The most transformative moments of my trip were those spent with people who endured the horrors of the Holocaust. The survivors’ passion and drive were unlike those I’ve ever encountered in any other human beings…Without the slightest sign of fatigue, they shared with us deeply personal stories with universal implications about human suffering, perseverance, and heroism.
One moment… left a particularly lasting impression on me, took place at the closing ceremony in Birkenau. Against the backdrop of barbed wire fences and ruins of crematoria, the survivors were getting ready to light the candles for Kaddish. Each stepped forward and read out the names of his or her family members who perished at the hands of the Nazis. One woman approached the microphone but was unable to speak. She stood in front of us and cried. Another survivor came up to her and said, “Wait, don’t cry. Look! Look at them! They are here for you!” She was right. “I looked around me and I realized that with me were hundreds of young people who wanted to learn, who wanted to remember, who wanted to prevent things like this from happening in the future.
I gained hope by listening to them and by sharing with them my own fears and insecurities. I came to realize that this is the only route to hope. We must listen; we must welcome opportunities to become exposed to other cultures and to other peoples; and we must educate each other. Hope can only be realized through mutual understanding.
Only through such an understanding can we promote knowledge and diminish hatred. And then, maybe, just maybe, will we be able to say “never again.”
Bart Bonikowski – Poland (more…)
On January 27, 2015, the world will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The 70th anniversary ceremonies taking place in Auschwitz-Birkenau are expected to draw dozens of foreign dignitaries, heads of state and royalty, including President François Hollande of France, President Joachim Gauck of Germany, President Heinz Fischer of Austria, King Philippe of Belgium, King Willem-Alexander of Holland & Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark.
More than 3,000 guests will be in attendance, including about 300 survivors of the camps, several of whom will speak during the ceremony, along with 80 March of the Living alumni from Europe. This will likely be the last time when a sizeable group of Auschwitz survivors will be able to personally attend a significant anniversary marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The event is being organized by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, the USC Shoah Foundation & The World Jewish Congress.
Please take a few minutes to watch: “Auschwitz-Birkenau: 70 Years After Liberation……A Warning to Future Generations”. In this video, five survivors who frequently accompany students to Auschwitz-Birkenau on the March of the Living, along with a number of March of the Living leaders and students, reflect on the meaning of the 70th anniversary and on the educational importance of Auschwitz-Birkenau to future generations.
“First they came for the communists
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left to speak out for me.”
The plane touches down in Krakow where the air is cold and the sky fittingly gray. I present my passport at the customs check-point, am given a boxed lunch, and shortly thereafter become Student #12 on Coast to Coast Bus #2. Our tour guide takes us through the town and down to the river where we have lunch and learn about Jewish life in Krakow before the war started. We visit old synagogues and schools as well as the downtown where the city looks beautiful and the people are friendly. I ask myself, “How could this have happened here?”… as it turns out ,my question didn’t have an answer. (more…)
Despite the masses
Despite the heat
We stand, as once
They did. (more…)
The first steps in Jerusalem, the Holy city, our city.
The first tears of joy, pure happiness.
The first feelings of being at home.
The first note placed in the wall with care.
The first prayer with so much heart.
The first time a boy puts on tefillin, at the Kotel.
The first connection to the land of Israel, the earth,
the sky and the air.
The first breath of sweet oranges.
The first moment of silence when the whole world
seemed to stand at attention.
The first day of peace.
Albina Veltman, 17
We finally reached Jerusalem.
We went to the Western Wall, where the bright sun shone as though clouds did not exist, and the ancient stones towered above us. Between the giant stones were wedged millions of tiny papers, because the Wall had become “G-d’s mailbox” – people write their secret prayers on little pieces of paper and then place them in the cracks between
the rocks. I decided to drop G-d a line, I had some things to settle with Him… When I visited Israel before, with my family, the Wall had never been significant to me in and of itself. What made it special was that when we went there, there was always someone either laughing or crying against its side. And that didn’t change. What changed was that
now I was the one crying and laughing, its timeless stones watching me grow.
Dara Horn, 15
Short Hills, New Jersey
For just an instant,
A siren is heard throughout the land.
People stop, cars stop.
For just an instant,
Opposing people with opposing beliefs
Just stop, together. (more…)