I recently returned from my first trip on the March of the Living.
It is something I’d thought about doing for some time, but wasn’t sure such a deep immersion in the Holocaust was right for me. However when presented with the opportunity to join the BBYO North America delegation comprised of 120 Jewish teens and 20 adults, I elected to participate. It was a great decision.
The trip was incredibly moving, thought-provoking, educational and also uplifting to see this horrific event though the eyes of Jewish teens. Assuring that young Jews fully comprehend and are able to tell the story of the Holocaust to others is crucial to the long term survival of our people.
Prior to World War II, Poland was the vibrant home to 3.5 million Jews, more than anywhere else in the world, and 10 percent of the Polish population. In 1939, there were 100 Jewish and Yiddish newspapers just in Warsaw. Of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, half were from Poland.
We visited four concentration camps (Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek); saw the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, the museum at Oscar Schindler’s factory in Krakow and the Warsaw and Krakow ghetto memorials; and met with Polish Jewish teens and adults who shared what it’s like being Jewish in Poland today.
On Friday night, we attended services at the Nozyk Shul, the only surviving prewar synagogue in Warsaw. We ended Shabbat by participating in a beautiful BBYO teen-led Havdalah service at our hotel.
We rode comfortable coach buses with the teens and listened to them share their reflections after each death camp visit. They were thoughtful, caring, inquisitive and respectful of what they saw and of each other. We had two Holocaust survivors with us on the trip, who spoke daily to the teens about their personal experiences. The trip highlight was walking as a BBYO Delegation in the two mile March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau, joining 15,000 other Jews from 52 countries around the world for a moving ceremony on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
On the plane ride home, I tried to capture some of my deeper emotions in writing.
Reflections from Treblinka
We both travelled the path, where railway tracks once sat, in the midst of dense woods. Wondering and dreading what lay ahead.
THEY were forced to leave their homes in humiliation and fear….crammed into box cars from all over Europe.
We came voluntarily to bear witness and honor them.
THEY had yellow stars sewn on their clothes and held close their few, most treasured possessions.
We had colored caps to identify our bus groups and carried our knowledge of how they suffered.
THEY heard children crying, dogs growling and Nazis ordering them forward.
We heard an eerie silence, just the rustling of leaves in the wind.
THEY were separated…the healthy to endure brutal conditions…the young, old and ill to their more immediate death.
We stood together in prayer while a distant off-key trumpet wailed like cries of anguish from the fallen.
THEY saw barbed wire stretching for miles, guards with rifles and barracks far into the distance.
We saw that nothing remains of this hell hole where in just 13 months, almost 900,000 Jews perished. Just one large monument, the words “NEVER AGAIN” and thousands of small stone markers to represent those who shared their horrific fate.
THEY did not leave these now sacred grounds.
We did leave, but with a strong sense of hope that our Jewish future would be ensured.
While I did not do the Israel segment of the March of the Living trip following Poland, I know it will have a huge impact on the teens, most of them visiting Israel for the first time. They got to see how our Jewish homeland was created and how it has prospered, despite its unique geography and the many obstacles it has and continues to face.
For me, participating with these young adults, almost all who were high school seniors, was very special. To see the most horrible event in Jewish history through the eyes of these future Jewish parents and leaders made this incredible experience even more rewarding.
Our local Jewish teens, and their peers around the world, are our best hope to ensure our Jewish future and assure that those who perished in the Holocaust did not do so in vain. I hope you will consider participating in next year’s March of the Living.
If you have interest in joining the BBYO March of the Living as part of a possible delegation next year, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Marc Saperstein lives in Naples, Florida and Mequon. He is on the BBYO national board and joined the May 2-9, 2016 March of the Living with teens from around the world.