The 10,000 or so people from around the world walked the stretch of about 3 kilometers (2 miles) between the red-brick Auschwitz compound and the death camp’s wooden barracks section of Birkenau.
At least 1.1 million people — mostly Jews, Poles and Roma — died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz or from starvation, disease and forced labor at the camp that German Nazis built in occupied Poland during World War II.
Many in Monday’s annual march also wore black arm bands or carried black ribbons in memory of Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, who were killed in a plane crash Saturday along with 94 others en route to WWII-era observances in western Russia.
Israeli Ambassador Zvi Rav-Ner read out a message in Hebrew, English and Polish saying this year’s marchers were also “paying homage” to Kaczynski and the other plane crash victims.
“Lech Kaczynski and his wife were friends of the state of Israel and of the Jewish nation. Today we will march in solidarity with the entire Polish nation,” Rav-Ner said while standing by the infamous gate with a sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work Makes You Free.”
The inscription was meant to mislead inmates into thinking they were arriving at Auschwitz to work, not die. The metal sign now in place is a replica of the original, which is undergoing renovation after it was stolen in December and recovered two days later.
By tradition, the march started with the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn, at the gate.
The Auschwitz camp was liberated in January 1945 by Soviet troops.