Thousands of Jews from Israel and around the world were walking between the two parts of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in Poland on Monday in memory of Holocaust victims.
The annual March of the Living began with the blowing of the shofar, a ram’s horn used for Jewish religious ceremonies, at the former death camp’s notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) gate.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor led a delegation of Israeli officials joining Jewish students from around the world at the annual march marking Holocaust Remembrance Day.
As in previous years, the march was being led by Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a child survivor of the Auschwitz camp.
Elisha Wiesel, son of the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, was also slated join the march for the first time. He is scheduled to speak and light a torch at a ceremony.
Many of the participants carried Israeli flags on the somber memorial march of about three kilometers (two miles) from the original Auschwitz camp to Birkenau, a much larger death camp where victims were murdered in gas chambers.
Many also carried little wooden plaques with messages to place along railway tracks that carried people to their deaths at the camp operated by Germany in occupied Poland during World War II.
Speaking at the site, Bennett compared Israel to the Iron Dome anti-missile system and vowed that “never again will Jews be defenseless.”
“Sadly there are people attempting to rewrite history and alter the facts,” he added. “Some deny the Holocaust happened; others try to scale it down. They continue where the Nazis failed: they make it as though millions of Jews with parents, friends, wishes and fears never existed. But they are wrong, they are evil, and they will fail.”
The Nazis killed some 1.1 million people at the camp, mostly Jews, but also Russians, Roma, Poles and members of other nationalities.
The march began in 1988 as a biennial event, but was soon staged yearly.
So far, over 200,000 Jewish youths have taken part in the march, according to International March of the Living organizers, who intend it to be an element of education for new generations.
Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies began at Israel’s Yad Vashem museum and memorial on Sunday evening, with six survivors lighting beacons — one for every million Jews slain. Moshe Ha-Elion, Moshe Jakubowitz, Jeannine Sebbane-Bouhanna, Moshe Porat, Max Privler and Elka Abramovitz were chosen to light the symbolic torches this year.
On Monday morning, the Knesset marked the day with a ceremony titled “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” in which lawmakers recited the names of family members who were killed by the Nazis.
Decades after the liberation of the Nazi camps, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day continues to be marked with solemnity in Israel, with restaurants, stores and entertainment centers closed and Holocaust-themed movies and documentaries broadcast on TV and radio.
Most schools hold official assemblies where students honor the dead and hear stories from survivors.