march of living 298.88.
(photo credit: GPO)
Some 5,000 participants in the annual March of the Living are expected to be in Israel for its 60th Independence Day on May 8, making this the second largest group in the history of the 20-year-old program.
It will be second only to the 2005 march, which drew four times that number coming to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz's liberation.
After several weeks of preparation and study, participants arrive in Poland in late April or early May, in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, this year commemorated on May 2.
In Poland, participants march three kilometers from Auschwitz to Birkenau in silence, commemorating the death marches concentration camp inmates endured.
The participants then fly to Israel for Remembrance Day (May 7) and Independence Day (May 8), celebrating a rebirth of Jewish self-determination after the death experienced in Europe's camps.
Over 8,000 participants are currently registered for the Poland part of the program.
About one-third of participants are not Jewish, including some from Morocco, Japan, the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland and over 30 other countries.
These groups come to learn about the Holocaust and experience the procession, but do not continue to Israel.
"We strongly believe the Holocaust isn't a Jewish issue, but a universal issue," said David Machlis, vice chair of March of the Living International and associate professor of economics at Adelphi University, speaking to The Jerusalem Post this week.
The goal, he added, "is to make the world a better place to live in," a goal which has led to a steady expansion over the past few years of the non-Jewish participation in the program.
As an example, he relates, in some countries (Slovakia is one) there is no Holocaust education, so the march serves to combat Holocaust denial.
According to Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of March of the Living International, the participants who arrive in Israel will be scattered throughout the country to participate in local Remembrance Day ceremonies with Israelis, and will gather together in Jerusalem for Independence Day activities the next day, before a final event at Latrun on the night of May 8.