On the eve of the 80th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, thousands of people gathered Tuesday at the former site of Auschwitz for the March of the Living, an annual Holocaust memory march.
Holocaust survivors who endured the suffering of Auschwitz or one of the other death camps where Nazi Germany tried to wipe out the Jewish population of Europe and came dangerously close to succeeding in doing so took part in the solemn ceremony.
Some guests, including those from Israel and the United States, had never seen anything that had long been ingrained in their memories: the watchtowers, the remnants of the gas chambers, and the enormous mounds of shoes, bags, and other items that had been left behind.
After invading and occupying Poland, German forces built Auschwitz, where they murdered more than 1.1 million people, mostly Jews but also Poles, Roma, Soviet POWs, and others. Approximately 6 million European Jews perished in the Holocaust overall.
Ahead of the march, elderly survivors gathered under the gate with the sarcastic words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets One Free); some wore Israel’s blue and white flag.
The March of the Living, which starts at that gate and travels to Birkenau, the huge camp three kilometers (two miles) away, where Jews from all over Europe were taken by train before being gassed, is held yearly in Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The next day, some attendees will go to Warsaw for ceremonies commemorating the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, including the attendance of the presidents of Poland, Germany, and Israel.
Israel still uses the uprising as a significant national symbol since it was the biggest single act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.