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Record delegation of lawmakers marks Auschwitz liberation

Israeli Knesset members singing the Israeli national anthem at the former Nazi death camp Birkenau on Jan. 27. Photo by Cnaan Liphshiz JTA

OSWIECIM, Poland (JTA) — Dozens of lawmakers from Israel, the United States and Europe convened at Auschwitz-Birkenau for ceremonies commemorating the liberation 69 years ago of the former Nazi death camp.

The largest foreign parliamentary delegation landed in Poland from Israel on Monday — Jan. 27 was designated by the United Nations in 2005 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It included 58 Knesset members, constituting nearly half of the Israeli parliament, making it is the largest Knesset delegation ever to have visited the Auschwitz compound, organizers said.

Several Knesset members, including Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, attended a solemn prayer led by Israel’s Chief Ashkenazi rabbi, David Lau, near the famous “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work will make you free”) sign at the entrance to the Auschwitz camp.

The U.S. delegation is headed by Rep. Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican and the first Jewish majority leader of Congress. With Cantor are Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). They are scheduled to be joined by 23 lawmakers from 10 European Union member states who came with European Friends of Israel and the Israeli-Jewish Congress.

In Krakow, the Knesset delegation is scheduled to hold a ceremonial interparliamentary session with the Polish parliament, the Sejm.

“When we say ‘Never again,’ we can say it because there is a Jewish state and a Jewish army,” the event’s Israeli initiator, Johnny Daniels, told JTA on Monday. “The presence of half the Israeli parliament in Auschwitz is a powerful symbol for that reason.”

Daniels, 28, a Briton who immigrated to Israel 10 years ago, began producing the event six months ago as executive director of From the Depths, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to Holocaust education.

“Holocaust survivors are dying fast, and it was important for us to create a platform where their voice will be heard,” he said.

Twenty-four Holocaust survivors will attend the ceremony at Auschwitz.

Daniels also said that the attendance of Sejm lawmakers signifies the Polish government’s dedication to commemorating the Holocaust and that “Poles, too, have been victimized by Nazi Germany.”

Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told JTA that he viewed the meeting with Polish and other European lawmakers as “a chance to raise issues which cannot be ignored — the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, whose latest examples were a pig’s head at a synagogue in Rome, and attacks on Jews in Kiev.”

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