The March of the Living
We had been in Poland almost a week and hadn't yet seen the sun. Then the day of the March, Monday, it finally came out. As thousands of us filed into Auschwitz, the mood was decidedly different: a sea of blue punctuated by flags of numerous countries all united by the flags of Israel that they all held as well.
We assembled in Auschwitz I. We filled up the camp and for that time everywhere we looked people in blue jackets with Israeli flags covered the ground. While we all stood there waiting in the inspiring atmosphere, we were individually given hundreds of stickers to hand out for Project6Million. The purpose of these stickers was to get people to get everyone to go online and make a statement against intolerance and hatred. It felt empowering to walk up to hundreds of teenagers, our peers, who were willing to take the stickers, listen to our message and maybe even follow through with statements online. It was comforting to be in an environment where this message was so well received and was so easy to spread by being able to walk up fearlessly to any marcher who shared our common bond and you knew they would listen.
Everyone gathered together in their groups and the March began. We officially embarked by walking under the infamous gate that proclaims "Hard Work Will Set You Free." The actual route was a two mile trek that follows the railway into Birkenau. It's important to be respectful during the march.
We flooded Birkenau with solidarity and joy. The feeling of waving the Israeli flag as we walked through the gates of Auschwitz was a feeling of joy and pride that I have never felt before. While walking into Birkenau all participants had an important item grasped in their hands: a small wooden paddle where we wrote our thoughts on who or what we marched for. Whether we marched for the 1.5 million Jews who perished in Auschwitz or one of the countless people whose story we heard from Peppi; after entering the gates of Birkenau, all participants of the march placed their paddles into the tracks that took so many innocent lives to their death.
The closing ceremony was filled with powerful speeches and musical performances, including heartfelt testimony from Frank Lowy, son of survivor Hugo who died for his faith, and Israeli Chief of Staff Benni Gantz's strong defense for the State of Israel. To cap-off the event was a torch lighting ceremony and chanting by a cantor. Although he was uncomfortably loud for the immediate audience, his song of faith reverberated and echoed throughout the camp in chilling defiance. We ended the ceremony leaning on one another, swaying to the haunting melodies of songs of remembrance. With a new found pride in our Jewish heritage we looked forward to our final day in Poland and our flight to Israel the next night. We will remember this day for the rest of our lives, we will remember the living and the dead of the Shoah forever.
- Daniel Gushin, Zach Fisher, Jake Fisher, Dani Reichman
Zach and Dani at The March