My Dear Fellow Humans,
I consider going on March of the Living a privilege accorded to me not only by the MOTL organization but by providence itself. Standing beside the cattle car in Auschwitz in 1998, where I arrived in May 1944 as a 14 year old decades ago, I was living a miracle. Every time that I have participated in the MOTL the experience is always different. While the physical surroundings are the same the emotional response varies based on who I am surrounded by.
My first return to Auschwitz was in 1998. It was on the afternoon of the March, where over 10,000 Jewish teenagers from all over the world stood in silence as the shofar was sounded signaling the start of the 2 mile March from Auschwitz I to Birkenau death camp. I marched in silence contemplating the experience of over five decades ago. This time it was not a march commanded by the Nazi Commander, Rudolf Hess, but the gathering of 10,000 healthy and proud Jewish teenagers defying the Nazi ideology. Anachnu Po! We are here! Your Nazi weapons, gas chambers, cruelty and murder, though still painful, did not destroy our spirit to live a righteous life. At the end of the 2 mile March we were stepping on the ashes of over one millions of our brother, sisters, fathers and mothers as we enter the Death camp of Birkenau. It was with reverence for their life and death. Their spirit lives in us! Their message “Z’chor v’lo tishkach (Remember and do not forget) is indelibly seared into our collective memory.
As the six torches were lit and the flames reaching to heaven, they were not the flames of death and destruction as they were over five decades ago but the flames of commemoration, memory, hope and promise of remembrance into generations to come.
After the ceremony at the monument and lit torches, I spoke to my group, it was getting twilight, we were the last stragglers leaving the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, my spirit was uplifted. I was walking out of the death camp with a vibrant group of Jewish teenagers on our way to the Warsaw airport on the way to Jerusalem, the center of Judaism in all the ages.
As the 737 lifted off at the Warsaw airport leaving the blood soaked Polish soil, I began to contemplate the future of a time when, us the survivors, will no longer be able to accompany the next generation of teenagers through Auschwitz. How will this next generation connect to the experience of Auschwitz without eye witnesses?
It was at that moment, as I was observing the teenagers around me that I was struck by the idea that it was these teenagers that walked in the ashes of Auschwitz became surrogate survivors. They have been listening to survivors, they know their stories, they saw the gas chambers and crematoria of Majdanek, , they marched with the survivors in silence and felt their pain. They absorbed the souls of those that were murdered and those that survived. They will tell their children, grand-children and great-grand-children of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Sobibor Chelmno and Belzec. They will retell the stories of Jewish life that once was in Europe.
After landing at the Lod Airport and traveling to Jerusalem we arrived at the ancient Wall in Jerusalem as the new day was dawning. From the destruction of Auschwitz to the rebirth of a new era. There was a buoyancy in the steps of teenagers as well as in the gate of the survivors. It was a morning of hope and realization that a better tomorrow has arrived.
We were all transformed! I ask you all to join us on the March of the Living! You too will be transformed! You too will become a surrogate survivor.
IRVING ROTH is the Director of the Holocaust Resource Center at the Temple Judea of Manhasset, New York, and is the former education director of the Holocaust Memorial and Education Center of Nassau County. An internationally known educator, Mr. Roth has endeavored to teach people about the Holocaust and the lessons that can be learned from that experience. Through his participation in programs such as Adopt A Survivor, in which young people ‘adopt’ a Holocaust survivor and learn of his or her experiences, and the March of the Living, Mr. Roth has worked to ensure that an atrocity like the Holocaust never happens again. Many people throughout his community owe their knowledge of the Holocaust to Mr. Roth. Mr. Roth has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades for his work promoting a more accepting and diverse world. It is his life’s mission to make the world a better place that has earned Mr. Roth the Spirit of Anne Frank Award.