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´What right did they have?´ (JERUSALEM POST) By GREER FAY CASHMAN AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU 01/28/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106848123545 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Of the more than 40 world leaders present for Thursday´s ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz- Birkenau camp, it was an Auschwitz survivor who stole the show.

Of the more than 40 world leaders present for Thursday´s ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz- Birkenau camp, it was an Auschwitz survivor who stole the show.

As President Moshe Katsav, the first foreign dignitary to address the gathering, was winding up his speech, a woman sitting in the rows of survivors got up from her seat and walked over to the speakers´ podium, where she stood, waiting with arms folded until Katsav finished talking.

Auschwitz survivor Miriam Yahav (previously Merka Szevach), who was not listed on the program to speak, then jumped onto the podium and positioned herself in front of the microphone.

Grabbing the spotlight for a few seconds, she asked why she, an innocent 16-year-old, had been brought to this place and reduced to something less than human.

"They took away my name and gave me a number. I was no longer Merka Szevach. What right did they have to kill my family? What right did they have to kill my people?" she asked. "Why? Why did they do that, and why did they burn my whole family here?"

Then, calming down somewhat, Yahav, who now lives in Israel, added proudly: "I now have a country, an army and a president."

On one side of the huge expanse set aside in Birkenau, a group of survivors sat wearing blue-and-white striped neckbands and wristbands symbolic of the uniforms worn by camp inmates. Standing on a chain in the center of the huge gathering, at the focus of attention, a young man wore a blue-and-white Israeli flag draped like a cape over his back and shoulders.

The two sets of blue and white – in this barbaric place that is the largest Jewish graveyard in the world – reflected the transition from humiliation to pride, from fear to fearlessness and courage. Elsewhere, others held up Israeli flags, but none made as powerful an impact as that worn by the young man.

Birkenau is enormous; the walk from the entrance to the crematoria alone takes 15 minutes. Most of the thousands of people who came and made that walk yesterday arrived early. Many were elderly. They sat for more than three hours in the freezing cold, waiting for the ceremony to begin – and then they sat for another three hours until it was over. Many of the survivors were also pained by the sound of the train which so many years earlier had brought them to Auschwitz.

Most of the dignitaries delivered speeches similar in content, recalling Nazi atrocites and the suffering of people from many places, most of all that of the Jews. Katsav spoke in the same vein, but injected an added emotion and accusation.

"It seems if you listen hard enough, you can still hear the outcry of horror of the murdered people," he declared. "When I walk the ground of the concentration camps, I fear that I am walking on the ashes of the victims."

While primarily castigating the Germans, Katsav did not spare those European nations that allowed the Nazis to turn so much of the continent into a killing field. Directly addressing the assembled leaders of Europe, Katsav said, "More than a million Jews were murdered – all of them sons and daughters of your lands, citizens of your countries.

"We know that Europe was occupied by the Nazi regime, but we also remember that there was rabid anti-Semitism in Europe, leaving Jews with no escape and no hope. The world knew of the destruction of European Jewry and remained silent."

Katsav also noted the hesitation on the part of the Allies to bomb the death camps and to destroy the railways on which Jews were transported to the death camps.

"This too remains a stain on humanity," he said.

Pointing to the reemergence of anti-Semitisim in Europe, Katsav warned world leaders to beware of the dangerous doctrines that could once again plunge the world into murderous fanatacism. Noting that Israel is only a three-hour flight away, and that survivors, despite their suffering, had succeeded in building their ancestral homeland into a modern vibrant democracy, Katsav also spoke to the souls of those who did not survive.

"My brothers and sisters, the martyrs of the Shoah, who were not able to join the State of Israel," he said, "world leaders have come to this place which was your hell in order to remember you. You are the lost citizens of our homeland."

The leaders, including presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland, Russia´s Vladimir Putin and France´s Jacques Chirac, filed out placing candles, shielded in blue lanterns against the freezing wind, on a low stone memorial. Vice President Dick Cheney represented the United States.

Putin compared Nazis to today´s terrorists.

"Today we shall not only remember the past but also be aware of all the threats of the modern world. Terrorism is among them, and it is no less dangerous and cunning than fascism," he said.

Cheney said earlier at a youth forum in Krakow that the camps remind the world evil must be confronted.

"We are reminded that anti-Semitism may begin with words but rarely stops with words and the message of intolerance and hatred must be opposed before it turns into acts of horror," he said.

Germany´s President Horst Koehler placed a candle but didn´t speak, in recognition of Germany´s responsibility for the Holocaust.

Before the ceremony, Koehler toured the camp complex with former inmates.

"We have the duty to ensure that something like this never happens again – we Germans in particular," he said. "We still have a lot of work to do."

The ceremony at Birkenau began with the recorded rumble of a train at the place where new arrivals stumbled out of cattle cars and were met by Nazi doctors who chose a few to be worked to death, and had the rest sent immediately to the gas chambers. It ended with a recorded train whistle sounding over loudspeakers.

It was already dark when the ceremony concluded with a dramatic candlelight procession led by heads of delegations. The crowd dispersed and made its way back. But in one of the barracks, a light was burning; some of the former inmates had gathered inside. They were singing Hatikva. AP contributed to this report. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/28/05)


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