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Solemn ceremonies mark Holocaust Remembrance Day

Solemn ceremonies were held in Vaughan on Sunday to mark Yom HaShoah, also known as Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Hundreds gathered at the Lebovic Jewish Community Campus to pay tribute to the six-million Jews who died during the Holocaust.

“The survivors of the Holocaust are heroes. They endured the depths of evil yet found courage to not only survive but to also rebuild their lives and community,” David Koschitzky, chairman of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said in a statement.

“The extraordinary bravery and dedication of Canada’s Holocaust survivors continue to inspire us to infuse the call of ‘never again’ with action, purpose and meaning.”

In Toronto, a Holocaust survivor laid yellow roses on the graves of friends and families who suffered during the Second World War.

Franka Kon, a native of Poland, was joined by other Holocaust survivors at the Bathurst Lawn Memorial Cemetery.

“Many times the Germans came in and beat us up, took some people with them. We didn’t know where they were going,” she recollected. “We are survivors but we didn’t survive our pain.”

Kon said the yellow roses are symbols of remembrance for Holocaust survivors who were once forced by the Nazis to wear a yellow star to identify themselves as Jewish.

The day was also marked in Hungary as some 250 Germans were joined by dozens of Hungarians on a five-day walk along the route taken by tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews who were marched to Germany and Austria as forced labourers at the end of World War II.

Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, including many of the forced labourers. This year’s participants reversed the route — walking from the Austrian border to Budapest, the Hungarian capital.

Frank Pfeiffer’s grandfather voluntarily joined the Waffen-SS, the military arm of the Nazi Party, while his wife Barbel’s grandfather helped build the electrical system at the Auschwitz death camp, including the wiring of its gas chambers.

“I have deliberately come on this march to ask for forgiveness from the Jewish people and the survivors,” said Pfeiffer, a 44-year-old travel agent. “As the grandchild of a perpetrator, I want to express how deeply sorry I am at what my grandfather did.”

Yom HaShoah begins Sunday evening and ends Monday night. The international Holocaust remembrance day takes place January 27.

With files from The Associated Press