From Auschwitz to Israel

April 26, 2017 by  
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29 Year 11  students and a 25-person adult group from Australia to Poland and Israel are attending this year’s March of the Living to Poland and Israel

Some of the Australian participants

An organiser writes: “Both groups’ journeys have been jam packed with emotion, education, inspiration, learning, understanding, remembering, spirituality, connection, unity, solidarity, and most importantly a commitment to making the world a better place.

March of the Living, by virtue of its timing and location is a unique program that provides an opportunity to commemorate two of the most monumental events in the history of modern Jewish history, namely the Holocaust on the one hand and the establishment of the State of Israel on the other. This complex yet incomparable duality combined with the exceptional immersive educational nature of the experience ensure that each and every participant comes away feeling that this this is both a journey of a lifetime as well as a journey for a lifetime.

At the outset of the program in Poland, Sam Koslowski, the lead madrich for the Student program wrote:

Vicktor Frankel, writing from Birkenau, says that “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Today, we entered that space which, for all Jews (and in fact, all humans) is a space of an irreconcilable nature.

We started at Auschwitz, which challenged the perceptions of the famous site for many of our kids. Auschwitz and Birkenau, are about 2km apart, and it is Birkenau that fulfils the criteria of mental imagery we carry through the Jewish narrative.

We journeyed through the various barracks which have now been turned into museum exhibitions. A particularly powerful moment was exploring the Book of Life – a book that has the name of every victim of the Shoah. The book takes up the whole room.

One of the survivors on our trip, Rosette, spoke in the French barrack about her experiences as a French Jewish child. It is always awe-inspiring to hear such stories of maturity and survival from someone who was so young, and had to grow up so fast. We are so lucky to be amongst the last few MOTL trips to be able to spend quality time with them.

Next was Birkenau, which challenged our kids in a completely different way. The vast spaces, crushed gas chamber ruins, and sheer scale of how many were murdered there is hard to grapple with. When we March there on Yom HaShoah, it will be a life defining moment.

From the darkness of the camps to the light of Shabbat, we let out all the anxious energy that had been building up in a huge session of Ruach – Jewish dancing and singing. It was so unreal to have Shabbat in the middle of Krakow, once an epicentre of Jewish life.

 We got to feel what life was like in Krakow before and during the war. Seeing these sites in Krakow showed us how these innocent people, who were ripped from their familiar surroundings, separated from their loved ones, and systematically murdered, were real people; it personalized everything we’ve learned thus far about the Holocaust. This opportunity has made us feel proud of our heritage and has given us even more of a responsibility to ensure that we, and all of the world, never forgets.” At night, we did something that, even in my third Poland experience, brought on a whole new wave of emotions. It came down to a very simple fact: half the holocaust happened at night. We went to Plaszow, a labour camp only 15 minutes from the centre of Krakow, for Havdallah – our service that concludes the Shabbat period. It was freezing cold, but nothing compared to what the tens of thousands of Jews would have experienced in the war. We heard the testimony of a survivor of the camp, who spoke in detail of experiences that occurred on the very site we were standing on. The senses one experiences at a camp took on a completely different shape at night. It was astounding.”

The journey in Poland, with its pinnacle, the actual March from Auschwitz 1 to Birkenau which took place on Yom Hashoah itself, is now drawing near to a close. Both  the Student and Adult groups look forward to arriving in Israel to truly get a sense of the national unifying experience which is the celebration of Israel’s independence and  all that it signifies for all Jews worldwide.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been invited to participate in the march and sent the following message to those who went:

Malcolm Turnbull Photo: Ingrid Shakenovsky

“I extend my warmest wishes to those participating in the 2017 March of the Living and regret that other events prevent me from taking part in these solemn commemorations with you.

I was deeply honoured to be invited to join this year’s march and wish to provide my assurance that I stand with Australia’s Jewish community and all international participants as you recall the tragic events of three-quarters of a century ago.

In reflecting on the history of the Shoah and the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hate, we do so in the hope its lessons are never lost and with the determination that we must do all we can to ensure such tragedies never again occur.

The recently departed Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, once said that he’d given his life to the principle and the ideal of memory and remembrance. In turn, we pledge to ensure the lives of those lost in the Holocaust are never forgotten, nor the resilience and dignity of those who survived.

Today and always, we will remember.”

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