No Holds Barred: At Auschwitz the dead wish to march with the living

Why did God make the Nile run red with blood as the first plague in Egypt? So that the Egyptians would never be able to deny that they had perpetrated a genocide of Jewish children in the river.

Thousands of March of the Living participants walk toward Birkenau (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
Thousands of March of the Living participants walk toward Birkenau
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
Once again, I have found myself lost amid the remains of Auschwitz.
The last time I was here, I visited with a delegation from the Knesset and much of the top brass of the IDF. Even as I walked among the very leaders of the modern miracle of the State of Israel, themselves the symbols of Jewish hope that endured the Nazi horrors that besieged us, I felt deep despair.
This time, I am here with the March of the Living.
Along with an army of Jewish youth, 12,000 strong – all bursting with hope, strength and pride. The cascade of hopeful Jewish students, led by a delegation of survivors, is awash with the white and blue of the Israeli flag, which hundreds have draped across their shoulders or affixed to banners that rise triumphantly above the crowds.
The idea of the March is captured in this image. No longer will Jews be driven to their deaths at the barrel of a gun. Today, Jews step forward along the hallowed earth in a powerful parade, marked by our pride and resilience, our strength and our grit. It is, ultimately, a testament to our rebirth as a people. What was once a death march has become a march of the living.
And still, as I entered the sprawling complex of death, I felt loss, numbness and confusion.
Today I walked under the notorious banner: “Arbeit Macht Frie.” Immediately, I am gripped by the thought that as the train-loads of Jews arrived here, they might have truly believed that “work would set them free.”
For a million of those Jews, it would be a false and fruitless hope. They would never leave, but would meet their ends in chambers of poison gas. Not even their bodies would remain. They would be incinerated into ash in the crematoria.
How can one stand in this temple of horror and destruction, this barefaced symbol of God’s abandonment of his people, this monument to the infinity of man’s capacity for evil, and feel anything within the sphere of hope? No, here there is nothing but darkness. It is a world of shadows, impenetrable to all light. Endlessly deep and profoundly unforgiving, Auschwitz is an abyss from which no soul can possibly escape.
I’ve given up on finding meaning here. But I’ve come across something else. There is an unrelenting message that is cast upon me from all directions by the camp’s decaying brick walls, sullen barracks and looming guard-towers. It is a call that springs upon me from the earth, from the hundreds of thousands of voices that were silenced here seven decades ago – the victims I can, somehow, still hear.
In a chorus of urgency and desperation, the victims impart to me the most hallowed command: stop the horror. Never allow our fate to be thrust upon yet more innocent victims. Treasure our memory, and protect those for whom help can still arrive, for whom hope is not yet fruitless.
In Auschwitz, I find I’ve been given a mission.
This is a mission, I know, that has never been as crucial as it is today.
Even after witnessing the decimation of European Jewry in places like this, the world allowed mass slaughter and genocide to rage largely untouched in Cambodia, Iraq, Pakistan, Guatemala, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur – among many others.
Today, the killing goes on in Iraq at the hands of Islamic State (ISIS), who launched a genocide of the Yazidis and Christians, and in Syria, where government forces along with the Iranian-funded Hezbollah army of terror are targeting Sunnis and Arab children for mass extermination.
For years now, the murderous mullah-led government in Iran has continued time and again to threaten yet another holocaust against the Jewish people. Just four months ago, Iran’s defense minister promised that should US President Donald Trump pull out of Obama’s nuclear deal, the result would be the “immediate destruction of the Zionist Regime.” Half a year before that, an adviser to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards bragged that he would raze all of Israel to the ground in “less than eight minutes.”
In return for this talk, the world awarded Iran a nuclear deal that all but allowed the continuation of the nuclear program designed to make its genocidal dreams possible. They also flooded the mullah’s coffers with $150 billion and legitimized trade with their putrid, autocratic and gay-hanging regime.
What is, however, most horrific is that just this month, Syria’s illegitimate murderer-in chief Bashar Assad took a note from the Nazis and employed poison gas to choke up to a hundred civilians to death in Idlib.
To his credit, President Trump avenged their deaths with dozens of airstrikes against Syrian airfields. But from the very fact that such attacks still occur, it is undeniable that our world has yet to learn from the Holocaust and hearken to the call of its victims – a call that still rings in my ears.
We are the World Values Network has therefore taken upon itself to create a robust and fully-functional anti-genocide center that will work around the clock to shed light on peoples at risk across the world, bringing their plight to the forefront of the global consciousness.
Never again will people and governments be able to claim, as they always have, that they simply did not know.
I am here at the March of the Living with my friend Elisha Wiesel, who is speaking at the march about the memory of his illustrious father, Elie Wiesel. At my home for Shabbat recently, Elisha shared a beautiful Torah thought. Why did God make the Nile run red with blood as the first plague in Egypt? So that the Egyptians would never be able to deny that they had perpetrated a genocide of Jewish children in the river.
The very waters cried out with blood.
We may have come late for those who rest here in Auschwitz, Rwanda and the countless mass graves that lie all across our world. Still, their voices rise up from the earth begging to finally be heard. Even as it won’t save them, it can still save others.
And, my friends, so can we.
Let’s join together and build an organization that will finally endow meaning to life in a world that is so often blind to it.
Let us finally hear the screams in the silence of Auschwitz.
For within them there is not just a cry of death, but a mission of life.
It’s a mission that simply cannot wait.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books including his most recent The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.