Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

Reflections on taking part in March of the Living 2023

In April, five Regional Ambassadors flew to Poland to take part in March of the Living, an incredibly moving event where people from all over the world join Holocaust survivors in marching from Auschwitz I to Birkenau, in celebration of life. As part of the five day educational journey across Poland, the Regional Ambassadors visited a number of Holocaust sites including former concentration camps, the former Krakow and Warsaw ghettos, and mass graves, as well as synagogues and Jewish cemeteries that survived the war.

The March of the Living is an emotional but equally invaluable experience. Below, the Regional Ambassadors have each expressed their reflections on the experience.

Lucy J’s Reflection

Inside of the Temple Synagogue, Kraków

A memorable part of the trip for me was learning more about pre-war Jewish life and culture and the history of Poland more broadly. Although I had some prior knowledge about these topics, spending time in Krakow and Warsaw really helped to contextualise the extent of loss of life during the Holocaust. Whilst parts of the trip were inevitably challenging and difficult, we also had the chance to sing and dance in synagogues, celebrate the Jewish community, and to learn from one another.

Hearing from Jewish students about their own experiences was another highlight of the trip, and something I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to do. These conversations have made me reflect deeply about the ways we can continue to show support and solidarity, especially on our university campuses

Attending the March itself was indescribable. We had visited Auschwitz the day before, and the contrast in atmosphere was at first a little jarring. However, this quickly went away, and to march behind Holocaust survivors and the Jewish community in solidarity and defiance was a really empowering moment.

We had just a few days in Poland, but I will carry the memories I made with me forever. I have returned from the trip feeling even more determined and motivated to tackle Holocaust denial and distortion, and attending March of the Living has reaffirmed the value and importance of bearing witness and listening to survivor testimony. It was an honour to attend with four other amazing Regional Ambassadors, and I am extremely grateful for their conversations and support before, during and after the trip.

Zoe's Reflection

Monument in the former concentration camp Majdanek

Our generation often overuses phrases such as ‘journey’ and ‘life-changing’, but March of the Living is truly an incredible and unforgettable journey that has without doubt changed my outlook on life and humanity. It will stay with me forever.

To be one of more than 10,000 people from all around the world, of all ages and all walks of life, to march 3.5 km from Auschwitz I to Birkenau side by side with Holocaust Survivors to mark Yom HaShoah, was unforgettable and uplifting. We marched in solidarity, in celebration of life and with determination and resolve in our hearts that the horrors of the Holocaust will never be forgotten.

It is impossible for your view of humanity not to change. I stood in a forest in Tarnów, Zbylitowska Góra, and learnt that 800 Jewish children were murdered there by the Nazis. I saw the mound of ashes and remains of cremated victims in Majdanek collected after liberation of the camp in 1944. There are simply no words to describe this inhumanity.

I will never forget March of the Living. To share this experience with Holocaust survivors Harry Olmer MBE, Alfred Garwood, Mala Tribich MBE, Eve Kugler BEM, Barbara Frankiss, Arek Hersh MBE and Agnes Kaposi MBE, as well as second, third and fourth generation survivors, made this journey even more meaningful and memorable. I am in awe of their courage and compassion. Their strength and determination to share their testimonies to ensure we never forget is an inspiration. We are the last generation who will have the opportunity to hear first-hand from Holocaust Survivors so each and every opportunity is precious. The words of Elie Wiesel ring so true; “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness”.

Lucy D's Reflection

The start of the March

The real privilege of attending March of the Living 2023 was the ability to march through the gates of Auschwitz alongside Holocaust survivors. Their courage and bravery in not only sharing their testimonies but revisiting the sites in which such atrocities took place is my greatest take away from this experience.

Hearing the testimony of 94-year-old Holocaust Survivor Arek Hersh whilst standing in a barrack at Birkenau was a truly remarkable moment. The March of the Living felt like an act of resistance by survivors, walking freely out of the gates of Auschwitz I, arm in arm with their children and grandchildren in proof that the Nazis and their collaborators failed, and the Jewish people are still here and thriving. I am honoured to have borne witness to the stories of the victims and survivors and to carry forward the torch of remembrance.

Max's Reflection

The group outside Remus synagogue

We were joined on our bus by our educator, Rabbi Gideon. I found his style of teaching to be insightful, with strong emphasis on the power of testimony to humanise the Holocaust. He encouraged healthy discussion and debate that challenged me both philosophically and spiritually. I was able to further my knowledge of the Holocaust and see new perspectives.

Being alongside predominantly Jewish students allowed me to better understand Jewish identity and culture. I was initially apprehensive about being one of the few non-Jewish students on the bus, but I was made to feel welcome and accepted. I had riveting conversations with the Jewish students, both orthodox and secular, about what their faith, culture, and Anglo-Jewish identity means to them.

In the evening of each day, we had processing sessions. One evening, the group shared their experiences of antisemitism at university and, despite being well-aware of statistics concerning antisemitism on campus, I found myself to be quite upset that my new peers had to endure this.

The trip was defined by stark juxtaposition; at times, the experience was naturally upsetting and intense for me, particularly when we visited the mass grave of Jewish children in the forest near the village of Zbylitowska Góra. Only a few hours later, our group gleefully danced and sang in a synagogue, reigniting life into the centre of a once thriving Jewish community.

I naively believed I was quite well-versed about the Holocaust before March of the Living, but the trip made me realise that we as Ambassadors can and should always pursue a greater understanding of the Holocaust. In doing this, we can ensure that something similar never happens again.

It was an utmost privilege to represent the Trust on the March of the Living trip. We each took so much from the experience and we have all been inspired to continue to further our understanding of the Holocaust and its contemporary relevance, and to combat antisemitism and other forms of racism wherever we see it.