Of the more than 40 world leaders present for Thursday’s ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, it was an Auschwitz survivor who stole the show.
As President Moshe Katsav, the first foreign dignitary to address the gathering, was winding up his speech, a woman sitting in the rows of survivors got up from her seat and walked over to the speakers’ podium, where she stood without a coat in the freezing cold, waiting with arms folded until Katsav finished talking.
Auschwitz survivor Miriam Yahav (previously Merka Szevach), who was not listed on the program to speak, then positioned herself in front of the microphone.
“They took away my name and gave me a number,” she shouted in Polish, holding up her arm to show her tattoo. “What right did they have to kill my family? What right did they have to kill my people?”
“I stood here, naked in the snow, in the cold, a young girl, 16. They brought my family here and burned them all.”
Then Yahav, who now lives in Israel, added proudly: “I now have a country, an army, and a president.”
It was already dark when the ceremony concluded with a dramatic candlelight procession led by heads of delegations. The crowd dispersed and made its way back. But in one of the barracks, a light was burning; some of the former inmates had gathered inside. They were singing Hatikva.
Miriam Yahav, you make me so proud to be a Jew.