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Mourners March at Auschwitz, Mark Ghetto Uprising

Tue April 29, 2003

 By Marcin Grajewski
from Reuters


OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) - High school students joined Holocaust survivors from around the world in Poland on Tuesday to mourn Jews killed at the Auschwitz death camp and mark the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against Nazi rule 60 years ago.

Israeli President Moshe Katzav and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, led 3,000 people in the "March of the Living" through Auschwitz's gate, bearing the infamous German inscription "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Makes You Free), to the nearby twin camp at Birkenau.

"With the sun, birds singing and blue sky you can't really imagine that these heinous crimes happened here," said Avishai Nalka, 16, a high school student from Ashdod, Israel. "I only saw this place in black-and-white history films, now I see it in color."

More than a million people, mostly Jews, died in the gas chambers or from disease and starvation at Auschwitz, the German name for Oswiecim, during World War II.

Six million Jews were killed in the Nazi Holocaust. Poland's pre-war Jewish community of 3.5 million was reduced to 300,000.

Organizers of the march, which was part of Holocaust Remembrance Day, said there were fewer marchers than in recent years due to security concerns over the recent war in Iraq.

The event also marked the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which has become a symbol of Jewish resistance against rule by Nazi Germany.

On April 19, 1943, Jewish fighters launched a desperate last stand against German occupying forces to resist looming deportations to death camps. They held off the Nazis for several weeks with homemade explosives.

Also marching was Norman Frejman, 72, who as a child survived the Warsaw Ghetto, deportation to the Majdanek death camp and slave labor in Germany.

"God wanted me to survive: All my family perished either in the Warsaw Ghetto or in the camps. I am getting old, so I had to come here to see it once again. This is hallowed ground, because the ashes of Jews are scattered here," he said.

"I also wanted to attend the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. This is very near to me," said Frejman, who left for the United States after the war and lives in Florida.

Holocaust Day is marked on a different day each year because it is linked to the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, when the uprising began.

In Israel, sirens brought the country to a standstill for a two-minute silence and flags were at half-mast for the memorial.