4,000 Youths Retrace Wartime March from Gates of Auschwitz to Birkenau

Some 4,000 youths from 35 countries on Sunday silently marched the two miles between the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camp complexes in southeastern Poland, in a moving commemoration of International Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day.

Wearing blue parkas, they marched, with arms linked, in ranks of five behind, banners which read “March of the Living” and the names of the countries they represented.

They trooped through the main gate of Auschwitz under the warped slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes Freedom).

Along a dirt track still bordered by barbed wire fences that were once electrified, the marchers retraced the infamous “death march” of 1945 when, as the Red Army approached, the Nazis evacuated Auschwitz.

The surviving inmates were forced to walk to the Birkenau crematoria. Others were marched further into Poland and Germany.

At the entrance of Crematorium No. 2, where an average of 6,000 people — mostly Jews — were incinerated a day, a memorial service was conducted Sunday by the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Israel Lau, himself a concentration camp survivor.

Lau led the recitation of the Kaddish, accompanied by the cantor of the Yeshurun Rehavia Synagogue in Jerusalem.

Six of the marchers each lighted a torch in memory of the 6 million Jews slain by the Nazis. Knesset members Eliahu Ben-Elissar and Shevach Weiss were present to represent the Israeli parliament.

CEREMONY AT YAD VASHEM

So were representatives of former camp inmates, partisan fighters, Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews, and a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, retired Gen. Mordechai Gur.

Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel, Israeli Cabinet member Ehud Olmert and Rabbi Avraham Hirshon, organizer of the march, all gave speeches.

The ceremony was broadcast live on Israel’s educational television station and on Israel Radio as part of Israel’s own Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration.

Yom Hashoah began in Israel on Saturday night with an official ceremony at the Yad Va-shem Holocaust memorial, attended by President Chaim Herzog and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

At 10 a.m. local time Sunday, all traffic throughout the country stopped to observe a minute of silence in memory of the Holocaust dead.

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