Heads of state and government from dozens of countries arrived in Jerusalem to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The January 23 event at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial comes amid a spike in anti-Jewish violence in Europe and around the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain's Prince Charles, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and the presidents of Germany, Italy, and Austria were among the more than 40 dignitaries attending the World Holocaust Forum, the largest-ever gathering focused on commemorating The Holocaust and combating modern-day antisemitism.
However, Polish President Andrzej Duda refused to attend, voicing dissatisfaction that he hadn't been allowed to address the gathering while representatives of Russia, France, Britain, the United States, and Germany would deliver speeches.
Israeli organizers said only the four World War II allies, and Germany, would speak at the event.
Poland, which has also been upset by comments made by Putin last month suggesting Poland shared responsibility for the war, will host its own commemorative event at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum south of the country on January 27.
More than 1 million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during Nazi Germany's wartime occupation of Poland. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust.
At a reception he hosted on the eve of the gathering, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called on world leaders to "leave history for the historians.'
'The role of political leaders, of all of us, is to shape the future,' Rivlin said.
'I hope and pray...that the leaders of the world will stand united in the fight against racism, antisemitism, and extremism, in defending democracy and democratic values. This is our challenge. This is our choice,' he said.
In advance of the forum, statements from world leaders sending delegations to Jerusalem projected a commitment to quelling a climate some said was reminiscent of that before World War II.
"I express my fervent hope that by continued vigilance and positive education, the iniquities perpetrated during one of the darkest periods in our history will be eliminated from the face of the earth," Pope Francis wrote.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau specifically mentioned "the scourge of antisemitism and hatred that is becoming all too common once again."
"The murder of 6 million Jews by the brutal and antisemitic Nazi regime started with a slow erosion of rights, and the normalization of discrimination," he wrote. "We cannot permit the passage of time to diminish our resolve never to allow such horrors to happen again.'
The event marks one of the largest political gatherings in Israeli history. More than 10,000 police officers were deployed in Jerusalem while major highways and large parts of the city were shut down ahead of the event.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP
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