Thousands of March of the Living participants walk toward Birkenau.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
Five years ago, I took steps of freedom on tainted soil with 10,000 others from all over the world. Five years ago, I declared with my very existence and the thriving of my people that we won! Five years ago, I participated in the March of the Living and it has shaped my life ever since.
It has been almost a year since I arrived at the court’s doors to witness one of the last Nazi trials in history.
Four years in jail was the sentence placed on Oskar Gröning’s head for his role as an accessory to murder in 300,000 cases at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Four years. Will four years mend the broken hearts of millions? Will four years pick up the shattered pieces of all that was lost? Can four years in jail return any goodness to the world that Groening himself and others like him sucked from its very core? The jail time cannot – but we can.
The trial wasn’t as much about achieving justice for the survivors in the shadow of all the loved ones lost as much as it was sending a message to the world: a message that those who breed hatred and intolerance will not go unchecked. A message to those who commit crimes, no matter how far in the past, that there will be consequences.
A message to all genocidal victims: you are not alone.
Additionally, it was a message and a challenge to the younger generation: What will you do? All that was lost remains lost. No length of jail time can bring loved ones back. But we, the generation of gadgets and gizmos, of smartphones and social media, can ensure that such atrocities never again transpire.
Our ancestor’s voices were shattered during the Holocaust and those belonging to many bystanders were never utilized. Now is the time to harness our freedom to speak, to teach, to tolerate and to stand for justice in every realm. We are one human nation with one beating heart. We are responsible for each other.
As a psychology student, I think back to when my ancestors took their first steps on foreign soil, bent and broken, both emotionally and physically, after the dark years of World War II.
Every ounce of remaining strength was tapped forcing the door closed on their traumas, straining against being sucked into the inferno of despair, planting seeds of hope in their bones so that they could build a better tomorrow for their children and for the world. It is an unthinkable accomplishment.
So often do we allow minute failures or insignificant losses to crush our spirits. Our parents and grandparents portray the power of human resilience.
They did their part.
In honor of those who suffered during the hell of the Holocaust and those who continue to suffer today, we will accept the torch of history, passed on from our ancestors; burning with built up resilience; fueled with pain registered, lives lost and evil bred.
With this torch, we, the youth of today, will create a better future.
In a few weeks, a new group will embark on the journey that started it all, the journey known as the March of the Living. Although the trip will end for them as well, the mission is never complete.
This experience merely plants the seed that we, the young and inspired, must water and nourish into a better tomorrow.