My paternal grandparents, Elizabeth (Bubbie) and Samuel (Zaide) z’l Roth, survived the Holocaust. My Zaide passed away in 2010 at almost 98 years old just shy of 65 years of marriage to my Bubbie who is currently 92 years old and full of life. As the oldest of their eight grandchildren, I am extremely fortunate to have/had them well into my adult years.
Twenty years ago as a high school student, I first decided I wanted to partake in the March of the Living (MOTL) at some point. Fast forward two decades, it seemed perfect to pursue in 2018 as this year marks MOTL’s 30th anniversary and Israel’s 70th birthday.
In retrospect, I wish I had done the MOTL sooner when I still could have potentially persuaded my Bubbie and Zaide to accompany me. Though my father, Carl Roth, is actually the child of the Holocaust survivors, I knew my mother, Geraldine (Geri) Roth, would be much easier to convince to join me in embarking on this most meaningful journey. Fortunately, my mom agreed to do this together and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.
Prior to departure, MOTL provides suggested websites, books, movies, etc. to prepare participants for the expedition. My personal preparation included: my own life with survivors as grandparents; a lifetime of interactions with extended family members and family friends that are also survivors; watching hours of testimony that my Bubbie and Zaide gave in their interviews on June 22, 1998 as part of Steven Spielberg’s establishment of the USC Shoah Foundation – The Institute for Visual History and Education; reading many memoirs of survivors in Southern New Jersey made possible by The Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center and Dr. Maryann McLoughlin.
No words can ever fully describe my actual MOTL experience as part of The International Adult Delegation. From the anguish of the past in Poland to the pride of the present in Israel, it was simply incredible.
I still cannot think of a more profound way to commemorate and celebrate the Jewish religion and its people than spending: Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau; Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, at a local evening ceremony and the actual day at Mount Herzl, the national and main Israel Defense Forces (IDF) military cemetery in Jerusalem, stopping everything completely at the sound of the sirens blaring throughout the entire country; Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, marching through Jerusalem’s Old City to the Kotel, the Western/Wailing Wall, and rejoicing in the streets well into the night.
Beyond the places we visited and things we saw, the relationships, friendships, and connections we cultivated in such a short period of time are forever etched in our hearts. Diverse in our religious affiliations, observances, and traditions and ranging in ages from 29-88, we became one unified culmination of approximately 90 people from all across the world consisting of Jews and non-Jews as well as survivors, descendants of survivors, and neither of the two. Though the trip itself was only two weeks in duration, communications and visitations among individuals and as a group(s) have already occurred since our return and will do so well into the future as a result of the deep bonds forged, experiences shared, and memories created.
Elie Wiesel z’l, one of the greatest tzadikim, righteous ones, of all times, dedicated his personal survival to carrying on the memories of the six plus million that lost their lives and imploring all to remember the Holocaust. The Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote the following quote in his famous masterpiece, Night:
For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.
He also said “when you listen to a witness, you become a witness”.
Going on the MOTL is one of the few ways I feel I can truly honor the Holocaust, its victims, and its survivors. It gave me the opportunity to be immersed in seeing so much of what I continue to spend a lifetime hearing about. I was able to stand in Auschwitz and Birkenau where my family was brutally tortured and many perished and actually see my late family members printed in The Book of Names.
I am personally forever indebted to my Bubbie and Zaide whose will to survive and fortitude to rebuild after this most treacherous time spearheaded their post World War II lives which included the birth of my father, and ultimately me, and immigrating to the United States to live the American Dream to its fullest. One of the greatest treasures of my own life is to have seen them work so hard, always hand in hand, succeeding as partners in marriage, raising children, being dedicated and doting grandparents, maintaining lifetime relationships with family and friends, growing businesses, and anything they set out to accomplish together. They are/were able to see the circle of life continue and share in so many simchas, celebrations, as Jewish traditions carry on.
In line with the spirit and legacy of Elie Wiesel z’l, one of the main missions and most moving parts of the ceremony at Birkenau on Yom Hashoah is passing the symbolic torch of the Holocaust memory from generation to generation to ensure it is never forgotten and our connection to Israel remain strong. Being there inspired me tremendously and gave new meaning to this responsibility as it is amongst the most powerful and important ones I will ever have in my life. I am most proud to carry this torch with me always and to do my share in passing it on forever l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.
Am Yisrael Chai!
Written by Lisa Meredith Roth, International Adults 2018