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The March of the Living in Oświęcim


For the eleventh time, Jews came from all over the world to pay tribute to the victims who were murdered in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. As is traditional, the march began with the blowing of the shofar, after which the participants walked the three kilometers from the "Arbeit macht frei" gate to the ruins of the Birkenau gas chambers.

The names of murdered men, women, and children were read out over loudspeakers as the marchers arrived at the Birkenau site. A ceremony was held in front of the ruins of the gas chambers. Speakers included Szewach Weiss, ambassador of Israel in Poland and himself a Shoah survivor; Limor Livnat, the Israel education minister, and Krystyna Łybacka, Polish minister of education and sport, who said:

"We do not exist without our history. We cannot cut ourselves off from it. The history of the Jewish Diaspora on Polish soil is a long period of shared history. Before the Holocaust, Poles and Jews lived under one Polish sky. The land upon which we stand today was loved for centuries by your grandparents and regarded as their own. This historical truth cannot be denied, just as there is no denying the role of the Righteous Among the Nations of the World who live in Poland.

"The keys to the truth are education, knowledge, and understanding the mechanisms of history. These are the keys to tolerance, acceptance, the breaking down of stereotypes, and the ability to compromise when there are issues that divide us. Today, look on this land that is ours and yours, and on our shared history, with well-intentioned eyes and an open mind."

Over a thousand people—fewer than anticipated—took part in the March. In previous years, the culmination of the March was the observance in Israel, several days later, of ceremonies marking the anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. This year, however, that final meeting has been called off because of the tense situation brought about by bloody Palestinian attacks and Israeli reprisal operations. For this reason, non-Israeli participants were given brochures titled To My Jewish Friends, reading in part:

"In a few days I will return to Israel, to my friends and family. This past week I learned that you will not be joining me. I feel sorry and disappointed. I had hoped that you would have joined me, that we would have been able to celebrate the rebirth of our people together, as we experienced together this journey through the sites of the Holocaust. "I wish you would come to visit me in Israel in the future, to complete the March of the Living program, and celebrate together with me the independence of our people."

The March was surrounded by increased security provided by over 300 Polish police and Israeli agents. There were no incidents.

In talks held before the March between the education ministers of Israel and Poland, both sides expressed a desire to cooperate more closely and to broaden joint efforts to train teachers from Poland and Israel in Shoah history.

A group from Mexico. Photo Ryszard Domasik
A group from...