March of the Living 2015

April 17, 2015 Agencies
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70 years after the end of the Second World War 11,000 participants, both  Jews and non-Jews, joined the 27th March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau.



Coming from over 45 countries, they took part in the annual march from the gates of Auschwitz to a commemoration ceremony at Birkenau following a week’s preparation in Poland during which they learned the universal lessons of the Holocaust including the importance of fighting hatred, intolerance, racism and fascism.  To date over 220,000 young people have taken part in the March of the Living since 1988.

This year saw delegations from, among others, the United States, Canada, UK, Mexico, Panama, Greece, Australia, Morocco, France, Austria, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa with each delegation accompanied by a Holocaust survivor who tell their personal story. The March of he Living was attended this year by the Minister of Education and Women’s Affairs of Austria, Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek, and the Ambassador of the United States to the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Keith Harper, who lit two of the six torches at the end of the ceremony.


The march was opened by the sound of the Shofar and Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, Chairman of the March of the Living, who said, “Let us march against intolerance, against hate and for a better future for all humanity.”

His Holiness Pope Francis sent a special message to the March of the Living: “I ask you to convey to the organizers of the March of Living my closeness to them and their mission. All the efforts for fighting in favor of life are praiseworthy and have to be supported without any kind of discrimination. For this reason I am very close to these initiatives, that are not only against death but also against the thousands of discriminatory phobias that enslave and kill.  I thank them for all their doings, and pray to the Lord a blessing for them in this struggle for life, equality and dignity.


The President of the State of Israel, President Rivlin, also sent this message“Even though 70 years have passed we did not forget and we will never forget that horrible chapter in the history of mankind. The March of the Living is proof of the everlasting connection between the past and the future.  Today, as you all come together and march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, Jews and non-Jews alike you show the world what this connection really means. Young adults walking side by side with the last of the survivors who were here exactly 70 years ago. Bring life into the stories, the stories of those who were murdered for being Jewish, for being different. I turn to you young adults and urge you to cherish this moment. The survivors are now passing to you the torch of life, of belief, of standing strong. Hold this torch high to ensure that even if there are no more survivors living among us their memory will always be part of our life and will never fade away…We build our future with eyes wide open and alert to the threats. Nevertheless the horrors of the past and the threats of the present will not dictate our lives nor shape the lives of our children. We forever work for a better future.”

This year, as every year, the March of the Living was led by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo who is himself a child survivor. Rabbi Lau spoke at the main ceremony and said, “We cannot forget and we cannot forgive. We cannot forget because there are expressions of anti-Semitism and hatred which remind us daily, there are expressions of destruction of a state. We cannot forgive because we have no authority to forgive, the victims didn’t give us that mandate.

In the death camps there was no discrimination by origin, tribe or opinion when they killed us all because we were Jewish. If we could all die together we must know the secret to live together in peace, unity and brotherhood. We owe our survival to their memory.”

Holocaust survivor Sigmund Rolat addressed the students saying: “We have all gathered here to remember. From all sides, we are called upon not to forget. But why should we remember at all?

If I had a choice I would prefer NOT to remember. Not to remember the Czestochowa Ghetto where my family and I, then a child, were imprisoned. Not to remember the killings of my father and mother, of my brother and family members, of my Polish nanny Elka who chose to remain in the ghetto because she loved a Jewish child – me. Not to remember the daily humiliation, the routine of murder, the hunger, the cold, and the numbing knowledge that we are powerless and alone. I would prefer not to have these memories – but I do not have the choice. Why then choose memory if you are not forced to?

I can think of four reasons.

The first is simple solidarity. If you choose my memories, this means that we together are no longer with them alone. Each time we reach out to the legacy of horror, we make a crack in the ghetto wall, a breach in the barbed wire. Not that we can tear them down – it is 70 years too late for that. Walls built with blood and death survive their physical downfall. They need to be pulled down day by day by remembering.

The second is simple decency. The Germans had managed not only to murder the six million: they murdered also the memories of them ever having existed. True, the great majority of those then killed would have passed away by now – even had there been no Shoah. But they would have lived on in the memories of their children and friends, in the record of the achievements and even failures of their lives. The Shoah eliminated all that as well. Your remembrance is their only chance.

The third reason is simple fear. It is an illusion to believe that Auschwitz can be forgotten simply because the right side won the war. Auschwitz remains with us forever always waiting to be realized again. Do not believe the magic incantation of “Never again”: it HAS happened again. Think of Bosnia, Sudan, Rwanda. In different ways, to different peoples – but it has. The Shoah remains unique in the sense it was unprecedented. But all genocides are tragic in their own ways, and remembering them is the first step to preventing their recurrence. Remembering is, after all, the least we can do.

And so we stand here in solidarity, mourning and fear. Our unity is rooted not only in our Jewish peoplehood which we share with those whom we remember today. Their Jewishness was not incidental to their fate: it determined it. But our unity today encompasses all, Jews and non-Jews, who remember, grieve and mourn – and participate in our solidarity.

In a world in which once again there are places where it is not safe to be Jewish, today’s meeting assumes an added dimension. For Poland on whose occupied soil the Germans had placed the abomination of Auschwitz is today a place where it is safe to be a Jew. Poland now embraces its small but thriving Jewish community. Our history is cherished in the Polin Museum which has recently opened in Warsaw. And next to the Museum we shall build a monument to those Poles who – like my Elka – risked their lives to save Jews from the chimneys of Auschwitz. From the ghetto walls of Czestochowa. From the Abyss.

And our gratitude towards them is the fourth reason to remember. God bless you and your memories.”


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