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Special to the JTA over 20,000 People Pay Homage to Dead of Auschwitz-birkenau

April 22, 1983
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

More than 20,000 people jammed the green fields dotted with deserted barracks, and the plaza surrounding the striking monument to the dead of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

Jewish delegations from all over the world; scores of Polish government officials; ordinary Poles, Jews and non-Jews alike from many towns and cities all over Poland were present. It was one of the largest gatherings ever to be held at this death site since the war, apparently exceeded in numbers only at the time Pope John Paul II visited the site in 1979.

Auschwitz held the world’s record for murder: Up to 60,000 people a day were killed by the use of Zyklon B gas. First, in 1941, it was mainly Polish Jews, and then Jews from every country of Europe. By 1944 more than three million were executed.

Under the bright sun, on this 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, to the accompaniment of military drums, one delegation after another marched to the monument to lay its wreath. They included representatives of the Polish government, the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy, the International Auschwitz Committee, the World Federation of Jewish Combatants, the World Jewish Congress and others.


The large Israeli contingent laid a blue and white flowered wreath and then stood beside the monument proudly holding aloft the Israeli flag — the most visible symbol of the Jewish presence at this enormous observance.

(A few hours earlier, a 16-member Israeli delegation had left Warsaw upon learning that a PLO representative had placed a wreath yesterday at the Warsaw Ghetto fighters memorial well after the ceremonies were concluded.

(They had sent a note to Poland’s Ministry of Education to protest this action which had occurred at a time when many members of the diplomatic corps were paying their respects. But the remaining 300 Israelis were firmly resolved to continue with their schedule until the end. And they certainly have made their presence felt.)

A speech of welcome was given by Prof. Chlebowczak, chairman of Pron (Patriotic Movement of National Revival). Other addresses were by the Vicemarshal of the Polish Parliament, Z. Gertych and by Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. A moving appeal to the nations of the world was delivered by Dr. Smolen, a prisoner at Auschwitz and now director of the Jewish Museum there.


Then by the thousands, the participants wended their way to the Auschwitz sector and to the infamous death wall where so many Jews were executed by firing squads, and again they placed garlands of flowers. Heads were bowed, tears flowed, everything faded away except the bitter memory of loss and the iron resolve that this must never, never happen again.

As this reporter watched the ceremonies he recalled some lines inscribed on a wall of the Ghetto of Venice: “And nothing shall purge your deaths from our memories/ for our memories are your only graves. The rest is silence.”

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