Celebrating life in Krakow

March of the Living reaches Krakow, honors memory of Holocaust victims and commemorates triumph of the spirit.

High school students participating in March of the Living 2017 dance in Krakow (credit: TAMARA ZIEVE)
KRAKOW – The main square of Krakow’s Jewish quarter was bursting with life Sunday with groups of youth from all over the world on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Groups of young participants in the International March of the Living thronged outside the Remah Synagogue where Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett paid a visit and stopped to talk to high school students.
“We’ve got young Jews from all around the world,” he told reporters after conversing with the youth. “And my message is we are all brothers and sisters and we all have a special bond.”
For the first time, education ministers from 12 European countries are participating in a gathering planned by the March of the Living organizers and the Austrian federal minister for education, Dr. Sonja Hammerschmid. The ministers are focusing on the question of how to continue Holocaust education after there are no survivors left.
“We’re here because lately there is a growing tendency of Holocaust denial, and in the era of social networks it will be easier to deny the Holocaust,” Bennett explained.
“We’re nearing the day when the last survivor will depart and that’s why we invited 12 education ministers from all across Europe... to this very important visit, to eternalize the remembrance of the Holocaust.”
Also for the first time, Elisha Wiesel, son of the late Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Eli Wiesel, is participating in the march. While visiting the Old Jewish Cemetery of Krakow, located beside the Remah Synagogue, Elisha told reporters that while he tends to shy away from the public eye – in the past preferring to visit the death camps privately with his father and other relatives – he felt it was important to participate this year, less than a year after her father’s death.
“I miss my father – I’m not alone in missing him – and I think there are many people who are concerned that his message could be lost,” he explained. “And that’s why I feel it’s incredibly important and valuable that so many people are stopping what they’re doing... and coming here to reflect on the Shoah.”
Each group of high school students participating in the march is accompanied by a Holocaust survivor. A group of female Panamanians was visibly energized and inspired by Warsaw Ghetto and Bergen-Belsen survivor Mania Hudy. This is the 12th year that Hudy, a Toronto resident, has returned to the camps, and this year she was joined by her son Abe, who was participating in the event for the first time.
“I come back because of the kids – they should know what happened,” Hudy explained.
“I tell them my story and they should see and remember that they shouldn’t let us do what they did with us when I was a child,” she added, noting that in the years immediately following the Holocaust she did not utter a word about her experiences, until one of her grandchildren convinced her to share her story.
Towering over Hudy’s small frame, her young students embraced her and enthused about her before breaking out into song and dance, singing “Am Yisrael Chai.”
Some 100 Jews from Panama’s small Jewish community of some 14,000 joined the march this year, which sends a delegation every year. Linda Gabay, 17, told The Jerusalem Post that it was amazing to finally be in the places they had learned about all year in school. She added that they had been most moved by their visit to the Treblinka death camp, and that she was surprised to find that the German Army had destroyed all evidence of the atrocities they perpetrated there. She said she was nervous about the following day, when participants will walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau, but her friend Nicole Abadi, 17, saw it in a positive light.
“People from all around the world are marching for life” she told the Post. “And we’re happy that we can follow our dream now, when those in the Holocaust couldn’t.”
Over 10,000 youth from around the world are participating in the march, alongside an honorary delegation of 75 Holocaust survivors from different countries, the eldest of whom is 103 years old.
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor is heading a group of prominent officials from Israel, and Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen.
Gadi Eisenkot is leading the IDF’s “Witnesses in Uniform” delegation, which will include around 200 soldiers, officers and bereaved families. Like every year, the march will be led by Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and a survivor of the Buchenwald extermination camp.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to participants of the march.
Since the first March of the Living was held in 1988, more than 250,000 participants from 52 countries have marched down the 3-kilometer path connecting the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps on Holocaust Remembrance Day, as a silent tribute to all victims of the Nazis and their helpers.