OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) - Riders on the Tour of Poland bike race paid their respects to the Holocaust victims of Auschwitz-Birkenau with a short ceremony outside the gates of the concentration camp Friday.
Before the start of stage six of the race, the 175 riders slowly pedaled around 12 km from the nearby town of Oswiecim to Auschwitz-Birkenau and then, in near-silence, removed their helmets in front of some 50 spectators for the ceremony.
One rider from each of the 34 countries present on the race, as well as Tour of Poland leader Dan Martin of Ireland laid a single white rose each at the gate.
A minute’s silence in remembrance of the Holocaust victims was then held in the presence of the mayor of Oscwiecim Janusz Marszalek and race director Czeslaw Lang.
Scattered applause broke out in the warm sunshine before the riders moved off to start racing a few kilometers later.
“This homage is good for young people and sports people, for the families of the victims and for people in general,” Oscwiecim’s mayor Marszalek told Reuters.
“It is very important that young people learn about and remember this terrible history and the victims of the atrocities so that future generations can try and make the world a better place, more human.”
Some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, perished in the Nazi death camp in southern Poland during World War Two before Soviet Red Army troops liberated it on January 27, 1945.
Poland marked the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation in January on International Holocaust Memorial Day.
“We all know what Auschwitz is, and to think about everything that could happen there makes your hair stand on end,” 2006 Tour de France champion Oscar Pereiro said.
“I think that today’s homage is like a tiny grain of sand in the middle of a desert, and however many homages you do it isn’t going to wipe out what happened. But I think it’s right they do it,” the Spaniard added.
Editing by Alison Wildey