On June 14, 1940, the first Jewish prisoners were transported to Auschwitz, a concentration camp constructed by the Nazis. As these 20 Jews, along with 708 other prisoners, walked through the entrance gates of the facility, they were greeted by the sign, "Work brings freedom." Little did they know that such an expression would come to fruition some 5 years later as the prisoners were liberated by the Allied forces on January 27, 1945.
To commemorate the 69th anniversary of this momentous occasion, 55 members of Israel's Knesset (parliament) visited Auschwitz yesterday, a day marked as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. While Auschwitz was not the only Nazi concentration camp, some 1.5 million people died at the camp, 90% of those being Jews; in all, approximately 1 in 6 Jews who died during the Holocaust met their fate at Auschwitz.
The trip by the Knesset was the largest trip ever made outside of the country by the Israeli legislature. The government officials were joined on their trip by 20 survivors of the camp, each of whom laid a wreath by the execution wall as they toured the facility.
For the survivors, the trip was a chance to remember those who were not fortunate enough to escape the confines. Jacek Zieliniewicz, an 87 year old survivor of Auschwitz, stated that he visits the site every year and "remembers those one lost here: friends, acquaintances and strangers too." Another survivor, Noah Klieger, visits Auschwitz to remind himself of a bigger message: "Today, 69 years after we left this hell called Auschwitz, we are here again as proud people, as proud citizens of the new Jewish state that rose out of the ruins of European Jewry."
For politicians, the trip was a chance to remind themselves and others of the dangers presented by mankind: "Walking here, on this soil soaked with blood of our brothers and sisters, we must assure our children and future generations that a different world, full of hope and free of fear can be built," stated Israeli coalition leader Yariv Levin. Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog would add that future generations of Jews must create "a different world, a hopeful future, a world without fear where a Jew will be safe in any and every place... If we lose the hope to build a new world, then we give in to Auschwitz."
When politicians attended a remembrance session in Krakow Monday afternoon, they were left with words of wisdom from Polish author Zofia Nalkowska's book Medallions, written in 1946: "Man has condemned men to this fate. This is true. And therefore only a man can save other men from such fate. This is the ultimate lesson of Auschwitz."
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