Official observances started Monday evening with a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem as six survivors, including one of the few remaining survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, lit torches in memory of the six million people killed.
Thousands of people assembled Tuesday at the former site of Auschwitz for the March of the Living, a yearly Holocaust remembrance march that falls this year on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Participants in the solemn event included Holocaust survivors who lived through the agony of Auschwitz or one of the other death camps where Nazi Germany sought to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe and came close to doing so.
Some attendees, including people from Israel and the US, came face to face for the first time with something that has long been part of their psyche: the watchtowers, remains of gas chambers and the huge piles of shoes, suitcases and other objects that the victims brought with them on their final journey.
German forces established Auschwitz after they invaded and occupied Poland, and killed more than 1.1 million people there, most of them Jews but also Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and others. In all, about 6 million European Jews died during the Holocaust.
Elderly survivors, some draped in Israel's blue and white flag, assembled under the gate with the cynical words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets One Free) ahead of the march.
The March of the Living, which takes place each year on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, begins at that gate and leads to Birkenau, the large camp three kilometres away where Jews from across Europe were transported by train and murdered in gas chambers.
Some of the participants will travel to Warsaw for observances marking the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 which will be attended by the presidents of Poland, Germany and Israel.
The revolt was the largest single act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust and remains a potent national symbol for Israel.