OSWIECIM, Poland — Several thousand people took part Thursday in the 2022 March of the Living at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, in one of the world’s largest annual Holocaust commemoration events.
The march resumed with a smaller footprint this year after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants in past years have numbered in the tens of thousands.
Led by eight Holocaust survivors and Polish President Andrzej Duda, 2,500 Jews and non-Jews from 25 different countries gathered to commemorate the six million Jewish Holocaust victims on Yom Hashoah, or Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, and take part in the 3.2-kilometer (two-mile) trek.
The route begins under the Auschwitz gate with the notorious slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (German for “Work will set you free”) and leads to Birkenau, the largest site of mass extermination during Germany’s occupation of Poland and other parts of Europe in World War II.
This year’s march took place under the shadow of war in neighboring Ukraine, and a number of Ukrainian refugees were among those in attendance.
Participants also held a moment of silence in commemoration of the lives lost in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Some survivors said they believed that this year could be the last time they will be able to attend the event, due to their advanced age.
“We must never forget what happened during the Holocaust. I will never forget or forgive the murder of my mother, the rest of my family or the murder of six million Jews and millions of others murdered by the Germans,” said survivor Edward Mosberg.
“How can I forget or forgive the barbarians who murdered my family in Auschwitz, Birkenau and Treblinka? We will not give it to them. We will not forget. Maybe only the dead can forgive, but as long as I live — it is my duty to tell about what happened to my family and six million Jews.”
For the first time in its three-decade history, the march also included an official delegation from the United Arab Emirates. Delegates also came from Syria and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and East Jerusalem.
Also in attendance was a delegation of several dozen Arab Israeli teens.
“The State of Israel, established in the wake of the Holocaust as a guarantee that the Jewish People always have a home, will act to ensure Jews will never again be refugees,” President Isaac Herzog said in a video message, addressing the event via satellite.
“We will exert every effort to enable every single Jew in the world to live a proud, free, safe Jewish life. We will combat the trivialization of the truth and prevent alternative facts from replacing history,” he continued.
“We will not allow the world to forget the depths of human cruelty executed by the Nazis and their collaborators. And we will march again next year.”
More than 1.1 million people were murdered by the Nazis and their henchmen at Auschwitz. Most who were killed were Jews, but the victims also included Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and others. In all, about six million European Jews died during the Holocaust. When the Soviets liberated the camp, they found about 7,000 survivors.
At the event, Polish President Duda denounced Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“We are here to show that every nation has a sacred right to life, has a sacred right to cultivate its traditions, has a sacred right to develop,” he said.
“We come here to show that while during World War II, Nazi Germany managed to wipe my country off the map, wipe it out and murder Poles, including Polish Jews, we will never again allow something like this to happen,” he said.
“We are also here to show that there is absolutely no consent to the attempt to take freedom and kill the Ukrainian nation with impunity, as is happening today in the occupied territories of Ukraine,” he said.