March of the living

Yesterday we got invited to attend the march of the living in Auschwitz, a walk that more than ten thousands of people (mostly Jews) from all other the world (mostly Israel and the US) come to Auschwitz to take in April. Blessed as we are with this woman called “sister Mary” working in the Center whose garden is our camp, we got some VIP bracelets so that we not only could do the walk, but also enter the museum area of Auschwitz I, where all the participants first meet and gather in their respective groups, by nation.

Inside of Auschwitz you walk around for an hour observing everybody and talking to everybody before the march is organised to begin. We met people from all over the world; Israel, the US, Canada, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Holland, Austria, Check republic and Poland of course.

The point with the event is to encourage -more than anything young- people to attend, in order to see for themselves the site of the inhuman tragedies that (especially) the Jewish suffered under WW2. The purpose is to learn in order to never forget, and to embrace life of today, among all different cultures.

It was wonderful to see this many young people of different nations gathered, and it almost surprised me how cheerful the atmosphere suddenly could get in such an elsewhere serious site. The main message among visitors was solidarity to the israelis and jews around the world, and peace and justice where word being repeated.

Unfortunately though, we also observed that someone took advantage of the situation to speak in groups about ongoing wars (perhaps needless to mention particularly the Israel Palestine conflict) and how important it is that young Jews of today acknowledge their responsibility (!) in defending their rewarded state from the many enemies that want to harm them. I’d wish they’d spared themselves -and us – for those messages on a day like today.

Luckily people like this guy, came prepared to encounter the more aggressive messages of today. Bless him.

After the starting session we walked collectively in silence to Auschwitz II- Birkenau, which takes 15 minutes.

What a beauty with all the flags and young people walking in silence on their way to Birkenau.

And there, inside of the main gate, thousands of people had already put down their messages and candles on the railway. The railway symbolizing the Death path of Birkenau.

The sight of Birkenau like this, compared to how it looked like the other day, overwhelmed us. Sun rays shone through the remaining buildings of the concentration camp as well as through the clouds on the sky, and in all directions were hordes of people, many of whom sat around in peace together.

One could hear a man’s voice reading names of Holocaust victims out loud from huge speakers alongside the railway, to what we sat down in silence just listening to it. Ross started drawing and I took up the crying from the other day.

From all sides people in small and large groups passed us on their way to the ceremony that was going to take place next to one of the gas chambers in the end of the railway. I reflected over what different connections these youth might have to Holocaust. We had already read some messages saying RIP grandpa, grandma, indicating names of the victims, and seen tons of people crying and comforting each other, praying and holding hands.

We had read messages from countries like Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Argentina and I was imagining the journey the Holocaust survivors had taken to those countries in their time. Or imagining the ancestors of chased and killed Jews and others, once having to travel that far in search for peace, in search for a place they could be left alone, where someone once invited or allowed them to come and stay.

We headed to the ceremony when we heard through the speakers it had started. Today, apparently for the first time ever, there were five veteran soldiers from Russia among the honored audience, that represented the liberation armies in 1945 and saves thousands of people.

In the two hours to come we were told stories of survivors, showed videos from the liberation months and heard song performances about how to never forget and how to live on spreading the message of “never again”. Among all the official speakers this was the main topic, although a video recorded message of Israel’s prime minister revealed a much more narrow focus: On the “forever haunted Jews” and on young Israelis’ huge task in defending their state. A state that has given Israelis back their dignity, he claimed, but that they have yet not recovered completely (!)…

In an instance my mood changed and I couldn’t stop wondering why on earth the organisers allow for such a message to be portrayed on a day like this! In an instance I was reminded about the gruesome ongoing situation in Gaza and on The West Bank due to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, an occupation that has been condemned by the UN since 1965 (without Israel’s compliance, nor the US’ enforcement of such) and all Human Rights organisations’ jointly… A situation so critical, complex and thus difficult for people like myself to truly grasp, but still, a situation of which blood shed and injustice is easy to identify.

Almost desperate for a moment I took Ross’ hand while observing the faces of the young crowd around me. Not surprisingly perhaps I spotted far too many expressions of indifference, as if what the Israeli prime minister was talking about made complete sense. Yes, I know that young people in both Israel and Palestine are suffering today, and I know that these beautiful creatures standing next to me first and foremost were here in the sense of honoring the ancestors of their ethnic group, the Jews. However, I couldn’t help getting a clear – not to say revolted – vision of why “Never again” actually is a false statement within the contexts of the world’s current reality. Because this determined and aggressive prime minister’s (and the ones prior to him) mission for years has been to teach young people about “necessary war” rather than about peace! How can one fight against a man who proudly pronounces the words like ‘defense’, ‘army’ and ‘future economy’ within a speech that is supposed to focus on love, compassion, equality and peace on the very death fields of 6 millions of murdered innocent people?

Moving away from my fury however, let it still be clear that the rest of the ceremony indeed continued inspiring me the way I choose to hope it is supposed to. Despite the Israeli prime minister’s highly unexpected war propaganda, the rest of the speakers in the event made sure to remind us about thinking beautiful things. Moreover, the repetitive pictures that came to the big screens from horrific holocaust happenings during the WW2 surely did their work in making it all in all a very emotional experience. All the time, everywhere I looked, people were embracing each other, and many were crying constantly. Standing like this for hours under the evening sun, in the heart of the topical grim heritage undoubtedly created a strong sense of community that was present until we left the spot.

Fortunately the ceremony ended with a speech about peace and that human beings, no matter what ethnicity, all are one and should protect each other. The tune from Schindlers list was plaid live when different representatives were given the role to light each and one torch. A rabbi closed the event by performing a special ritual song, alongside another video that again reminded us to “never forget”.

We are very happy we went here two days ago and didn’t have this day as our first inside of the camps as I think it would have given a very different feeling of it all due to all the people. However, we are more happy to have had the possibility to attend this march and experience such an important event.

To walk among thousands of children and grandchildren of the victims of Holocaust that come from far away in order to attend this together with sisters and brothers in solidarity and compassion with the innocent victims, was an unforgettable unique experience.

After the ceremony people spread out inside the huge camp, and we walked through it with them. Passing guys like this one.

The body reacts rather strongly to this kind of never-ending emotional impressions, and after a while we decided to sit down on the outskirts of the gas chamber area in the concentration camp. Suddenly Ross felt immensely creative as well and started drawing.

Meanwhile sitting here, the sun set and we observed how the disappearing lights changed the look of the place. All the time we sent our love in silence to every single human being passing by us far away. I even found the perfect place to finally plant our own message written on the wooden board we were given in the beginning of the day. First later, when seeing the pictures, I noticed the deers next to me. How cute.

At 9pm the gates were closing and outside we were stunned by what we saw. The messages and candles lit up the railway, guiding us back towards Auschwitz I. We read several messages on the way, felt empowered,  happy, yet deeply emotional. We mere marching for the living and wished it never ended.

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