Knowing that the enemies of the Jewish people did not distinguish between Jews — affiliated or assimilated, religious or secular, citizen or immigrant — will give pause to those searching to expose cultural or political distinctions today.
The Jews who went through Auschwitz and the other death camps were assigned numbers, instead of names and stories. In retelling the horrors of the Holocaust, we see clearly that each individual Jew alive or deceased possesses his or her own name and complex story. Yet standing in the largest Jewish graveyard — one without even a single headstone — instills in oneself that each and every Jew is part of a greater collective that must transcend any individuality or any inherent distinctions between one Jew and another, or any “type” of Jew and another.
Delegations to the March are proud to join together from communities all around the world in a single place on a single day. Each comes with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations, but all join in with a common purpose — to march on a single route and to reach a single conclusion: Am Yisrael Chai, “The Jewish people lives.”
In one of the most visceral locations in entire world — the site where hell met earth for a moment in history — the March of the Living does not impress feelings of depression upon its participants. Quite the opposite. The commemoration of our all-too-recent history, our young together with our old, gives not only hope for the future, but great confidence in the present. The march deeply conveys a current reality: That out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the Jewish people are once again a thriving and productive people with large and dynamic communities across the world. Furthermore, and more importantly, the State of Israel, born just three years after the conclusion of World War II, is now transitioning into its rightful place as a global superpower and a light unto the nations.
Participants get the clear sense that the State of Israel now serves as the largest concentration of Jews anywhere, with numbers greater than the numbers of Jews who perished during the Second World War. Also understood is the necessary reality that one of the primary functions of the Jewish state is to serve as a guarantee — together with its powerful and agile Israel Defense Forces — that attempts to perpetrate mass crimes against our people will be met with resounding force.
The IDF similarly breaks barriers of division between Jews. When in battle, fighting for the safety and survival of the Jewish nation, political and religious distinctions must and do melt away.
The organizers of the March, particularly Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the International March of the Living, and Phyllis Heideman, organization president, are to be commended for their consistent effort, year after year, to bring greater numbers to commemorate those lost in the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah. It provides a powerful experience that leaves an imprint as deep and permanent as the numbers tattooed on to all those who entered these camps.
Take it from one who now knows: Attending this year’s march for the first time, as a third-generation descendant of Polish Holocaust survivors, ranks as one of the most powerful experiences of my life — on the same level as my wedding day and the births of my children. For those who have yet to attend, it is an experience you will never forget.
Alex Traiman is managing director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of Jewish News Syndicate.