March of the Living to focus on Greek Holocaust victims; Israeli, Polish top leaders not expected

May 2, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Ahead of the annual International March of the Living beginning on Thursday, no senior Israeli and Polish officials are expected to be on the trip amid tensions between Jerusalem and Warsaw.

March of the Living

More than 10,000 Jewish and non-Jewish youth from 40 countries and dozens of Holocaust survivors and dignitaries from around the globe will participate in the 31st annual event—the almost-2-mile march from Auschwitz to Birkenau—to pay tribute to all victims of the Holocaust and call for an end to anti-Semitism.

For the first time, the event’s main ceremony will recall Greek Jewry, which was almost completely annihilated by the Nazis and their collaborators.

Greece will send a distinguished delegation to the march, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome; Ecumenical Patriarch, the leader of tens of millions of Orthodox Christians around the globe; and Nikos Voutsis, the Speaker of the Greek Parliament.

Vic Alhadeff

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff’s family, emanating from the Greek Island of Rhodes, was decimated in the Holocaust.  He told J-Wire: “It’s extremely gratifying that there is this focus on Greek Jewry. For a range of reasons, Greek Jews sustained among the highest percentage of losses during the Holocaust, while there were also extraordinary cases of courage where leaders of Greek civil society saved Jews from the Nazis.”

A mere 380,000 Polish Jews of 3.3 million survived World War II and the Holocaust.

U.S. officials expected to attend include U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, U.S. Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher, and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr.

However, the most senior Israelis on the trip will be Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon and Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog, reported The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

No Polish officials are expected to attend.

This is due to tensions between Israel and Poland with the latter in 2018 criminalizing those who that there’s “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich.”

In response to backlash from Israel and others, Poland amended the law, making offences no longer punishable by jail.

On the day of the march last year, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin told his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda that although Poles helped save Jews during the Holocaust, they also aided and abetted their annihilation.

“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” said Rivlin during a joint press conference with Duda.

In February, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in an interview, “I am the son of Holocaust survivors. We will never forgive and never forget, and there were many Poles who collaborated with the Nazis.”

Quoting former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Katz added: “Shamir said every Pole sucked anti-Semitism with his mother’s milk. Nobody will tell us how to express our stance and how to honor the dead.”

These remarks were made after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the Warsaw summit earlier this year on the Mideast that Poles cooperated with Nazis during the Holocaust and that no one has been sued for asserting this truth, as he criticized Poland’s Holocaust Law that forbids accusing Poland of complicity with the Nazis under the penalty of law.

A mere 380,000 Polish Jews out of 3.3 million survived World War II and the Holocaust.

Mosbacher called on Israel to apologize to Poland for Katz’s comments.

‘Put an end to the hate, fear and loss’

Nonetheless, in response to the torrent of anti-Semitic events and the growing global trend of hate crimes against Jews over the last two years, the March of the Living will host the first-ever “Emerging Leadership Conference” in Krakow ahead of the march for hundreds of youth from around the world who have been impacted by anti-Semitism.

During the conference, 20 youth representatives—Jewish and non-Jewish—will sign an official declaration to launch the campaign, a rallying and defiant call to other youth to commemorate the Holocaust and help put an end to anti-Semitism before history repeats itself.  The youth leaders will then heavily promote the campaign via social media platforms under the hashtag #SayNoToAntisemitism.

It comes in the same week as the attack on Chabad of Poway in Southern California on April 27 that left a 60-year-old woman, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, dead and three others injured,  including the founding rabbi of the Chabad centre and an 8-year-old girl.

“The awful, senseless murder in Poway, California, is just the latest in a seemingly endless string of violent anti-Semitic events—one of the most challenging periods in recent memory for the international Jewish community,” said March of the Living founder and co-chairman Shmuel Rosenman.

“This murder coincides with the kickoff to a week during which we honour the victims of the Holocaust, one of the greatest tragedies in human history, an affront to humanity that was born out of virulent anti-Semitism,” he continued. “Our world leaders must pay attention to the warning signs and do everything in their power to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms.

“Thousands of people will be marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau to remind them of their responsibility to put an end to the hate, fear and loss.”

JNS/J-Wire

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