The Auschwitz march was held just before the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Warsaw ghetto

Thousands of people have gathered at the former Auschwitz site for the Walk of the Living

WARSAW, Poland — Thousands of people gathered on Tuesday at the former site of Auschwitz for the March of Life, an annual Holocaust remembrance march that this year marks on the eve of the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella spoke at the event, warning that the ideas of the 1930s were re-emerging “at a time when Russia’s inhuman aggression against Ukraine is still raging”. He called the memory of the Holocaust “an eternal warning that cannot be ignored”.

“Hate, prejudice, racism, extremism, anti-Semitism, indifference, delusion and thirst for power,” said Mattarella, whose country under dictator Benito Mussolini was allied with Germany during the war.

Participants in the event included Holocaust survivors who experienced the torments of Auschwitz or one of the other death camps where Nazi Germany sought to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population, and came close to doing so.

Some of those present, including people from Israel and the United States, came face to face for the first time with something that had long been a part of their psyche: watchtowers, the remains of gas chambers, huge piles of shoes, bags and other items to which the victims had been subjected. They brought with them on their last journey.

German forces created Auschwitz after they invaded and occupied Poland during World War II, killing more than 1.1 million people there, mostly Jews but also Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and more. In all, about 6 million European Jews died during the Holocaust.

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Elderly survivors, some wearing the blue and white flag of Israel, gathered under the gate with the ironic words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (One Free Working Groups) before the march.

The event, while sad, is also a celebration of survival and the State of Israel, and some participants clapped and sang as they prepared to walk near the gate.

The March of Life, held every year on Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day, began at that gate and led to Birkenau, the large camp 3 kilometers (two miles) away where Jews from all over Europe were taken by train and murdered in the gas chambers.

Walk leader Phyllis Greenberg Heidemann said the young participants would have the responsibility to pass on the memory of the witnesses.

“They will be the voice of those who no longer have a voice once they see and understand what happened in the past,” she said.

Some of the participants planned to travel the next day to Warsaw for a commemoration of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising which would be attended by the presidents of Poland, Germany and Israel.

The revolt was the largest single act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, and it remains a powerful national symbol for Israel.

On Tuesday, Polish Minister of Culture Pyotr Glinski attended a ceremony that symbolically marks a new stage in the development of a museum set to open in three years, the Warsaw Ghetto Museum.

Officials buried a “time capsule” containing memorabilia and a message for future generations on the grounds of a former children’s hospital that will house the museum.

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Rafal Niedzielski contributed from Oswiecim, Poland.

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