Australian-based Holocaust survivor Frank Lowy delivered the keynote address at the March of the Living ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau on Yom Hashoah.
The program also marked the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Lowy, who survived the war on the run from his Czech birthplace before immigrating to Palestine and fighting in Israel's War of Independence, fought back tears Monday as he told how his father paid the ultimate price for refusing to surrender his prayer shawl and phylacteries upon arrival at the death camp.
"I never realized that he had strength — the spiritual strength — to take on the brutal guards here in Birkenau," he told the more than 10,000 people at the ceremony.
"No matter how hard they hit him, he protected the sanctity of his tallit and tefillin," Lowy said. "They could break his body but they could not break his spirit. The tallit and tefillin were part of him, part of his personal relationship with God and he was ready to die for them. And he did."
For more than half a century, Lowy, 82, the founder of the Westfield shopping center empire, never knew what had happened to his father. But one of his sons had a chance meeting in America some 50 years after the end of World War II that enabled the family to piece together the story.
In memory of Hugo Lowy and the other victims of Auschwitz, the Lowy family restored a train wagon used to relocate Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, to be displayed at the museum at the site.
Lowy's sons and one of his granddaughters, who was part of the Australian contingent on March of the Living, attended the ceremony. It was the 25th anniversary of the March of the Living.