Each year, since 1988 – apart from the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 – tens of thousands of participants in the March of the Living have walked the 3.2-kilometer route from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day, retracing the final steps of those who perished in the Holocaust. For many, the walk on those railroad tracks has not only served as a fitting memorial for those who were murdered, but has inspired them to find a new path in their lives and make aliyah. Close to 300,000 participants have participated in the March of the Living since its inception, and a sizable number of them have made Israel their home, serving in the IDF, and integrating into Israeli society.
The March of the Living virtual ‘Salute to Israel’s 73rd Birthday’ online celebration, which will be broadcast on Independence Day at 8:00 PM Israel time/1:00 PM EDT, and is sponsored by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael, features interviews with several alumni of the March of the Living who have moved to Israel, who explain how the March influenced their decision.
“The March of the Living served as a catalyst for me wanting to come to Israel,” says Hallie Goldstein, who took part in the 2014 March and the MOL Emerging Leaders cohort in 2019. Following the March, participants fly to Israel, tour the country, and parade through the streets of Jerusalem to the Western Wall in the Old City in a joyous and festive procession. “I think that the strong connection that is formed between the time studying the Holocaust in Poland with your delegation and coming to Israel for Independence Day – there is something so magical and extraordinary linking the two experiences.”
Goldstein, who is one of the hosts of the March of the Living virtual ‘Salute to Israel’s 73rd Birthday’ online celebration, made Aliyah from San Francisco in 2019 and now lives in Tel Aviv, where she is studying psychology and working at a high-tech mental health startup.
‘Captain A.,’ another March of the Living alumnus interviewed on the broadcast, grew up in Los Angeles, and attended the March while in his senior year of high school in 2008. He made aliyah that year and had always dreamed of being an IDF pilot. As a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, he cannot be named on the program, nor can his face be shown, but he clearly expressed his feelings about Israel to host Hallie. “It’s moments like these when you have a chance to look back and see everything you have achieved. It is a great feeling being able to achieve my dreams and goals living here and protecting the State of Israel.”
Dr. Tracy Farber, a psychologist from Johannesburg, South Africa, participated in the March of the Living in 2012. Farber, who received her doctorate on the long-term impact of the Holocaust on elderly child survivors, addresses the feelings one has when leaving Auschwitz. “I think it’s very difficult to leave Auschwitz without sadness and without hope,” she says. “I think they both go together. I think we remember the sadness and the trauma because it’s part of us. But I think what they did in terms of building Israel and how they survived, and their resilience gives us enormous hope.” Farber herself made aliyah in 2019.
Dr. Luisa Peress was born and raised in Slovenia in 1993, studied for two years in Italy, and moved to London to study medicine in 2012. She participated in the March of the Living in 2014 and made aliyah from London in 2018. She is currently a medical resident in the Radiology Department at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva. For Peress, the March of the Living confirmed her beliefs about Zionism. “It reaffirmed the belief that I already had within myself that in a way Europe is for our people, a past, and Israel is our present and our future.”
Smiling, Dr. Peress says that while life in Israel can be a bit chaotic – “sometimes, I feel that it’s a party and a mess all together every day all day” – she is happy living in Israel. “I have found my place, and I’d like to stay here.”