Marching in the future

Phyllis Greenberg Heideman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As thousands of participants from around the globe embark on the 29th International March of the Living and gather in Poland to remember our ancestors who perished and pay tribute to those who survived, we shall once again be reminded of our Jewish past, its relevance and impact on the present, and its importance to the future.
This journey through time has left an indelible mark on the lives of the 250,000 alumni that the March of the Living is proud to have educated over the three decades since its inception.
Participants have had the meaningful experience of marching alongside their peers and alongside educators, survivors, liberators and dignitaries from diverse groups, peoples and backgrounds.
Even as we prepare to depart for the 2017 International March of the Living, we naturally cannot help but anticipate 2018, when we will celebrate our 30th anniversary, a true milestone for any organization.
We continually turn our thoughts to the importance of Holocaust education, legacy and memory and recognize our responsibility to ponder a future with no eyewitnesses to the horrors perpetrated on the Jewish people. For these past 70-plus years, our survivors have passed the torch of memory on to the next generation through the relaying of heartfelt memories, family stories and detailed descriptions of daily life, personal histories, haunting individual experiences and shared communal suffering.
It is with profound appreciation for the firsthand testimony that Holocaust survivors have provided to the world that we must now prepare to carry their torch of memory without them. We, the generations who have benefited from their presence in our lives, must dedicate ourselves to serving as witnesses for the witnesses. We must dedicate ourselves to continuing the promise to always remember and never forget.
This task will not be easy. But it is one we must undertake: for the sake of those who perished, for the sake of those who survived against all odds, and for the sake of future generations in whom we must imbue a sense of remembering the past as an important link to protecting the future.
A people that forsakes its memory is a people that forsakes its heart.
As we prepare to face the future, the importance of educating our next generations on the events of the past which have dramatic and continuing influence on our lives remains crystal clear. For as we are taught, “It is not incumbent upon us to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.”
The March of the Living is committed to pursuing innovative methods to impart the information necessary to engage future generations in efforts to help ensure a bright future for humankind.
As an organization, we remain committed to educating our educators through initiatives designed to impart the lessons of our past without the presence of the survivors themselves but through the use of their previously recorded words and testimonies.
Toward that end, we recognize the importance of the second and third generation of Holocaust survivors as storytellers and purveyors of historic information.
The chain of memory of the honest and historic experience of parents and grandparents lies directly in the hands of those who received testimony from the witnesses themselves.
However, the transmission of memory becomes the responsibility of the greater community as well. It is imperative that as a world community, the Jewish people accept the role of keeping alive the history of those who came before us, how they lived and how they died.
When the last survivor is no longer with us, it is we – the successors of the past and messengers of the future – who must carry the torch of our heritage. It is we, the Jewish people as a whole, who must – as we are commanded in the Passover Haggada – tell and retell the story.
And we must do so to pass the legacy and lessons of the past on to the next generation so that they are educated, enlightened and engaged in preserving and protecting memory.
We hope you will join our mission, our passion and our program to keep the lessons of the past alive today.
It is with the future in mind and in the spirit of continuity that, on behalf of the board of directors, I personally invite each of you to join us on the 2018 International March of the Living.
We promise you experiences you will never forget and memories you will long remember.
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman is the President of International March of the Living.