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Holocaust day

dfm/jen/pfd/th, AFP/dpa/ReutersApril 21, 2009

Israel held two minutes of silence on Tuesday for Holocaust Remembrance Day, honoring the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II. Thousands more gathered and marched throughout Europe.

Children wave Israeli flags
Frenetic Israel came to a standstill for two mournful minutes on TuesdayImage: AP

Some 7,000 people walked silently at the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz in Poland, to honor victims of the Holocaust a day after a controversial UN conference on racism.

The marchers waved Israeli and Polish flags as they passed through the camp’s gates, which are still bannered by the words, "Arbeit Macht Frei," a Nazi phrase meaning "Work Sets You Free."

The procession, referred to as the March of the Living, saw Holocaust survivors, some 1,800 Poles and young Jewish students from across the world walk from Auschwitz to its sister camp at Birkenau. The site was once the largest concentration and extermination camp built by Nazi Germany.

This year's march is "the answer to all the anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, who, at the same time, will gather in Geneva to declare Israel a racist state," event chairman Shmuel Rozenman told Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post.

"Today we march in this horrific place, non-Jews and Jews alike, so that the type of hate-filled messages being spoken in Geneva will never be tolerated," he said

Defense of Israel

Around 7,000 youth and Holocaust survivors marched at Auschwitz
Young Poles also marched in remembranceImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, who led the walk, used the event to counterattack Iran, which he said was towing a line close to that of Nazi Germany.

"What Iran is trying to do right now is not far away at all from what Hitler did to the Jewish people just 65 years ago," he said, as reported by Polish press agency PAP.

The march this year came amid the controversial UN conference in Geneva that was boycotted by a collection of countries including the US, Poland, Germany and Israel.

Those countries said a draft declaration on racism to be adopted at the conference included vague attempts to limit criticism of religion, and that the summit would attempt to hit out at Israel.

Speaking at the conference on Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the West of using the Holocaust as a "pretext" for aggression against Palestinians. The speech prompted a walk-out by European Union delegates.

Day of ceremonies

Ahmandinejad giving a speech in Geneva
Ahmadinejad's Geneva speech unleashed protestsImage: AP

In Israel, cities and business came to a standstill on Tuesday for 120 seconds as air-raid sirens sounded in memory of the Jews who were killed during the war.

An official wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Warsaw Ghetto uprising memorial at Yad Vashem. The "Unto Every Person There is a Name" ceremony - in which all Holocaust victims' names are read - will take place at both Yad Vashem and the Knesset.

At a memorial ceremony on Monday evening, Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke out against any form of denial or belittlement of the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz for holding a meeting with Ahmadinejad.

A previous UN conference in 2001 caused controversy after activists at side events attempted to have Zionism, the founding ideology of the Jewish state, officially equated to racism.