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MOTL 2018 

“Simply Incredible, a Trip that Every Jewish and Non-Jewish Person should Experience”

by Dan Gold

On Thursday 12 April, I had the honour of being a part of the 300+ strong UK delegation for March of the Living, representing JLGB. We were walking alongside 11,000 other people, Jewish and non-Jewish, from around the world, hand-in-hand with Holocaust survivors. Participants walked 3km from Auschwitz I to a ceremony at Birkenau death camp, to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and to remember the atrocities.

The ceremony was accompanied by a week-long programme around Poland, exploring the immense history of the Jewish people in Eastern Europe (stretching back over a thousand years, and the more recent history from 1935). We learnt about the ghettos in Krakow and in Warsaw, and visited Majdanek concentration camp, Belzec extermination camp, and Auschwitz-Birkenau camps. We also visited numerous sights of rebellion throughout the war, including synagogues and yeshivot, which practiced in secret under the nose of Nazi SS officers. We also visited sites of the most gruesome murders in the Holocaust, including Zbylitowska Gora, a series of mass graves in the middle of a forest.

On these visits, we learnt the story of a young girl who risked her life, breaking out of line and pleading with an SS soldier for her and her younger cousin to be allowed to go back into the ghetto, a plea that ultimately spared their lives, as the line led to a Nazi extermination camp, a factory built for death. We visited Majdanek concentration camp, the only Nazi camp that was more-or-less intact after the war. Originally built as a camp for Polish prisoners of war, we saw first-hand the indescribable conditions that prisoners in the camps were subject to, the bare wooden barracks with bunks meant to hold three people, which carried upwards of 30. We were able to see the reception room, the 'cleansing' and 'shower' rooms, where an estimated 78,000 Poles and Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime. We heard later on from a number of survivors who travelled with the UK delegation, including Mala Tribich, who told her story of the various ghettos and camps that she had been prisoner in and  Mr Ivor Perl, who recounted how he had spent his thirteenth birthday, his Bar Mitzvah, staring through the electrified fence of Allah concentration camp.

One of the days started with a haunting visit to Belzec death camp. A relatively small space, built purely for the extermination of the Jews. The camp itself was destroyed by the Nazis before they lost the war, but in its place a monument to those 600,000 who were murdered in the space of just nine months of the camp being operational. We went via a historic Polish synagogue which survived the war to Zbylitowska Gora, a series of pits in the middle of a forest, where the Nazis led Jewish communities to their deaths, a site that had particular resonance with me, as it was the site where my family were murdered in the Holocaust.

After waking up early in Krakow, we spent one morning walking around Birkenau, the most famous of all of the Nazi camps. Our group had the honour of being accompanied by Eve Kugler, a survivor who observed Kristallnacht with her own eyes. With Eve by our sides, we followed a theme around Birkenau of Hungarian refugees, learning about the ‘little White cottage’, a small cottage at the very back of the 40 kilometre square site which had been converted into a gas chamber for the Hungarian prisoners, whose ashes were scattered behind that very site.

The Thursday, Yom HaShoah, brought about the main event of the week, the March of the Living. We congregated in the morning, 11,000 Jewish and Non-Jewish people from all corners of the world, delegations from the UK, various States in America, Argentina, India, Japan and many others. We spent the morning talking to people from all delegations, exchanging pins and singing and dancing, celebrating the existence of modern Jewry and a state of Israel where Jews can go today and feel safe and protected. On the sound of a shofar, the march started, 11,000 people, young and old, Jewish and Non-Jewish, Holocaust survivors, led by the Presidents of the Israel, Reuven Rivlin and Poland, Andrzej Duda. The ceremony itself was touching, with a powerful testimony from survivor Edward Mosberg, wearing his original blue and white striped uniform from his concentration camp. The chief cantor of the IDF led with prayers for those murdered, with a performance from Israeli megastar Shlomo Artzi. After the ceremony, we headed back to the hotel to process the day and reflect on the week behind, with an early night before our 3am coach in the morning!

Overall, the March of the Living was an incredibly moving experience, only enhanced by the incredible group of people on our coach and in the UK delegation. The experiences shared and stories told by survivors; first, second and third generations alike were simply indescribable, haunting and an experience that every Jewish and non-Jewish person should experience, particularly whilst the opportunity to hear directly from survivors is still available.

Thank you to March of the Living for  such an incredible and thought provoking experience, It was great to share it with my friends at JLGB.  

If you would like to be a part of The March of the Living 2019 and represent JLGB email motl@jlgb.org to register your interest.

“History doesn’t end with the date in the book, it remains with us forever.

 

MOTL PIC 1 EDITTTTju89

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