Normally, at this time of year, thousands of youth and adults from all over the Jewish world gather in Poland to participate in the March of the Living (MOL) followed by a week in Israel to celebrate our rebirth. However, due to the shadow of Coronavirus this year, once again, the March will be virtual. I am honoured to be one of the educational guides of this prestigious and important program. Abraham Hirchson, one of the founders of MOL, eloquently justified the necessity of such an event for young people in the following way,
These youngsters will form a link between those who suffered and the next generation when those who survived the Holocaust will no longer be with us.
Two years ago, on the last live MOL, my Jewish MOL group from North Carolina, together with our 92 year old survivor of five camps, Hank Brodt (who has since passed away), met Theresa in the “Lomdei Mishnayot” study-house in Oświęcim/Auschwitz. Theresa was an 18-year-old Catholic German volunteer at the Jewish Centre in Oświęcim. I asked her why she was taking her gap year here of all places. She replied that it was her way of making atonement and seeking redemption for the sins of her grandparent’s generation. Her grandfather and three of his brothers had served in the SS.
She added she wanted to do her part in making sure people realised that there was a third generation of German youth that want to stress our common shared humanity and bring the light of healing into this world. We invited her to join our group on the March itself. She emotionally accepted our offer.
The March, which takes place on Yom HaShoah, is from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz II (Birkenau). It takes place in silence as the participants many clad in the distinctive blue jackets of the MOL and draped in Israeli flags, follow the footsteps of our brothers and sisters (and most of my maternal Hungarian Grandmother’s family) who just a few decades earlier marched on this path during the Shoah when Jews were forced to make the same march, from which almost non returned. In addition to the local Poles who lines the side of the road, including some whose grandparents must have witnessed the Jewish prisoners marching on the same road, were groups of Asian Christians who had flown thousands of kilometres to be there in order to express their remorse on behalf of the Christian faith. They sang songs in Hebrew and greeted all of the participants with huge smiles and greetings of “Shalom.” We must remember what have in common and not forget that we are all made in God’s image in order that history will not repeat itself.
Throughout history teens continue to create change and inspire. Unlike our ancestors, who had to wear the “ badge of shame” – the Yellow Star, we have our homeland Israel and can celebrate our right to proudly wear the “Badge of Pride” – the blue star. This is the March of the Living and we will march again soon!
Dr. Tuvia Book is the author of “For the Sake of Zion, A Curriculum of Israel Education” (Koren, 2017). His forthcoming book, Jewish Journeys, on the Second Temple Period, will be published by Koren this year. He also is a Ministry of Tourism licensed Tour Guide, Jewish educator and a Judaica artist. www.tuviabook.com