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No new Holocaust, Netanyahu vows at Auschwitz exhibit

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday opened a Holocaust exhibition at the former Auschwitz death camp, vowing Israel would do everything to prevent another genocide of the Jewish people.

Today "the only thing that has truly changed is our ability and our determination to operate in order to defend ourselves and to prevent another Holocaust," he said.

Netanyahu's comments came a day after he accused Iran of planning another Holocaust.

"This is a regime that is building nuclear weapons to annihilate Israel's six million Jews," he said after talks with Polish counterpart Donald Tusk in Warsaw on Wednesday.

Israel "will not allow this to happen. We will never allow another Holocaust," he added.

Various high-ranking Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have threatened Israel. But Iran insists its nuclear programme is strictly for civilian purposes and not aimed at attacking the Jewish state.

On Thursday, Netanyahu also accused the Allies who fought Nazi Germany in World War II of failing to act to prevent the Holocaust.

They "understood full well what was happening in the death camps. They were requested to act, they could act, but they didn't," he said at the site in southern Poland.

Netanyahu spoke after touring the exhibition, which was curated by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust institute to replace the Jewish state's original communist-era display.

The Israeli leader previously visited the former Nazi camp -- now a memorial and museum run by Poland -- in 2010 for the 65th anniversary of its liberation by Soviet troops.

Funded in part by Israel, the new "Shoah" or Holocaust exhibition is one of several national exhibitions at Auschwitz.

Located in Block 27, one of the red brick buildings that held camp prisoners, it shows that what happened in Auschwitz from 1940-1945 -- where around 1.1 million people were killed -- was not an isolated event.

The Nazis's genocidal "Final Solution" claimed the lives of six million of pre-war Europe's 11 million Jews.

Holocaust survivor Avraham Harshalom, who was beaten for trying to escape Auschwitz, told AFP at the unveiling that he was struck by today's vibrant green lawn next to Block 27.

"If this were back then, we would have eaten that grass," said the once-starving 88-year-old, who eventually fled after being moved to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.

Polish Culture Minister Bogdan Zdrojewski noted that Friday will mark 73 years since the first transport of inmates to Auschwitz.

"We see this moment as the beginning of the history of hell on earth," he said.

The gallery contents range from a 360-degree cinematic montage of Jewish life before the Holocaust to a room-length Book of Names listing 4.2 million victims.

In one dark room, screens hanging from the ceiling project footage from Nazi Germany, including Adolf Hitler gesticulating madly during a speech, as speakers blast Nazi chants.

The atmosphere then changes drastically as the visitor moves into a room showing the consequences of that anti-Semitism.

The white room displays an enlarged map of Europe entitled the "Geography of Murder" showing all the extermination camps and killing sites where Jews were silenced.

Nearby screens project photos of piles of bodies and skeletal, starving prisoners for a powerful display of how the systematic murder was carried out.

What Yad Vashem director and exhibition curator Avner Shalev calls the "heaviest part" of the exhibition is a room devoted to the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust.

It is empty save for small pencil drawings sketched directly onto the white walls at a child's eye-level.

Israeli artist Michal Rovner sorted through 6,000 drawings by the children and copied fragments -- houses, trains, soldiers, hangings, flowers -- onto the walls, without "correcting or improving them".

"My desire was to give them presence again, in the place that really tried to erase them from the world," Rovner told AFP, as historical recordings of children streamed in the background.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130614/no-new-holocaust-netanyahu-vows-at-auschwitz-exhibit