Earlier this year, I attended an intense educational program called The March of the Living. The program brings a large group of teens, adults, and Holocaust survivors to Poland to see Nazi concentration camps and hear recollections of survivors in order to learn first hand about the tragedy of the Holocaust. The March of the Living had an everlasting impact on my life.
In Poland, we visited various Nazi concentration camps to retrace the steps of those who suffered and died during the Holocaust. Also, we were joined by Holocaust survivors who told us their personal horror stories so that we could better understand the incomprehensible tragedy and destruction that took place. Hearing the survivors describe the nightmares they lived through in the exact places that they experienced them was a trying and emotional experience all on its own. For example, I will never forget walking through Birkenau with my mother and my cousin David, a Holocaust survivor, who both went on the trip as well. When in Auschwitz, I heard my cousin’s story for the first time and we said prayers together in front of the gas chamber in which his family was murdered. I thought of how much bigger our family events could have been today and I tried to imagine the cousins I might have had. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been the youngest of the family. Perhaps one of my cousins could have found a cure for a fatal disease. As all of these thoughts raced through my mind, I became infuriated. How could something like the Holocaust happen? How could people let the Nazis do what they did? Then my mood changed yet again: I became proud. Being there with David and my mother felt like a triumph: The Nazis had tried to annihilate the Jews, and there we were, three generations standing there, proving them unsuccessful.
The last part of our March of the Living experience was to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau as the victims of the Holocaust were forced to do on the Death March when Nazis began realizing that the end was near. Just as I came with my delegation, thousands of other “Marchers” had flocked to Poland for the trip as well. In total, there were over ten thousand Jews from 52 countries. We all marched together like a sea of blue in our blue March of the Living jackets. I will never forget stopping at the top of a hill during the march, realizing that I could not see the start or end of the line. I was again filled with pride. It was then that I realized my responsibility as a young Jew who had learned first hand about the Holocaust. Because of my experience on the March of the Living, I must promise to never forget the atrocities that can occur when extreme hatred overpowers people’s humanity and when others stand by as idle witnesses. It is my job to educate others about the Holocaust because, as the saying goes, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”
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