Sue Hampel and students, "The March of the Living"
Presentation by Sue Hampel and students
At our last meeting we had the pleasure of listening to a presentation from Sue Hampel and some of the students who participated in this year's March of the Living, the first time Australian students have participated in this event.
Sue introduced the presentation by quoting from Elie Wiesl who wrote about giving meaning to survival. We must remember, gather names and faces, reveal everything, omit nothing and forget nothing.
The March of the Living is a two week journey for 3000 secondary school students from all over the world. They spend one week in Poland, culminating with a march from Auschwitz to Birkenau and commemorating Yom Hashoah. Then they travel together to Israel where they commemorate Yom Hazikaron and then celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut with all of Israel.
The March of the Living believes that when you listen to a witness, you become a witness. The group travelled with a survivor form Canada, Nate, who was deported to Auschwitz with his family.
During the presentation we saw video footage of the journey, including Nate's speech at Birkenau. He told the students that they are the future, the generation which has to carry on the message into the future.
During the journey the students also met with Righteous Gentiles, Polish Christians, Polish Jews and Polish students. They had a series of preparatory sessions before the trip. They had previously completed Holocaust Studies in Year 10 and this year studied Jewish life before World War 11, life in the Camps, Jewish resistance and those who helped the Jews.
During the first week of the trip in Poland, the students visited thriving Jewish communities. On Erev Shabbat, they attended a service in Krakow with 700 participants. They were encouraged to imagine life in Poland before the Shoah.
The week in Poland culminated with the 3 kilometre march from Auschwitz to the gas chambers in Birkenau. They were led by officers of the Israeli Army in silence. The march began with the sound of the shofar and ended with the singing of the Hatikvah on Yom Hashoah.
Sue described the journey, moving from cold, wet, dismal Poland to arriving in Israel on a beautiful, sunny day, was like moving from depression to ecstasy. They went from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. The survival of the Jewish people was affirmed by the commemoration of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's 53rd birthday in Israel.
This is an important educational program for 1000's of Jewish teenagers, one of global pride and hope. The students gained so much educationally, spiritually and emotionally.
The students who spoke to us about their remarkable experiences are: Ben Nankin, Jackie Cohen, Lisa Gluck, Cherie Levy, Doobie Richwol, Monique Gordon, Shira Herson, Natalie Axel, David Janovic, Joshua Szental, Hayley Kuperholz and Michael Hershan who are students of Mt Scopus and Bialik Colleges.
Each of them spoke about their experiences, some reading from their diaries which they were encouraged to write in every day, some showed video footage and still images from the journey. Here are some impressions and words from their presentation.
"On 16th of April 2001 28 students and 6 adults from Melbourne and Sydney became the first contingent from Australia to participate in the March of the Living. It became the most memorable journey of our lives.
Poland only existed in the past. It was a trip back in time. On the one hand it was the centre of Jewish culture, but on the other hand it represented destruction. We felt uneasy in Warsaw, and wondered how life was able to go on here.
It was as if European Jewry has been persecuted in three stages:
On the 2 hour bus trip to Birkenau we saw graffiti written on bricks on the barracks, a swastika. How can we arrive at this camp in a luxurious bus? The colour is vague, it all seems surreal. Nate recited Kaddish at the ruins of the gas chambers. I couldn't believe to what depths my emotions could be stretched today.
The March. 19th of April 2001. 27th of Nissan. 9 am. Yom Hashoah. We arrive at Auschwitz. We are participating in the strongest protest against Holocaust denial. 1 pm, Auschwitz. 1000's of Jewish people, a solemn day if mourning and remembrance. Blue jackets everywhere. 3 pm. Just completed the 3 km track. It is the darkest, most cruel and incomprehensible experience. We marched in vigour, pride and independence, not as individuals but as a group.
The ceremony after the march was in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish and Polish. Three thousand Jews sang the Hatikvah at Birkenau at the conclusion of the Yom Hashoah service. We will never be able to comprehend the inhumanity that the victims and survivors have suffered.
Poland as it is today is picturesque, with rolling hills, villages, farmhouses, tall trees and lush green grass. Before the war, Poland had the largest Jewish community in the world; today there are 8000 Jews living there. We couldn't help wondering if Jews lived in these villages and what happened to them. In one of the villages there was a beautiful Hassidic shul with prayers written on the walls.
The most difficult part of the trip was visiting Majdanek, near Lublin. It is the only remaining death camp that is still intact. Every place in Poland had a special effect, but none like Majdanek. It is only a kilometre from residential houses. Everything seemed so real, too real. It was our duty to feel the pain, the pain of loss and emptiness.
We visited Treblinka, deep in the forest. We wandered aimlessly, not knowing what to feel. It is now completely bare; the Germans demolished Treblinka at the war's end. There are 17,000 memorial stones erected here, representing 17,000 Jewish communities. The stones all had jagged edges. On this day, the Polish students spent the day with us.
On the last day in Poland we visited Mila 18, Mordechai Anielewicz memorial and the Umschlagplatz. In 24 hours we will be in Israel, we would soon be home.
Arriving in Israel it was a bright sunny day, the colour and life of Israel was an amazing contrast after cold and dismal Poland. It was indescribable to arrive in Israel. We felt so proud to be Jewish. We, the Jewish people are still alive and have Israel to prove it.
In Israel we attended the Erev Yom Hazikaron ceremony at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel, commemorating the deaths of fellow kibbutzniks. On Yom Hazikaron the next day, the whole country stops at 11 am, when a siren rang out loud for 2 minutes. It sent shivers through my entire body, it was so patriotic and respectful.
The next day was Yom Ha'atzmaut. It was a transition from sadness to happiness. We sang the Hatikvah with the hills of Jerusalem in the background, followed by fireworks and dancing. The nation was covered in blue and white. Our Jewishness made us part of this wonderful day.
Jerusalem is a city of a thousand names. We entered through the city gates, the same gates the soldiers entered in 1967. There is a strong military presence everywhere and the fight for Israel is not over yet. In Jerusalem Yad Vashem was visited, the Hall of Remembrance, the Avenue of Righteous Gentiles.
We then visited Tel Aviv, the Diaspora Museum and the Independence Hall where David Ben Gurion declared independence in 1948. We visited Kikar Rabin, where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated.
The journey was from mass destruction to mass construction; from thrived to thriving, from darkness to light."
At each commemoration the following song, Legacy, was sung, which is reproduced here with Sue's kind permission. The students sang this song together at the end of their inspiring and moving presentation.
Deep in your heart is where I reside
Memories as they grow older, tend to grow colder and then disappear
Nothing has changed; I can still feel the hate
Thank you to Sue and the students who went on March of the Living 2001: Ben, Jackie, Lisa Cherie, Doobie, Monique, Shira, Natalie, David, Joshua, Hayley and Michael.