By Aviva Perlman
Thousands gathered at Auschwitz today to commemorate the camp's liberation and to remember all the lives lost at the hands of the Nazis. A heavy layer of snow covered the ground, much like it did on this day 60 years ago when Soviet Army arrived to liberate the remaining prisoners of the Nazi death camp in Brzezinka, Poland.
Among those in attendance were Jay Rubin, executive vice president of Hillel's International Division, and Adam Bronfman, a member of Hillel's International Board of Governors and the vice chair of Hillel's International Affairs Committee. They were accompanied by a delegation of about 40 Hillel students representing South America, Israel, the former Soviet Union, Canada and the United States.
"The ceremony was extremely intense but very moving." Rubin said. "We are all honored to have been part of this event."
Moshe Kantor, another member of Hillel's International Board of Governors, was one of the main architects of the commemoration ceremony.
Prior to visiting Auschwitz, the Hillel delegation joined about 500 other guests at a theater in Krakow, where the day's commemoration events began. Vice President Dick Cheney, Israeli President Moshe Katzav and Russian President Vladimir Putin were among those who addressed the audience.
"Today many Holocaust survivors have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That, I believe, is the greatest victory of all. Evil did not have the final say," the vice president told survivors.
"A lot of the focus was on the future and the fact that this could very well be the last major collective gathering of survivors and liberators," Rubin said.
Originally established as a concentration camp for Poles, Auschwitz became the biggest center for the extermination of European Jews in 1942. Though the exact number of prisoners who died in Auschwitz is not known, it is estimated between 1.1-1.5 million people, most of them Jews, were killed in the gas chambers or died of hunger and disease.
Aviva Perlman is a junior at American University and an intern in Hillel's communications department.