Amid concerns about the rise of extremist parties in Europe, around 10,000 people from around the world took part in a march Monday between the former Nazi death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Many were from Hungary, where a party that refuses to condemn anti-Semitism won 20 percent of the vote in a recent national election.
A Jewish prayer took place where it was once forbidden, as the marchers set out under the rain and under the sign that bears one of history’s most horrible lies: “Arbeit Macht Frei” – “Work Makes (One) Free.”
“The March of the Living” takes place on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, and it has been held every year since 1988.
The event stands in opposition to the death marches carried out here by the Nazis.
Branko Lustic, who produced the movie Schindler’s List, took part in one of them. He said he could not have imagined this day.
“Never. You know when I was here in the camp I was just thinking how to survive one more minute,” he said.
More than a million people, mostly Jews, were sent to their deaths in gas chambers, while others were forced to live in conditions that few survived.
“Nations should never forget this, it can never happen again,” said Fanni Gal, who toured the camp just before the march.
There were many participants from Hungary, the country of origin for one-third of the Jews who died here.
Kristina Kuhn is also Hungarian, and also one of many non-Jews who marched.
“It’s important for the young generation, because in Hungary it’s a big problem, the anti-Semitism,” said Kuhn.
March organizers want to bring as many young people as possible to Auschwitz to be transformed by the experience of being in the place that has become the symbol of humanity’s greatest evil.
As the long column finished the three-kilometer march and arrived at Auschwitz’s sister camp, Birkenau, victims’ names echoed from the loudspeakers.
Another survivor, former Israeli chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, recalled what happened to a man who arrived on a transport and wanted to get his prayer articles.
“He jumped into the wagon, against the rules, and he brought out with him thetalis and tefillin. They were beating him to death, on the spot!” recalled Lau.
On this spot now, putting on these tefillin, small boxes containing Hebrew texts, is a mitzvah – a good deed.
March organizer David Machlis said the slogan “Never Again” does not mean terrible things will not recur.
“My interpretation of ‘Never Again’ is never again we should be indifferent,” explained Machlis.
He hopes that each of the 150,000 people who have been on this march will have learned the dangers of indifference.