AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU, Poland — As over 10,000 people joined in the 2019 International March of the Living on Thursday afternoon in the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog warned that “Jews are once again unsafe on the streets of Europe.”
The annual march coincides with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) and marks the murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany in the Holocaust.
“From this place, I call on world leaders to fight rampant anti-Semitism erupting around the world, especially the shocking and dramatic rise of hate crimes in Europe, Latin America, the United States and around the world,” Herzog, one of the few Israeli officials to attend this year, said at the gathering’s main ceremony.
“It is inconceivable that 74 years after that wretched war, Jews are once again unsafe on the streets of Europe. Jews cannot be murdered in Pittsburgh and San Diego or anywhere. Let us heed the warning and take to heart the lessons of the Holocaust. World leaders must unite with zero tolerance for hate crimes, of any kind,” he added.
A delegation led by senior officials from around the world joined the three-kilometer walk to the Birkenau death camp, where the central ceremony was held. Youth groups from 41 countries participated in the march, according to organizers.
At the ceremony, participants stood at attention when a commemoration siren sounded, a custom brought from Israel, where a nationwide siren on the morning of Yom Hashoah commemorates those who died in the Holocaust.
This year’s march in Poland comes amid rising anti-Semitism worldwide and organizers said the commemorations are meant to send a resounding rejection of Jew-hatred.
“We are here to say in a clear voice: ‘Never again.’ We march to remind the world of the horrors that occurred during the Holocaust and to lead a global movement to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms,” Shmuel Rosenman, the founder and co-chairman of March of the Living, said in a statement.
US ambassador to Israel David Friedman also spoke at the ceremony.
“There are no words. I have no words to capture the pain, the anger, the sadness, the horror that I feel now at this solemn site,” he said.
“Even if I had the words, they would be drowned out by the shrieks, the cries, the shouts, the agony of the victims in this death camp that have never been silenced, and that are amplified right now, right here, this afternoon.”
He promised that the United States would “give no quarter” to anti-Semitism “anywhere on this planet,” and called Israel “a force for good in the world and a powerful reminder that Jewish life, like all human life, can, will and must be defended from the tyrannical, hate-filled regimes that threaten us.”
Herzog’s speech related the experience of his father Chaim, a future president of Israel, who served in the war as an officer in the British army and was among the liberators of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
“He crossed the River Rhine in one of the most challenging battles of the war, and reached the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945,” Herzog said. “As a young British officer he walked towards the living skeletons and said to them in Yiddish: ‘I am a Jew, I am from Eretz Israel, and I came to rescue you.’ However, some of them thought that he was actually manipulating them, as Nazis did throughout the period. A few days later, on Friday evening, he led the prayers for those who survived the horror,” Herzog related.
No senior Israeli government officials took part in this year’s march, though former chief rabbi Israel Lau and Herzog joined it. Also attending were Friedman and Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, among others.