if people from all cultures, religions and political thought do not learn well the lessons of the Shoah,” he said. “Great tyranny and oppression were stopped in some small way by ordinary people, many of whom are commemorated in the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations.”
Like every year, young Jews from all over the world constituted the majority of those marching the three-kilometer route from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
A select group of rising Jewish community leaders, participants of the March of the Living’s first ever Emerging Leadership Conference, vowed at the ceremony to be builders of the future and not victims of the past.
“We have the ethical obligation, not only as Jews but as human beings, to transform the world we see into a place where we want to be,” they said in a joint declaration.
“Here today, we pledge to stand tall in the face of bigotry; raise our voice against antisemitism; speak out against racism; and commit to loving all our neighbors as ourselves. We are the Jewish people.”
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