March of the Living (AP) (AP)
March of the Living

Forty-two Shoah survivors lead the March from Auschwitz to Birkenau.

By David Isaac, JNS

This year’s March of the Living, the annual tribute to the 6 million held at the site of the former German death camp Auschwitz in Poland, is being conducted under the theme of “Honoring Jewish heroism in the Holocaust.”

The event is taking place Wednesday, on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s the first time since the global pandemic that the March is being  held in its full format, with delegations from well over 25 countries and 10,000 participating.

It falls one day before the historical date marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

“Jewish bravery during the Holocaust was for many years left out of general Holocaust consciousness, and Jews were portrayed only as victims who ‘went like lambs to the slaughter,’ ” Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the March of the Living, said in a press statement.

“Young people in Israel and around the Jewish world are not sufficiently aware of the many acts of bravery carried out by thousands of Jews during the Holocaust, and as an international educational organization it is our responsibility to emphasize this,” he added.

The March from Auschwitz to Birkenau will be led by 42 Holocaust survivors, an improvement over last year when only seven survivors participated.

Among the survivors is Warsaw-born Halina Birenbaum from Israel. She was a child during the uprising and was hidden in a bunker until the Germans liquidated the ghetto. She was deported to Majdanek and later to Auschwitz. “I truly experienced the Holocaust in all its horror,” Birenbaum said.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising lasted about four weeks (April 19-May 16, 1943). It was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II and came to symbolize Jewish bravery during the Holocaust, as a few determined Jewish fighters inflicted heavy losses on the German army.

Most of the Jewish fighters saw their actions not as a means to save themselves but rather as a battle for the honor of the Jewish people. The uprising inspired many other Jews to rebel in ghettos, extermination camps and forests.

Yigal Cohen, director general of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in the Western Galilee, said: “We are dutybound to continue learning from those who rebelled—with weapons and documentation, in daily survival and in leadership for the benefit of all—and to continue educating about the values of mutual responsibility and activism. This is the moral legacy left to us by the heroes and heroines of the uprising.”

D-ID, an Israeli A.I. startup, will bring the stories of the uprising to life, animating the heroes, who will tell their stories from letters written during the uprising and survivor testimonies. Some of Israel’s top artists provided the heroes’ voices to help celebrate the bravery of the fighters.

Also participating in the March are United States Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, philanthropists Robert Kraft and Miriam Adelson, Mark Wilf, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Doron Almog, chairman of the Jewish Agency, and Ifat Ovadia Luski, chairman of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael-Jewish National Fund.

Kraft will light the first torch in a torch-lighting ceremony at the end of the March, at a stage set between the ruins of Crematoriums II and III. Nides will light the second torch.

Also lighting a torch are Israeli entrepreneur and philanthropist Haim Taib, who marked a historic first on the March—a dedicated memorial to the Jews of Tunisia and North Africa who were also subjected to Nazi oppression. In what is one of the relatively unknown episodes of the Holocaust: under Vichy and German occupation, many North African Jews were forced into concentration and labor camps, and some were deported to the death camps in Europe.

Taib will be joined by his wife, Iris. They are both descendants of Holocaust survivors, of Auschwitz and Tunisia.

The March of the Living is one of Holocaust Remembrance Day’s most recognized international events. Jewish and non-Jewish youth participate from all over the world, alongside Holocaust survivors, heads of state, cabinet ministers, religious leaders, intellectual and cultural figures, and many others.

Approximately 300,000 participants from 52 countries have marched on the train tracks from Auschwitz to Birkenau in tribute to the greatest loss in the history of the Jewish people.

For the thousands of Jewish youth from around the world who participate in the educational program, the March is one event in a two-week journey to Poland and Israel, culminating in a March of Rebirth to the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Israel’s Independence Day.

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