The head of the Israeli army vowed to “fight relentlessly” against enemies he said are still seeking the destruction of the Jewish people seven decades after the Holocaust, speaking from the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp Monday.
Gadi Eisenkot led a delegation of Israeli and Jewish dignitaries at an annual commemoration at the Nazi camp in present day Poland, where over one million Jews perished, as Israel and Jews around the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“69 years after its inception, the State of Israel continues to face enemies bent on its destruction,” Eisenkot warned. “In the moment of truth, we will fight relentlessly and fulfill the IDF’s purpose: to defend the State of Israel, ensure its existence and, if need be, win decisively in war.”
Eisenkot’s remarks echoed those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who Sunday night chided the international community for not acting sooner to thwart the annihilation of the Jewish people and said Iran and the Islamic State terror group were still seeking Israel’s destruction.
Eisenkot said that the Israel Defense Forces would not only protect Israelis, but also Jews around the world.
“From the Diaspora, the Jewish people look upon the land of Israel and know that there lies an army ready to ensure the safety of its people. A defensive military, more powerful than ever, and determined to fight for our freedom. An army that is synonymous with strength and integrity. We shall continue to keep watch, united and steadfast, and we will continue to ensure that no power can call into question our existence as a land or a people.”
“Standing here in front of these tracks of death, which carried away and silenced the voices of so many of our people, let us solemnly swear that no more shall the voices of our people be muted,” Eisenkot told those participating in the March of the Living commemoration. “We shall continue to be their voice, their light and their shield — as the Pillar of Fire leading the Jewish people onto the march of the living.”
The speech came after thousands of Jewish participants from Israel and around the world walked between the two parts of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp in memory of Holocaust victims.
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.
The Nazis killed some 1.1 million people at the camp, mostly Jews, but also Russians, Roma, Poles and members of other nationalities.
Among those who attended was a delegation of IDF officers. As in previous years, the march was also led by Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a child survivor of the Auschwitz camp. Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor also participated.
In his address to the march, Bennett warned against the threat of Holocaust denial.
“Sadly there are people attempting to rewrite history and alter the facts,” he said. “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.”
Participants gathered under and near the main gate with the infamous sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Will Set You Free). The blowing of a shofar, a ram’s horn used for religious purposes, was the signal for the large group to begin marching in silence down the main street of Oswiecim, past fields and along the historic train tracks that once brought people to their deaths at Birkenau.
Many carried little wooden plaques with messages of remembrance that they placed on the railway tracks.
The yearly march is also aimed at instilling a desire in Israeli youth to protect the Jewish state.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.