Friends of the March of the Living
by Dr. George Halasz

What Links The Generations?

How can we retain links between the generations in our culture, a culture that seduces us away from making contact with the past? We are lured by many fashions; the fashion to deconstruct history is immensely popular. We increasingly believe that people who dare to speak of experiences beyond 10 years are old fashioned, outdated, irrelevant. We no longer care for their experience. We have more important agendas. We are all preoccupied with our own generational tasks. Each generation has its focus.

  • As youth, students we try to learn about family community and ourselves;
  • As young couples, we build to establish families and careers;
  • In mid life, the years of harvest consolidate years of hard work;
  • In later life, we might begin to reflect, how did we spend our days?

Each generation has tasks, focus, responsibilities. Yet, there are special tasks also. Tasks that transcend the generational boundaries. Special events, beyond time, place, and even individuality. There, human experience was so exceptional, so extreme that forever, it redefined the meaning of humanity, what being human means.

We live in such a generation. Kathy Grinblat defined our generation, the title of her book, ‘Children of the Shadows’. The voices of the children of Survivors of the Holocaust, the children of the shadows, have taken up the challenge to be silent no more, to carry forward an awesome burden.

The burden we share and now express, the burden of not forgetting, of not denying, of not repressing, of not tolerating silence.

At a time when our culture hosts denial and repression, filled with comfortable distractions; when permission is easily granted to not remember beyond a generation; when universities support trends to deconstruct and revise history, in this very culture, a new leadership has emerged. This leadership which rejects any attempt to distort our Jewish history.

I speak of a new leaders, like Sue Hampel, director of the March of the Living, Inc; teachers, writers and editors of the Holocaust like Mark Baker, Kathy Grinblat, Pauline Rockman, (Descendants of the Shoah Inc) Tania Nahum and Denise same, each in their way engaged to link the Generations In addition, their work inform and cross generational boundaries to inform a wider community. How do they achieve this? How to bridge, to span the generations? Even if we do not feel comfortable going ‘there’, why do we go against our instincts?

Going There…

Going Where? I of course refer to the agonizing over whether to go on the special pilgrimage, the March of the Living.

In the last three years, since 2001, Sue Hampel has established this sacred pilgrimage of Australian high school students who join students from the rest of the world, to visit Poland and Israel. This journey has become an integral part of our community and cultural consciousness.

How does the March of the Living link the generations of survivors and their descendents? Why is it an essential part of our community consciousness building?

I respond with more questions. I ask: why travel to Poland? Why visit the sites of infamy? Are books? and photos? and movies? and stories? not enough. I say No! No! No! No! to each.

While they may be necessary but, no, they are not enough, not sufficient. No they are not sufficient to bind the generations. Indeed, I dare say that the second and third and subsequent generations, as Amelia Klein argued at the Chicago Descendents Conference last year (2002), the generations in the future may be defined by their personal commitment to remembering. Not necessarily on their ‘lineage’ to survivor parents, grandparents and so on.

The degree of commitment, gauged by willingness to physically, psychologically and spiritually walk the Sacred Grounds, to make the links personally may well define the future generations.

In the words of Imre Kertész’s Nobel Lecture (2002), spoke of his ‘need to step out of the mesmerizing crowd, out of History, which renders you faceless and fateless. To my horror, I realized that ten years after I had returned from the Nazi concentration camps, and halfway still under the awful spell of Stalinist terror, all that remained of the whole experience were a few muddled impressions, a few anecdotes. Like it didn’t even happen to me, as people are wont to say. ’ (www. )

Such is the fate of traumatic memory, the legacy of extreme trauma.

Now, if that is what can happen to a child survivor, after a short ten years, no wonder that movements like March of the Living, ceremonies that memorialize, interactive museums at Yad Vashem, Washington, and others, the Visual History Foundation preserving over 50,000 testimonies, they all confront us and future generations; force us to step out of the mesmerizing crowd, out of history; to stand up and be counted; to transmit the ‘miry depths of this consciousness’ as Kertész observes: to cross that uncrossable barrier.

What he ‘discovered in Auschwitz is the human condition, the end point of a great adventure, where the European traveler arrived after his two-thousand-year–old moral and cultural history.’

Personal Links

Two years ago, 2001, I discovered my link to that history during my pilgrimage to Auschwitz. I discovered the difference between words, stories, pictures, movies and Being There. I discovered the power of direct contact when I walked into 3b…the address of the barrack where my mother, who is here in the audience, lived. It was where Alice Halasz (nee Klein) lived, it was her address during 1945.

She was there, I was there, we were there. A link in the chain of Jewish history.

So I return to the question: why GO THERE? Where? To that place of mire, we try to avoid and yet, we answer a deeper call, to return to the scene of that Crime.

Going There is just one part of the March of the Living.

There is of course a bigger journey. The eternal journal. The Journey from exile to redemption. The Journey that ends in Israel. And so, fittingly, the March of the Living completes its journey as it arrives in Israel. We join the eternal journey of our Forefathers. We complete a Sacred March, the March of the Living.

To achieve this, we are privileged to have a leader like Sue Hampel, whose vision is now a reality, a reality that has transformed the consciousness of our community, our students, the link between the survivor and future generations.

I ask that we all support Sue’s vision, and accept her invitation to become Friends of the March of the Living.

by Dr. George Halasz (2nd March 2003)

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