AUSCHWITZ – A delegation of officials from 11 European Union countries pledged their commitment on Monday to Holocaust commemoration, at the annual International March of the Living ceremony, which took place at the Birkenau death camp on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
After lighting one of the memorial torches, Austrian Federal Minister for Education Dr. Sonja Hammerschmid, who led the delegation of education ministers and officials, read out a declaration stating: “We take upon ourselves the solemn commitment to remember and to commemorate the millions of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, the Roma Genocide, as well as other Holocaust-related mass atrocities. We shall respect the survivors still with us and honor those who resisted the evil of Nazi tyranny.
“We will commit to combating all expressions of Holocaust denial, antisemitism, antiziganism and any form of racism or intolerance,” she continued on behalf of the delegation, expressing their vow to strengthen the commitment of their peoples and governments to sharing the history of the Holocaust.
Also lighting a torch was Elisha Wiesel, son of the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Eli Wiesel, who participated in the march for the first time.
“My father never forgot. The things he saw stayed with him all the days of his life. He lived to speak of them to me and to my children. My father was a witness,” Wiesel said.
“He was a witness to the worst atrocity that man has ever unleashed on fellow man. And he was a witness who believed that to acknowledge the suffering of another – and to have them feel less alone – was an imperative for every human being. He spoke for victims around the world: Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur. The thought that genocides could occur in the wake of the Holocaust haunted him.
“But my father was a witness to more than the Holocaust: he was a witness to the Jewish lives in Eastern Europe, which it had claimed. He was a witness to his parents’ beliefs and their traditions and their values, some of which continued even in this place, even in that time – the father and son saving crusts of bread for each other, the rabbis condemning God at trial and then praying the evening prayer,” he said.
March of the Living chairman Dr. Shmuel Rosenman told the gathering: “Elie Wiesel, who was with us on our very first March in 1988, said, ‘If you listen to a witness, you become a witness. His words have become a central goal of the march – to create the next generation of witnesses from among our young people so the stories and lessons of the Holocaust are never, ever forgotten.”
As every year, the march was led by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and a survivor of the Buchenwald extermination camp, who delivered opening remarks at the ceremony.
“We will come here every year to remember, remind and tell the stories of the living legends of the Holocaust,” he said.
Following him was IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who led the IDF delegation.
“By holding this March of the Living, we, the commanders and the soldiers of the Israeli military, will always be their voice,” he said. “Such bloodshed will never be repeated thanks to our strong and powerful army, forever committed to ensure it. We will never forget!” Eisenkot also mentioned the parents of missing IDF soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin, who participated in the march.
Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul were killed in action in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014 and their bodies are being held by Hamas as a bargaining chip. “We won’t rest until their son is returned,” said Eisenkot.
Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett shared with the audience his family history: his grandparents’ families were murdered in the gas chambers and his wife’s grandmother was the sole survivor of her family. Holding up a piece of fabric embroidered by his grandmother’s sister in Poland before she was killed, Bennett said it hangs in his office as a reminder “to be a proud Israeli and a proud Jew.”
This year’s event was dedicated to the memory of Holocaust survivor Joseph Wilf, the first North American president of the March of the Living, who died last year.
Lighting a memorial torch, Holocaust survivor and ongoing march supporter Edward Mosberg paid tribute to Wilf, whom he described as a “great friend and mentor.”
Mosberg was accompanied by his granddaughter, and both wore the striped uniforms prisoners were made to wear in the Nazi camps.
Mosberg explained that his wife, an Auschwitz survivor, was unable to join him, and, therefore, his granddaughter was wearing her uniform in her place.
Mosberg’s entire family was killed in the Holocaust and he delivered an impassioned speech.
“My Holocaust Remembrance Day is every day of my life. I did not forget for one second the murders they committed on my family.
When I get up in the morning I see them,” he said.
Some 10,000 people from around the world took part in the March this year, walking the three-kilometer path that connects Auschwitz to Birkenau in a silent tribute to all the victims of the Nazis and their collaborators.
This year, youths from more than 40 countries participated in the march, some 6,500 of whom are Jewish. The youths were accompanied by an honorary delegation of 75 Holocaust survivors from different countries, the eldest of whom is 103 years old.