Today I was supposed to be leaving from Israel to Poland and returning home a week later to guide a March of the Living (MOL) group from LA. However, for the first time in its 32-year history, due to the COVID19 pandemic, the March of the Living has been postponed. This year on Yom HaShoah (21st April) there will be a virtual MOL. However, as the MOL website states:
The vital educational mission of the March of the Living remains as urgent as ever.
Normally, at this time of year thousands of youth and adults, together with a dwindling number of survivors, from all over the Jewish world and Israel gather in Poland to participate in the March of the Living followed by a week in Israel to celebrate our rebirth. 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 MOL, I had a fascinating conversation at the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau with a young Muslim refugee from Afghanistan who was attending a Catholic school in Austria and her teacher. The school was participating in the March to learn the lessons of where hate can lead.
That year my Jewish MOL group from North Carolina, together with our 92 year old survivor of five camps, Hank Brodt, also 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 for the sins of her grandparent’s generation. 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 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.
I also remember on the MOL meeting IDF soldiers participating in a program called, Aidim Bemadim (“Witnesses in Uniform”). The soldiers and my group saluted our flag, our State, our people and our future. We sang our national anthem loudly and clearly with all of our Jewish pride, together as one on the blood-soaked soil of Poland. The profound text culminates with the words:
The hope of two thousand years to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion, Jerusalem.
We sung a song of hope in a place of despair. In a place of death we sung a song of the rebirth of the Jewish people in our land. The soldiers symbolised what it means to have our own country where Jews do not rely on the pity of their host nations. We all know that the culmination of that “pity” was the Shoah. Now we Jews are once again in charge of our own destiny and “never again” means NEVER AGAIN!
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 on the Second Temple Period will be published by Koren later this year. He also is a Ministry of Tourism licensed Tour Guide and a Judaica artist. www.tuviabook.com