Thousands of people from around the world have paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust with a sombre march from the barracks of Auschwitz to nearby Birkenau.
Organisers of the March Of The Living, held annually on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, said about 10,000 participated in the event in southern Poland, which was occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Among them were about 150 Holocaust survivors, Israel’s justice minister, members of Israel’s Knesset parliament, and people from 42 countries.
“My grandparents of blessed memory died in the Holocaust along with five of their seven children and I am here to say memorial prayers for them, out of respect and out of hope they are resting in peace,” said Michael Berks, 77, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The marchers gathered under the infamous gate at Auschwitz bearing the Nazi motto “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Set You Free).
The chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Yisrael Meir Lau, an Auschwitz survivor from Poland, marched at the head of the group holding Torah scrolls.
The long line of people then proceeded, some in silence, some singing Hebrew songs, about two miles to Birkenau, where most of the 1.1 million victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex were killed in gas chambers.
As they arrived at the gates of Birkenau, some bowed their heads or knelt down to pray at the railway tracks that brought victims to the extermination camp from across Europe.
As a group from the United States approached the tracks, two survivors who had not met before began chatting, exchanging information about their wartimes experiences.
The sight of the two elderly survivors caught the attention of those nearby, causing an interested group to surround the two, who at times struggled to hear and understand each other well.
One of them, Salomon Birenbaum, wore a cap with stripes that recalled the prisoner garb at the camp. People wept as they watched, with some uttering “God bless you.”
Then, the other survivor, Anneliese Nossbaum, who was in a wheelchair, caught sight of the railway tracks – her first sight of them since she was an inmate.
“Why didn’t they bomb those tracks? Why didn’t the outside world help? The world failed us,” she said.
Several people lit candles and placed them on the tracks but the flames were extinguished quickly by the wind and a sudden rain that fell as people made their way to the crematoria, now sunken ruins in the earth.
People also left personal messages along the tracks.
“Today I march for those who cannot. NEVER FORGET THE 6 MIL,” read one.