The March of the Living during Yom Hashoah

Today was all about connection and Jewish identity! We observed Yom Hashoah and the March of the Living intentionally chooses this day annually to bring together thousands to march for those lost in the Holocaust and to celebrate Jewish life today!

YOM HASHOAH

The Knesset of the State of Israel and Jewish communities throughout the world proclaimed the 27th day of Nissan as a day of remembrance of the martyrdom of 6 million of our people who perished in the Holocaust – Yom Hashoah – and as a day of tribute to Jewish heroism.

Zachor – Remembrance! We are a people of memory. The past is the key to both the present and the future. On this day, we remember the pain suffered by our people. We try to comprehend their strength in the midst of adversity, and the concept of hope. Exile and oppression, expulsion and ghettos, pogroms and death camps – the agony of our people numbs the mind and turns the heart to stone. But, our journey has purpose. Let us rise up from our despair and celebrate life for the generations that were lost. We hold the future of the Jewish people in our hands. We must remember the traditions, books, music, art and literature that were part of the two-thousand- year-old European Jewish culture. It is incumbent upon all of us to learn from the Holocaust and teach it to future generations. Today, and after, we must continue to commemorate the 6 million Jewish men, women, and children, as well as the other innocent victims, so that martyrdom will not have been in vain.

Before going to Auschwitz for the actual “March” procession, we toured the only remaining Synagogue in Oswiecem (a museum today). It is interesting to note that this town was 80% Jewish before the Holocaust ensued. Led by our staff, David Hoffman, the following teens led our delegation in prayer at the synagogue: Sophie Ruttenberg (Ohio Northern Region)Louis Shenker (Connecticut Valley Region), and Lauren Tancer (Greater Jersey Hudson River Region). They presented readings on Yom Hashoah and excerpts from noted survivors, Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi; and Tobi Stein (Pacific Western Region) sang a powerful rendition of “Ani Ma’amin”. Concluding our tour at the synagogue, several of the teens from the purple bus put a meaningful reflection ceremony together – Adam Elkin (Northern Region East-Baltimore Council), Jamie Kotler and Alex Gleicher (Northern Region East-DC Council), Lauren Tancer (Greater Jersey Hudson River Region), Eitan Myron (Pacific Western Region), Ariel Kaye (South Jersey Region), Alix Negrin and Carly Heitner (Nassau Suffolk Region). We are so moved each time the teens share their thoughts, especially through their poetry and writings.

The shofar blew to signify the start of the “March” procession and our own David Hoffman (staff) had the opportunity to blow the shofar as the BBYO delegation walked under the infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate (meaning “Work will set you free.”)To walk alongside teens, dignitaries, and adults from 50 countries, approximately 10,000  strong, it was truly a reaffirming and prideful moment for all of us. During the ceremony, we heard stirring and passionate words from Rabbi Meir Lau (former Chief Rabbi of Israel), video messages from Israel’s Prime Mister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Pride Minister Justin Trudeau from Canada. There were stirring renditions of Jewish songs and watching the six torches being lit by survivors and dignitaries was especially meaningful. One of the most emotional moments was when a survivor entered the stage wearing his prisoner uniform carrying a Torah, sharing his stirring personal story with all of us. The sight of everyone standing and singing Hatikvah will surely be a memory that will live on in all of us.

What the Teens are saying:

“At first I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the March. What surprised me most was such extremes in emotions that I saw. There were moments when we were singing, or talking to Paul (the survivor on our trip) where everyone was momentarily happy (or as happy as you can be), and other moments when people were lighting candles in Birkenau that were very sad. But the overall feel of the March was somber. One moment that really resonates with me was when the first shofar was blown in Auschwitz and the whole March of 10000+ people went quiet. Overall I did not expect I could be so happy and so sad in a place like this. “ – Josh Hershkowitz (Manhattan Region) 

“Today we marched from Auschwitz I to Auschwitz-Berkenau II. As I stood side by side with my brother and sister Jews, during the starting shofar blow, I began to cry and smile.  My smile came about from the realization that I was marching with thousands of Jews. These thousands of Jews, representing world Jewry, helped show that we will never fall as a people. This intense feeling is why I cried.”  – Adam Elkin (Northern Region East, Baltimore Council) 

“The single most incredible moment of my life was singing Hatikvah, praising the Jewish nation, in the place where the single goal was to erase the Jewish race.” – Sam Sternstein (Greater Jersey Hudson River Region)

“Today Rabbis bugged me about wrapping tefillin and until I finally caved and did it. I’ve never been so happy that someone pestered me into doing something before because I feel extremely fulfilled for completing that great mitzvah.” – Max Brandell (Big Apple Region) Pictured above.

“It was incredible today seeing thousands of people, Jews and non-Jews alike, walking out of the gates of Auschwitz with Israeli flags wrapped around them. It was so moving to say the Hatikvah, wrapped in my flag, surrounded by so many others doing the same.” – Adam Center (Liberty Region)

“We walked out of Auschwitz and I refused to look back. There were Polish friends of Jews cheering us on and one embraced me and whispered a blessing in my ear. It was the most surreal experience and that’s when I felt like I was truly doing something extraordinary.”- Karinne Bernanke (Eastern Region)
This evening, our survivor, Paul Galan, told us his enthralling story and we were all amazed at the detail and his telling of such a horrific time in his life.

“My family of five, parents and older twin sisters, lived in the city of Michalovce in Slovakia, the former Czechoslovakia. The persecution of Slovakia’s Jewish population began almost immediately, but, deportations did not start until 1942. Though rounded up for a transport in 1942, we managed to avoid being shipped out in that particular transport through a courageous and clever act by my Uncle. To avoid subsequent roundups, the family became baptized in July of 1942 into the Lutheran faith, thanks to the good will of a sympathetic Lutheran Minister. Within months after that, the Slovak government decreed that all Jews who converted to Christianity after 1939 were still considered Jews and would be subject to all anti-Jewish laws. Within weeks after that decree, we were arrested and taken to Novaky, a labor camp within Slovakia. Fortunately, at the time of our arrest, my sister Susan was not at home and got word that we were being arrested. She managed to go into hiding. We did not get to see her again until the end of the war. After one year in the Novaky camp, we were liberated by a Partisan uprising. That was crushed quickly by the Germans. We sought safe haven from the Germans in a village high in the mountains, but during our escape from the pursuing Germans, my sister Eva got separated from us during a severe rainstorm. My parents and I found relative safety in a small mountain village, until German troops came to the hamlet and we had to escape again to another village. While hiding out in that village, my Father was capture by the Nazi troops during a raid. That left my Mother and me to fend for ourselves in a very hostile and dangerous environment. In the early spring of 1945 Mother and I joined a group of people and crossed over an enormous mountain range into liberated territory. While crossing the mountains we came close to losing our lives in a blizzard during which several of the people in the group lost their lives. Miraculously, Mother and I survived the elements and made it over the mountains into liberated territory. We found our way home where we awaited the end of the War and had hoped for the survival and return of my Father and sisters. Miraculously they all survived and the family reunited.”

Tomorrow, we have a long bus ride to Lublin to tour the extermination camp, called Majdanek.

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