Why a Holocaust survivor keeps returning to Poland

Nate Leipciger is a Holocaust survivor who has joined March of the Living 17 times since 1988.

Survivor Edward Mosberg lights a memorial torch with his granddaughter on the 2016 March of the Living (photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
Survivor Edward Mosberg lights a memorial torch with his granddaughter on the 2016 March of the Living
(photo credit: YOSSI ZELIGER)
The question I most often encounter from other survivors is “Why do you continue to go on the March?” Some of them feel uncomfortable about returning to Poland for various reasons, but many having reached the age of 80 or more, feel that the physical strain and emotional stress is more than they can endure. This reduces the number of survivors who are prepared to go to a very small number.
Thus, the task falls on the children of survivors – the youngest group of survivors.
The children of survivors, many of whom were hidden by Righteous Gentiles, also have the fewest hang-ups about going back to Poland and Europe.
Auschwitz survivors revisit former camp to remember Holocaust
I feel an obligation to go as long as my energies and health will allow. I also feel a duty to tell the story of those who did not make it. I owe it to the six million, especially the children. Having arrived at Auschwitz at the age of 15, and having seen others of my age group marched off directly to the gas chambers, I feel a tremendous obligation to educate our youth. There are many other reasons, some of which I will outline briefly, and not necessarily in the order of importance: I encouraged our youth to go on the March of the Living, and my grandchildren have responded to my urging. I have, kein ayin hara (“no evil eye”), nine grandchildren. This year, the fourth of my grandchildren will be with me on the march. I hope to have the strength and health to accompany the others on future March of the Living trips.
It is very difficult to describe the survivors’ feelings when we see the expression on the faces of our young students listening to our stories and going through the various sites – be it death camps, abandoned synagogues, neglected cemeteries, reconstructed synagogues or sites of mass graves. The students are the raison d’être of the march. Their innocence, their intelligence, their dedication, their eagerness to learn, their search for information and knowledge, their readiness to experience the unknown “emotionally and cerebrally” are individually and collectively paramount to the march’s success. I absorb the students’ energies, which reinvigorates me and gives me the strength to continue to educate.
These young people hang on to each word, trying to understand what it is that they are seeing, straining to make sense of what is really incomprehensible.
They exhibit genuine feelings and empathy for the victims. In many cases, the victims were their grandparents, great-grandparents and other members of their unknown lost families.
We tell our stories of suffering and survival, but equally important are the stories of our families and how we lived before the terrible times of the Shoah.
We tell them of our pain of separation, our longing to be with our family only a few moments more, and our bitter disappointment in not expressing our love to them or not having had the opportunity to say goodbye.
Our educators are our greatest assets.
Most have made the trip many times; they are knowledgeable speakers, facilitators and great teachers. They make the prewar and Shoah periods come alive for the students. They have great feelings for, and detailed knowledge of the European-Jewish societies, their various factions, including their conflicting and opposing views, and the contributions that each made to European society in general and Jewish society in particular.
The richness of prewar Jewish communities in Europe is legendary. Our spiritual leaders give our students a grounding and connection to our religious heritage. They connect us to our traditions that stretch beyond the 1,000 years or so that we lived in Europe and Poland. They are crucial to the mental health of our youth and together with our educators are responsible for ensuring that the students do not become traumatized.
Collectively, we impress on our students that the main purpose of our trip is to remember not only the way in which our people perished but equally important, to learn how they lived and what contributions they made to the world. It is especially important to learn of the contributions made to Jewish study, medicine, Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish literature, as well as science, music and social studies. These contributions were made in less-than-ideal circumstances, amid antisemitism, with many obstacles in the way.
Finally, each of my trips to Poland is a pilgrimage and homage to my mother, sister, grandparents and dozens of members of my family who were such an integral part of my early childhood. It is a time for recollection of sweet memories, of happy times spent with my immediate family and friends.
As I get older, each trip is more difficult and more taxing, nightmares are more frequent, horrible memories rekindled, and frustration and anger returns. The world went mad and our neighbors and the rest of the world stood callously by in silence while we suffered unimaginable cruelties and death. But I must go on hoping that tomorrow will be better, that soon the world will recognize that hatred leads to more unabated hatred and endless suffering. If there is a meaning to our survival, it is that even one small voice can make a difference.

Nate Leipciger is a Holocaust survivor and has joined the March of the Living 17 times since his first trip in 1988.