The March of the Living is an annual educational program, which brings students from all over the world to Poland, in order to study the history of the Holocaust and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hate.
The March of the Living itself, a 3-kilometre walk from Auschwitz from Birkenau, is a silent tribute to all victims of the Holocaust.
The March is designed to contrast with the death marches, which began towards the end of World War II, and continued virtually up until the Third Reich’s last days. The Nazis forced approximately 750,000 prisoners, almost half of whom were Jewish, on to the death marches. The March of the Living serves as a hopeful counterpoint to the experience of hundreds of thousands of Jews and others forced by the Nazis to cross vast expanses of European terrain under the harshest of conditions where many of them perished.
The March of the Living is joined each year by thousands of Jewish teens, adults and survivors from around the world along with many other people from diverse faiths and background, including the Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish traditions. Students whose communities have experienced historic persecutions also participate, such as survivors of the Rwandan genocide, First Nation students and African Americans.
After spending a week in Poland visiting other sites of Nazi Germany’s persecution and former sites of Jewish life and culture, many participants also travel to Israel the following week to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day.
A key element of the program is the participation of Holocaust survivors who share the memory of their wartime experiences with the young people in the very places where they unfolded. There is a greater urgency to encourage larger numbers of students take part in the program in the coming years, while the survivors are still well enough to participate in this challenging trip.
In recent years the March of the Living broadened its focus from only concentrating on the Holocaust to include other program content in the Poland portion of the trip. These elements include: learning about life before the war, establishing dialogue with Polish students, and meeting with Polish righteous among the nations.
According to objective third party studies, the long-term effect of the program on March of the Living alumni has been significant in terms of its impact on both Jewish and universal values. The students return with a greater commitment to Israel, to remembering the Holocaust, to strengthening their Jewish identity and practice, and to becoming involved in their local Jewish communities. March of the Living alumni have also made important social contributions to the community at large, such as assisting the homeless, combating the ongoing genocide in Darfur, volunteering at home or abroad in various worthy humanitarian efforts, and working diligently to combat prejudice and hatred of every kind.
Since the first March of the Living was held in 1988, over 200,000 youth from around the world have marched down the same path leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day.