silvan shalom auschwitz 248 88.
(photo credit: AP)
OSWIECIM, Poland - Thousands of young Jews and elderly Holocaust survivors marched on Tuesday at the former German death camp of Auschwitz to honor those who perished in the Holocaust, while Vice Premier Silvan Shalom condemned the Iranian president's recent anti-Israel comments.
A shofar sounded the march's start. Around 7,000 people from more than 40 countries, many carrying the blue-and-white flag of Israel, 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 3 km. to the sprawling Nazi sister camp of Birkenau, home to 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 the UN racism conference in Geneva.
Speaking before Tuesday's march, 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."
Shalom called Tuesday's march the world's answer to the Iranian leader'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.
He compared the threat to Israel from Teheran today to that once posed by Nazi Germany.
"Sadly, today we are again facing an existential threat just like that of 64 years ago, and I wonder if we have learned anything since then?" Shalom said, citing the Durban Review Conference in Geneva as evidence of the seriousness of modern anti-Semitism.
"The Durban Review Conference is living proof, a wake-up call for us all - the world has not yet learned the lesson, has not yet truly assimilated what happened 64 years ago," he said. "The Durban Conference proves to us that remembrance and commemoration of the events and the horrors of the Shoah are not sufficient. We must continue to study these lessons and to take determined action to ensure that the lessons of the Shoah are really remembered."
Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly denied that the Holocaust happened and called for Israel's destruction, accused the Jewish state in his speech on Monday 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.
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.
Younger Jews, meanwhile, 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 made the trip 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."
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 it on January 27, 1945.