27th March of the Living with the participation of the Presidents of Poland and Israel
On 12 April, the 27th March of the Living was held on the site of the former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz. More than 12 thousand people, mainly young Jews as well as 2 thousand Polish youth gathered at the “Arbeit macht frei” gate of the former Auschwitz I camp on the premises of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The March was led by the Presidents of Poland and Israel - Andrzej Duda and Reuven Rivlin.
The Marches of the Living have been organised for 30 years. The first March was organised in 1988. This year’s March was 75 years after the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Before the official commencement of the March, the presidents of Poland and Israel visited the hall with the Book of Names at the “Shoah” exhibition in block 27 - with over 4.2 million names of Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Then, they commemorated the victims of the Nazi Germany camp by placing candles at the Death Wall in the courtyard of block 11, where the SS men shot and killed about 5.5 thousand people, primarily Poles.
After passing through the “Arbeit macht frei” gate, the participants walked from the sites of the former Auschwitz I camp to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The main celebration was held at the memorial commemorating the victims of the camp, located near the ruins of the gas chambers and crematoria II and III. Six symbolic candles were lit symbolizing the six million victims of the Holocaust.
- We meet at the place where Nazi Germans perpetrated the most horrendous genocide in history. It is beyond comprehension how such cruel crimes could have been committed. Hence, we meet at the place where Nazi Germans perpetrated the most horrendous genocide in history. It is beyond comprehension how such cruel crimes could have been committed - said, President Andrzej Duda.
- We come here together – Jews, the nation of Survivors, and Poles, the nation who was also brutally persecuted by Hitler`s Third Reich – in order to jointly pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. We come together because we do remember and want to pass on the truth about what happened here to future generations - he added.
- That very coexistence of our nations was brutally interrupted by Germans, who imposed their own, inhumane laws upon the occupied Polish lands. They confined Jews to ghettos and punished with death any assistance to them. They wanted to break solidarity among the citizens of the Republic of Poland, they separated our nations with walls and barbed wire fences.Despite that, Poles helped Jewish people in many different ways - Andrzej Duda emphasised citing the example of the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota”, as well as people who helped to convey information about the Holocaust to the free world, among others Calvary Capt. Witold Pilecki and Jan Karski.
- Auschwitz concentration camp was established in the spring of 1940, with its first inmates being representatives of the Polish elites active in the anti-German resistance movement. Soon more camps followed, including the largest one in Birkenau on the premises of which we are standing right now. In that way, the former Polish-Jewish town of Oświęcim vanished in the shadows of Auschwitz-Birkenau. And the land of Polin – a blessed place which for centuries welcomed Jews from abroad fleeing persecution – turned into the place of the Shoah, ominously prepared by Germans - said the Polish president.
Speaking on the 30 years of the March of the Living, Andrzej Duda said: - Polish institutions and social organisations make every effort to disseminate knowledge about the Holocaust. Since 1988, they have also supported the March of the Living, attended by tens of thousands of people from all over the world for the past 30 years. Let me use this opportunity and extend my gratitude to the organizers of the March and to the management of the local Museum.
The President of Israel Reuven Rivlin said: - We stand here and we know, that from this place we cannot hope for justice. In this place where the ashes of our brothers and sisters were swallowed by the soil - no justice will grow. We do not expect justice in Europe that seeks - too quickly - to forget, to eradicate the memory, to deny, to destroy evidence.
The Israeli President stressed that the Polish nation “barely survived the Second World War. In September 1939, Poland had become the greatest field of death, murder and destruction in Europe”.It was an area under Nazi occupation, and the Poles were an oppressed people, living in fear - he stressed. He recalled that here was also a Polish underground resistance and a Polish Government in exile. The people of Poland produced thousands of “Righteous among the Nations”. Men and women who put their own lives and the lives of their dear ones at risk for the sake of others. And they too are remembered, and we will remember and honor each of those men and women forever - said the Israeli President.
- The Nazi death machine would not have been able to achieve its terrible vision, if it had not received help; if it had not found a fertile ground of hatred for Jews, in which to take root. True, it was Germany that established the Camps, but our People were not murdered only in the camps. The members of our nation were betrayed by the people amongst whom they lived, in France, in Holland, and in Belgium. They were murdered by Ukrainians, Lithuanians and yes - also by Poles - added Reuven Rivlin.
- Germany did not purchase the forgiveness of the Jews, just as no nation can legislate their forgetting. For no legislation can cover over the blood. No self-interest can cover over antisemitism, racism, hatred of the other. Not in Austria, not in France, not in Holland not in Belgium, and above all, not in Germany - he emphasised.
- But those who are willing to bravely look straight into their past, those who are willing to bravely deal with the antisemitism and the racism that continue to raise their heads even today will find in us allies, determined, true partners to pave the way that leads from remembrance to the future - he said, adding that “there are here with us today, survivors, whose bodies and souls testify to those horrors to this day. They will hand on to us the torch of memory, and we shall carry it from generation to generation”.
During the main celebration of the March of the Living, the director of the Museum Piotr Cywiński presented on behalf of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage Prof. Piotr Gliński a nomination to the Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum to the director of the March, Aharon Tamirow.
At the end of the ceremony, the Kaddish was mutually recited - the Jewish prayer for the dead.