By Phyllis Greenberg Heideman
As I reflect on my first March of the Living, I recall the eerie sensation of slowly walking into Auschwitz and timidly passing under the sign Arbeit Macht Frei… followed by the overwhelming sensation of walking back out. Back and forth I moved in and out of the most infamous of all concentration camps. Freely and defiantly, unlike my ancestors.
With each of the six million lives so brutally taken from the Jewish People during the Holocaust on my mind and in my heart, I think “Hineni… I am here.” I have come to remember you. And I am only one of many who have traveled from far and near to remember the past as together we face the future.
Each year, as I walk among the thousands of March of the Living participants, I remember that first visit and I become increasingly aware of the importance of this journey on the lives of those who touch that soil, who walk those paths and who come to understand the relevance of that time in history to their lives today.
As we travel from site to site in Poland and on Yom HaShoah march together from Auschwitz to Birkenau, I have the sensation that we are a moving sea of humanity with a common purpose. We have come together as a People. Our presence is visible. Our message of commitment to the Jewish People is clear. Our blue jackets emblazoned with a Magen David leave an indelible mark on all who see us, but more importantly perhaps, on each individual marcher. We believe in who we are and what we represent. We learn the lessons of the Holocaust and dedicate ourselves to helping preserve the memory of the past as we work to ensure the future.
I have seen tears, I have heard laughter, I have seen awe and I have observed shock in the eyes of countless participants – teens and adults alike – as recognition and understanding of the tyrannical reality faced by our ancestors becomes unavoidable. The coming together of these emotions strengthens awareness and commitment like no other experience.
By participating in the March of the Living, each of us becomes witness of the witnesses. Some consider this a burden. Most consider this a privilege.
I count myself among the latter.
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman
Chair, March of the Living International Advisory Board