This year, I had the privilege of accompanying roughly 200 Jewish teenagers and six Holocaust survivors on an incredible two-week journey to Poland and Israel as a staff member for the Los Angeles delegation of March of the Living (MOTL). The March of the Living is an annual educational trip that brings together student delegations from all over the world to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance, and hate. The trip centers around two incredible marches that take place in Poland and in Israel. People often ask me why I continue to staff the March of the Living trip year after year. The answer is simple: to bear witness, to gain perspective, and to help facilitate this incredible experience for Jewish teens.
Our week in Poland began with a silent march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the same “death march” walked by prisoners between two of the most horrific concentration/extermination camps. Along with thousands of Jews and Holocaust survivors from across the globe, we stood at the gates of Auschwitz and walked out under the famous words of “Arbeit Macht Frei,”which translates to: “Work will set you free.” We marched. We marched for life and we marched to never forget those who perished–those who never had the chance to walk out under those words. Throughout our journey, we were constantly reminded that the Holocaust is not a story of 6 million, but a story of 1+1+1 until you arrive at the incomprehensible number of 6 million. One father, one wife, one sister, one friend. Each individual victim of the Holocaust had a name, a family, a personality, and a future that was cut short.
My day-to-day struggles and frustrations seem trivial after watching Sedonia Lax stand in her barrack at Auschwitz and tell her story of survival, or listening to Gabriella Karin speak about life as a child hiding in a tiny room for 9 months not being able to speak. Year after year Gabriella tells us, “They can take away your money, they can take away your home, and they can even take away the clothes off your back. But they can never take away what is in your head. So put good things in it.” We are now the living, breathing witnesses of the atrocities of the Holocaust and as a part of the March of the Living family, it is my responsibility to not only never forget, but to pass on the testimonies that I have been privileged to hear firsthand.
A student on the trip posed the question, “Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?” We are the light at the end of the tunnel. As a group of over 200 Jews from Los Angeles, we walked out of the gas chamber in Auschwitz and did what millions could only dream of: we flew to Israel. On Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, we sang and danced through the streets of Jerusalem to the Kotel and completed our second march for life. We stood together as a global Jewish family singing one song in unison, “Am Yisrael Chai,” “the people of Israel live.” I am proud to be a part of the MOTL Family and I will continue to remember, to educate, and to act.
Roxanna Donay is a Program Assistant for the Federation’s Birthright Israel Experience. This was her 3rd time staffing March of the Living. For more information about March of the Living, visit http://motl.org/
The Jewish Federation is a funding partner of March of the Living and in Los Angeles the program is run by Builders of Jewish Education (BJE). For more information on BJE’s March of the Living Experience, visit https://www.bjela.org/bjeMOTL.