The March of the Living 2013
Posted on 04/25/2013 @ 02:00 PM
From April 3rd-17th, BBYO sent a National delegation of 120 teens on the March of the Living, a two-week journey in Poland and Israel where participants retrace the plight of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and celebrate the revival and strength of the Jewish people in the Jewish Homeland.
Here are a few experiences from the trip, documented by GNC members- Jessie Gordon and Genna Fudin.
Approximately 70 years ago, the Nazis sent 750,000 prisoners, nearly half of whom Jewish, on death marches across European terrain. This year on April 8th, which was Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), 10,000 teens and adults from all over the world gathered at Auschwitz in Poland to silently march three kilometers to Birkenau- a 25-year tradition entitled the March of the Living (March) . For me, one of the most beautiful aspects of the March was the diversity of the participants. Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus joined the Jewish delegations, majority being youth. Many of these people were participating in commemoration of other genocides, such as the Rwandan genocide. I remember interacting with a group of adults from the Netherlands, who called themselves “Christians for Israel”.
When I arrived at Auschwitz that day, I anticipated the same eerie, somber mood that dwelled upon the camp the day before, when our delegation had toured the grounds. I walked through the gates and I was overtaken by an air of pride, fervor amongst the crowd; a heavy contrast from the day before and 70 years prior when the prisoners at Auschwitz were forced to march to their deaths. On the day of the March, the camp had completely been transformed. The barracks, gates, etc. were all still intact as always, but the grounds were filled with delegations from dozens of countries around the world, draped in Israeli flags and chanting “Am Yisrael Chai!”. When the actual March began, we were told to walk in silence as we exited the gates of Auschwitz. Hand in hand, we marched- remembering our ancestors who perished on those very grounds, but moving forward with a sense of dignity and pride in the resilience and strength of our people.
At one point during the March, a Polish woman approached me and handed me a gold coin with the world “Zegota” inscribed on its surface. Her English wasn’t great, and my Polish was still limited to about 4 or 5 words, but I remember she said “This coin is very important. Jewish organization, saved many Jews”. That night, I did some research on the organization, and found that Zegota was a codename for the Polish Council to Aid Jews, which found places of safety for Jews in occupied Poland. Apparently, this was the only known organization of its kind in all of Nazi occupied Europe. Despite our communication barrier, the sentiment of our connection at that moment was incomparable to any dialogue we might have had otherwise. I thanked her with my broken Polish and through our faltering, yet meaningful interaction, I knew she had asked me to carry on the legacy of the coin and tell the story of the Zegota.
Jessie Gordon, Great Midwest Region
Beyond participating in the March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau, we had the opportunity to visit meaningful sites all over Poland, such as the Warsaw Ghetto, Treblinka and Mejdonic, and the Jewish Quarter in Krakow. We had the pleasure of meeting Jewish teens from Warsaw during our first Shabbat in Poland.
When the National BBYO delegation was in Warsaw, we met with five Polish Jews and their youth group director. We discussed how it feels to live in Poland today after being a prominent site of the Holocaust. I was surprised with how natural it was for them to talk about the Holocaust and how it does not affect them too much. They said they will never forget what happened, and will continue to push for educating more individuals about the Holocaust, but for them Poland is their home and they do not hope to live their whole life in the shadow of the Holocaust. Therefore, they live their own lives and believe that by being proud Jews keeps the memories alive of those we lost in the Holocaust. As grandchildren of survivors, these teens feel compelled to learn and retell the stories of their family. They see themselves as ‘survivors’ who are responsible for continuing the stories, dialogue and education to ensure that we never forget the travesties of the Holocaust.
One of the teens I spoke with mentioned that although the Warsaw Ghetto hasn't survived (except for a few walls and original buildings), she is proud to live in Warsaw to look outside her window every day live her normal life.
The Polish teens we interacted with are involved in a Jewish youth group and have wonderful aspirations. Although a very small Jewish community living in Warsaw today, they are not confronted with much anti-semitism, and they feel safe where they live. They are proud of their Jewish identities and are inspired when they meet other Jewish teens from around the world. Meeting the Polish Jews was a significant part of the dense week in Poland because it gave me reassurance and a smile to know that there is still a strong, small, and happy Jewish community here today.
Genna Fudin, Connecticut Valley Region