OSWIECIM, Poland - No director could have organized a more impressive or moving backdrop than nature did for the historic ceremony yesterday marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz/Birkenau death camp.

Sparkling snowflakes settled in white powder on the thousands of people who arrived braving temperatures of seven degrees below zero.

Hundreds of buses made their way from Krakow to Birkenau yesterday. The roads were closed to traffic, and police, appearing indifferent to the cold, stood at each junction to maintain order.

At the entrance to the camp, the famous railway tracks were lit with small candles that formed a long path up to the main entrance and seemed to be inviting the people to enter the camp.

Side by side marched delegations of survivors and liberators. Soviet war veterans covered with shining medals that looked like sequins, beside a group of Polish prisoners dressed in their old striped uniforms, their edges sticking out under their coats. They were wearing striped caps, just as they did 60 years ago. On their coats they embroidered the number that had been engraved into their arm.

The central ceremony took place in a clearing where the crematoria once were located. The Germans blew the crematoria up before leaving the camp. Among the ruins flickered little candles, glowing against the falling snowflakes and giving the spectacle a fairytale aura. The guests, sitting on chairs in the clearing, were covered with white powder. They sat there for three hours.

Miriam Yahav, a Holocaust survivor from Israel, rose spontaneously to the speakers' podium and after President Moshe Katsav's speech took off her coat and hat and remained wearing only a thin sweater.

She shouted in Polish: "I stood naked in this camp, a girl of 16, this snow, as I stand now, almost naked and frozen with cold. I am a Jew. I live in Israel today and have an army, I have a president, and I want to know why did they burn us, why did they murder us?"

The chairman of the Gypsies' organization in Germany, Romani Rose, spoke in what what his first appearance at an official ceremony at Birkenau. Ironically, he spoke in German, although Hitler spoke in 1938 about the final solution for the "Gypsy problem."

"Auschwitz is a stamp that cannot be obliterated in the collective memory in the Gypsies history," Rosa said.

When evening fell on Birkenau, only the shadows of the huts were visible on the snow white ground. Lights were lit at certain points along the wire fences. Revolving projectors lit the fences in wide strips of light, reminding all those who were marching silently away from the camp of the nightmare they had lived through 60 years ago.