March of the Living
The March of the Living, is an annual educational program which brings students from around the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust. On Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah), thousands of participants march silently from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp complex built during World War II.
The program was established in 1988 and takes place annually for two weeks around April and May, immediately following Passover. Marchers come from countries as diverse as Panama, Turkey, Estonia and New Zealand.
Commemoration of World War II death marches
The climax of the program is the March, which is designed to contrast with the death marches which occurred towards the end of World War II. When Nazi Germany withdrew its soldiers from forced-labour camps, inmates – usually already starving and stricken by oppressive work – were forced to march hundreds of miles further west, while those who lagged behind or fell were shot. The March of the Living, in contrast to the death marches, serves to illustrate the continued existence of world Jewry despite Nazi Germany's attempts at their obliteration.
After spending a week in Poland visiting other sites of Nazi Germany's persecution and former sites of Jewish life and culture, many of the participants in the March also travel on to Israel where they observe Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Remembrance Day) and celebrate Yom Haatzmaut (Israel's Independence Day).
The March of the Living is mainly aimed at Jewish high school students and its goals are both universal (fighting indifference, racism and injustice) and particular (opposing anti-semitism, and strengthening their sense of Jewish identity).
A key element of the program is the participation of Holocaust survivors who share the memory of their war-time experiences with the students, while they are still well enough to participate in this challenging two week trip of the young.
Though the vast majority of participants in the March of the Living are Jewish high school students from different countries including Israel, there are many non-Jewish groups in attendance, along with adult groups such as the Polish Friends of Israel, Japan's Bridges for Peace and others.
In recent years the March of the Living (MOTL) has attempted to broaden its focus from only concentrating on the Holocaust, and include other program content in the Poland portion of the trip. These elements include: celebrating Jewish life before the war, establishing dialogue with Polish students, meeting with Polish Righteous among the Nations, and connecting with the contemporary Polish Jewish community.
The March of Remembrance and Hope (MRH) is a program designed for university/college students of all religions and backgrounds. This program, founded in 2001, takes place in May, and in recent years, has included a 2 day trip to Germany, before the 5 day Poland portion of the trip. The purpose of the March of Remembrance and Hope is to teach students of various religious and ethnic backgrounds about the dangers of intolerance through the study of the Holocaust and other World War II genocides, and to promote better relations among people of diverse cultures. Holocaust survivors also participate in the March of Remembrance and Hope program. Since its inception, students of a wide variety of religions and ethnicities have taken part.
Notes and references
- March of the Living International
- http://www.marchoftheliving.org Canadian organization
- http://www.marchadelavida.com.mx Marcha de la Vida México
- Marcha da Vida - Brasil
- BBC article about the March of Living, 2005
- Comment by Tad Taube in The Forward, May 5, 2006