AP Was There: Remembrance march at Auschwitz in 1990

EDITOR'S NOTE: Twenty-six years ago some 4,000 young people from around the world took part in the second March of the Living, a somber remembrance march of 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the Auschwitz concentration camp to the remains of Birkenau, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed in gas chambers. The event, which in its early years took place every two years, is now held every year on Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day. Amid this year's commemorations, the AP is making again available its report from the second march, held on April 22, 1990.


Four thousand teen-agers from 36 countries, carrying the memories of 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis, made a "March of the Living" Sunday from the Auschwitz concentration camp to the crematoria of Birkenau.

Writer Elie Wiesel, diplomats and Israeli parliamentarians joined the young marchers for the two-mile walk marking Holocaust Memorial Day.

The march at the camp in southern Poland was in memory of those who died in Nazi death camps as well as in the Warsaw ghetto uprising that began April 19, 1943.

The sunny day turned eerily cloudy and light rain started as Wiesel stood at a podium before a gray stone monument to recall his youth at Auschwitz:

"I see them, forever I see them. ... Years and years ago I saw, I cannot tell you what I saw. I'm afraid that if I told you we would all wake up in tears and would not be able to stop. I see a young girl," he said before stopping, apparently unable to continue, and silently leaving the podium.

Many cried as the students, all wearing blue shirts, some carrying Israeli flags and others bouquets of flowers, walked along the train tracks that ended at the crematoria.

Dandelions waved in the wind-swept grass now covering the rubble of the camp. Torches were lighted, poems read and mournful violin songs played before a reading of the Kadish, a Jewish memorial prayer for the dead.

Television cameras positioned in former Nazi watchtowers broadcast live to Israel, where solemn Holocaust remembrance events were under way.

As the march began, Galia Haber, a Jerusalem high school student, recalled seeing the number the Nazis tattooed on her grandmother's arm at Auschwitz.

"I remember when I saw her I thought of a supermarket with numbered goods and I thought, did somebody buy her? ... It's very sad to think that my grandmother, whom I love so much ... once was just a number," she told Israeli radio, which broadcast the march live.

Shawn Tepper, 17, of Miami Beach, Fla, held hands with a row of other young American Jews and said the experience was overwhelming but "proved to everyone that we are alive, we are together and we are strong."

Sunday's event was the second "March of the Living." Participants said it had special significance because of the drive toward German unification and Israel's rapid renewal of ties with Eastern European countries that once had flourishing Jewish communities.

The Nazis built the Auschwitz complex in southern Poland as the main engine of Hitler's "Final Solution." Estimates of the death count vary, but recent research has put the toll at about 1.5 million, more than 90 percent Jews.

There were 1,500 participants in the first "March of the Living," held in 1988 to mark the 45th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. In the battle, several hundred Jewish insurgents staged a desperate three-week struggle against the Nazi drive to liquidate the last 75,000 inhabitants of the walled ghetto.

U.S. and Israeli organizers plan to hold the march every two years.

About 3 million Polish Jews perished during World War II. Most of the approximately 500,000 who survived from the prewar population subsequently emigrated, many during an anti-Semitic purge in 1968, and there are now only several thousand Jews in Poland.