At Auschwitz, Israeli minister compares Iran to Nazis
The minister spoke a day after Iran's president verbally attacked Israel at a UN anti-racism conference in Geneva.Oswiecim -- Iran is trying to replicate Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jews, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Tuesday, ahead of a Holocaust memorial ceremony at a former death camp.
"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," Shalom told reporters before the ceremony at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in southern Poland.
Shalom was speaking a day after Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and described the Holocaust as a "myth," verbally attacked Israel at a UN anti-racism conference in Geneva.
"Yesterday in Geneva and today here in Auschwitz are showing us unfortunately ... the world still has to fight back against those enemies of peace, those enemies of living one with the other," said Shalom.
Ahmadinejad's speech, in which he called Israel "the most cruel and racist regime," sparked a walkout by several European delegates.
Several countries, including Israel, Poland and the United States, had already decided to boycott the five-day conference.
Shalom called on US President Barack Obama to impose a deadline on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Israel and Western powers fear is aimed at building an atomic bomb. Tehran insists its aims are peaceful.
"I think that if the American administration -- and first and foremost President Obama -- is willing to open dialogue with Iran, I think it should be with a deadline and not dialogue that can last for years that will only enable them to end the programme and to have a nuclear bomb," he said. "Israel can never live with the idea that Iran will hold a nuclear bomb because we have heard what the president of Iran and other leaders there have said: that Israel has no right to exist and that Israel should be wiped off the map and that they will do everything to destroy Israel."
Shalom was speaking ahead of the annual March of the Living, which commemorates the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
The event, launched in 1988, draws thousands of people from around the world, including Jewish youngsters and elderly Holocaust survivors. Organisers said half of the 8,000 people who had gathered this year were not Jewish.
"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," said organiser Shmuel Rosenman.
After the wail of traditional ram's horn signalled the start of the march, the crowd walked the three kilometres (two miles) from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
The Nazis first set up a camp in a former Polish army barracks in the southern city of Oswiecim, known in German as Auschwitz, after invading Poland in 1939.
Between 1941 and 1943 they built a vast complex of huts, gas chambers and crematoria at the village of Brzezinka -- Birkenau in German.
More than one million Jews perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of six German death camps set up in Poland -- home to pre-war Europe's largest Jewish community.
Among the camp's other victims were tens of thousands of non-Jewish Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, gypsies and anti-Nazi resistance fighters from across Europe.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops on January 27, 1945, three months before Nazi Germany was finally defeated.
Holocaust survivor Braha Karasser, 83, who was saved as a child by non-Jewish Poles, said Ahmadinejad's Geneva speech had not been a surprise.
"What can you expect from a man who wants to wipe out an entire nation," she told AFP.
Jacques Ohana, a 16-year-old Moroccan Jew, was taking pictures of the gas chambers and crematoria.
"We're going to show them to our Muslim friends when we go home," he said.