Vanguards of the March of the Living

I cry when I hear a Holocaust survivor say Kaddish: “I sit there looking at him, admiring his strength and resilience, when he says that his children and grandchildren are his victory."

By MATAN DANSKER
May 1, 2019 18:58
Vanguards of the March of the Living

March of the Living. (photo credit: MARCH OF THE LIVING)

On a rainy afternoon in Ramat Gan, I met with two of the co-founders of the March of the Living, Shmuel Rosenman and Baruch Adler. Rosenman is an Israeli-born educator, and Adler is a South American-born lawyer. Both project modesty and a slight shyness, despite being in charge under the leadership of Avraham Hirchson of one of the most revolutionary projects established in Israel in regard to the memory of and education about the Holocaust.

I started by asking them to give a brief description of their backgrounds, little realizing that their answers would sum up the essence of their lives and the journey that brought them to help Hirchson establish the March of the Living.

Rosenman was born in Mandatory Palestine to parents who had immigrated to Palestine in the early 1930s. Adler was born in Uruguay in 1950 to a mother who had survived the Holocaust. He made aliya as a young adult.

Rosenman was raised on Moshav Hemed. At that time, about 85% of the residents were Holocaust survivors. They came from various countries and spoke their native languages, but they were all connected by their experiences in WW II. However, no one spoke about the Holocaust prior to the Eichmann trial. Rosenman noticed the behavior of the people, the pained expressions on their faces and the piercing screams in the night. At university he studied education and geography and spent time as an emissary in the US. It was when he saw the eight-hour documentary ‘Shoah’ while working as a regional director for the Tel Aviv municipality’s Education Department that he decided that a serious discussion about the Holocaust should be introduced into the school system. It began in Tel Aviv, and since then Rosenman has dedicated his life to education about and remembrance of the Holocaust within the context of a strong Israel.

March of the Living. (Credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)

Adler was born in Uruguay. His father left Poland for Uruguay in 1936 with the intention of bringing his fiancée, Adler’s mother, a little later. The war broke out, and his mother was trapped in Zborow, Poland. After witnessing the death of her family in actions, she was saved by a righteous gentile who hid her in a pit with the Zeiger family. Ten years after they were separated, his parents were reunited in Uruguay. They  married, and Adler was born in 1950. It was forbidden to talk about the Holocaust in his home, yet the specter of the Holocaust was ever present. They were a highly Zionistic household, and Adler moved to Israel as a young man. He studied law at the Hebrew University and set up a law practice.

What brought these two diverse people together? Avraham Hirchson’s goal was to expand the education about and the memory of the Holocaust. Former minister Avraham Hirchson was the catalyst, who was looking for a way to extend the influence abroad of a quiz about WW II under the auspices of the International Quiz of Jewish Heroism. After utilizing their connections abroad and at the request of Hirchson , Rosenman and Adler decided to create a trip to Poland, mostly for Israelis and some Jews from the Diaspora. This was an audacious thing to do, as this was Soviet Poland with little infrastructure and logistical difficulties in accommodating such a group. Nevertheless, they continued the trips, seeking one landmark that would epitomize the program. After exploring various options, they decided on a march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, which they called the March of the Living. All youth trips to Poland with participants from around the world are based on the innovative ideas and foundations created in the 1980s by that small group led by Avraham Hirchson .

The first march was a great success. It was covered in the press worldwide. Renowned figures such as Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Israeli education minister Yitzhak Navon, as well as Polish dignitaries, took part. Also, as Rosenman puts it, “A young, ambitious, charismatic Israeli ambassador to the UN, Bibi Netanyahu.”

Baruch Adler. ( Credit: Courtesy)

The march continues annually with huge numbers of participants, although in the past few years it has been focusing mainly on youth from the Diaspora. Research on the March of the Living reveals that it has a significant positive impact on the participants in regard to their Jewish identity, as well as a reduction in hate and violence and an increase in empathy.

In the past years, non-Jewish youth have been invited to participate as well. The reason is not to convey a universal message. Rosenman and Adler emphasize that the Holocaust is a unique and particular experience to the Jewish people, with specific ramifications for them. Non-Jews are included in the march as an effort to create a global conversation about anti-Semitism. “To kill this illness” as they put it. “The issue is clear cut and pinpointed: to fight anti-Semitism.”

This year’s motto for the March of the Living was “No to anti-Semitism.” The march included discussions on that topic and the signing of petitions by young representatives from around the world. Given this theme, the March of the Living lies in the shadow of the increase in anti-Semitism worldwide. Rosenman says that no matter what the geopolitical situation in the world, the motto will remain the same. “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness, and hopefully never forget,” he asserts.  

Shmuel Rosenman. (Credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
 
The incidents in Pittsburgh and France added fuel to the flames of the issue that the March of the Living has been dealing with for years, leading the founders to create a special conference this year on combatting anti-Semitism. There were close to 10,000 participants in this year’s March of the Living. 

I asked Adler and Rosenman to recount an experience on their marches that moved them and gave them a sense of accomplishment. Adler recalls standing on the podium in Auschwitz with one of the Zeiger children, now in his 80s, who had hidden with his (Adler’s) mother. Reciting Kaddish with Zeiger, he had the feeling of the closing of a circle.

Rosenman, although he has been marching for decades, says he is brought to tears every year at two points. One is when a certain Holocaust survivor says Kaddish for his family who perished, 72 souls. “I sit there looking at him, admiring his strength and resilience, when he says that his children and grandchildren are his victory. This connects me to the second reason I cry: when the thousands of marchers sing ‘Hatikva’ in Auschwitz, realizing the significance of the words ‘to be a free people in our land.’”

As the interview concluded, I thought about these two unique men, who against all odds and with great dedication, found a way together with others, to help ensure that we as a people never forget that the young woman hiding in a pit in Zborow, doing everything to survive, then marrying her husband in Uruguay and later immigrating to Israel is not just the story and life march of her son Baruch but the march of all of the Jewish people’s lives.

This article was written in cooperation with the March of the Living.


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