WARSAW, Poland – Thousands of people from around the world, many of them young Israelis, paid homage Monday to the millions who perished in the Holocaust at the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz.
The event, the March of the Living, is a somber memorial march of about three kilometers (two miles) from the original Auschwitz camp to Birkenau, a much larger death camp where Jews and Roma were murdered in gas chambers in German-occupied Poland.
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, and many people carried Israeli flags.
The Germans originally set up Auschwitz as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners. As World War II went on, the Germans expanded the complex, building gas chambers and crematoria at Birkenau where Jews from across Europe, as well as Roma, Soviet POWs and others, were slain. Nearly 1.1 million people perished there.
Also Monday, a new study was released that looked at how far Eastern European countries have come in restituting the property plundered and stolen from Jews during the war.
The study looks at whether ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe have complied with a pledge made in 2009, known as the Terezin Declaration, to make efforts to restitute the lost property.
Carried out by the European Shoah Legacy Institute, the study found that while some Eastern European states have “substantially” complied with their pledges, others have done too little. The study faulted Poland and Bosnia in particular for failing to enact any legislation to address the problem.
Countries in Western Europe began taking steps soon after the war to address the injustice of stolen property, but the takeover by communists across Eastern Europe complicated matters. In some cases, property that was restituted early on was then confiscated by communist regimes.