Witness: Passing the torch of Holocaust memory to new generations

The choice of love of the living

Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the March of the Living. (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg and granddaughter light a memorial torch at the Yom Hashoah ceremony in Auschwitz-Birkenau on the March of the Living.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)

I have read many books about the Holocaust. They all shock decent human beings. They are a catharsis for the soul that makes you question the basic things in life. The emotion I feel upon finishing one of these books is agony. But when I finished reading Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations by Eli Rubenstein, based on the 2014 United Nations exhibition about Holocaust survivors and students who participated in March of the Living, I had a different reaction. It wasn’t the usual sense of horror and despair. Rather, I looked up and smiled. The book left me inspired.  It presented one of the most tragic periods of human history and turned it into an inspirational movement for the future. That movement is March of the Living.

March of the Living is an annual educational program that brings thousands from around the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust and culminates with a silent march from Auschwitz to Birkenau on the Jewish calendar’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

First March of the Living First March of the Living

The book has been translated into several languages such as Polish, Spanish and most recently Hebrew (by Schocken Publishing House, under the title Mitzad Hachayim (March of the Living): Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations, ). It begins with a well-presented historical analysis of the Holocaust. The first chapters deal with the history itself, including who were the victims of the atrocity, the time period and the climate of anti-Semitism that allowed it to happen. Then from the macro, it turns to the micro: the faces, the words and the strong relationships that have been forged between Holocaust survivors and teens from around the globe who have participated in the March of the Living.

The entire world, and the Jewish people in particular, are still dealing with the questions and implications of that dark period in history - issues such as the need for a national state for the Jews, the challenges in theology, the tension between the universal message of the Holocaust and the particular one to the Jewish people. These topics become more relevant as time goes by. Each of these topics has the potential of being a heated one, filled with ammunition to arm endless arguments. This book takes these complicated issues and deals with them within the context of a dialogue between Holocaust survivors and a young generation that did not experience the Holocaust first hand. In a sense, this book is a testament to what March of the Living has done since its inception. It creates a bond between Jewish people of all ages around the world, especially the youth and survivors of the horror. They march together in a journey against hate, in support of love and a brighter future, with a dedication to never forget how low mankind can stoop.

I found Chapter Five to be the high point, with its photographs and testimonies of both Holocaust survivors and youth from around the world who have participated in March of the Living since the 1990s. In their own words, they talk about the importance of the program, the inspirational moments they experienced and how it impacted on their lives. These are the words of individuals and groups, many of whom one would not have expected to find on the March. For instance, there is the picture of a Muslim American girl holding the hand of Sylvia Guttmann, a Holocaust survivor. There are pictures of groups of people with disabilities, faces and stories from all over the world of people marching hand in hand with survivors. The photographs speak for themselves. The book and the exhibition it is based on, show that the poem "Each of us has a name" by Israeli poet Zelda is not only about the dead but also about the survivors and those who march with them every year. A very touching quote is that of Trudy, seen in a picture holding the hands of two young girls on the March. In her words, “When you young people hear our stories, in many ways you become our survivors. You cannot ever allow this memory to die. You must hold this burning torch because one day my generation will pass, and then during your lifetime you will hear it said that the Holocaust never happened. You can then say to them, ‘I met a woman; she was in Auschwitz and she survived it.’”

The uniqueness of this book is in its presentation of issues through the prism of individuals, using direct quotes from those who have marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau. As such, we are viewers of the authentic and powerful emotions regarding the topic. We do not see it from the distant philosophical and historical point of view but rather up close, with riveting testimonies from people who were there. It is one of the most intense and fascinating documentations of those who survived the Holocaust and those who are dedicated to its memory. The majestic achievement of this book, March of the Living and, most importantly, the survivors is their hope and fight for compassion in a place of darkness described by Elie Wiesel as “the kingdom of night.” In a time of rising hate crimes and increasing anti-Semitism, this book offers a sense of serenity. It informs us of the choice survivors have made to march for love and life. Reading this book will help you find your own March of the Living and your own way to deal with the atrocities of the past, hoping for a better future.

Click here for more information about March of the Living.

Written in cooperation with March of the Living.