From darkness to light, Jewish teens find growth, understanding and friendship through their time on March of the Living. The International March of the Living is an educational experience that allows individuals to learn from the past atrocities of the Holocaust and inspire participants to stand up to indifference, racism and injustice.
“I originally wasn’t going on this trip, but after talking to my friends, I decided to go on it, and it’s been hands down the most impactful trip I’ve ever been on,” Emma Silverman recounts her time on this year’s March of the Living.
Since the program began in 1988, more than 300,000 people from 50 countries have marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, as a tribute to all the victims of the Holocaust.
“It makes you realize what they went through, step by step,” March of the Living chaperone Rick Lefton said. “These were all experienced by real people with names and families. Through this, we are keeping their stories alive. We were standing on the same railroad that people were on – real people. People who were slaughtered here.”
The experience is personal, but it is shared among the entire group. If the goal is to remember and continue the path to educate others, it is shown in this special bond.
“I don’t think most people in my delegation were prepared to feel the wave of emotions they felt, but we all felt them together, and we were always there for one another, which caused us all to create such a strong and special bond,” Silverman said. “I wasn’t close with many of the kids in my delegation before the trip, but by the end of the trip, it felt like we had all been friends for a lifetime. I will always cherish these special people and hope we can all stay in touch.”
During the trip, the teens felt a myriad of emotions, but they were able to experience them together and lean on each other. Rose Vigran shared a personal testament during her trip as she was taking it all in.
“So far, this trip has not been easy, it has been an emotional rollercoaster. From holding each other walking through Auschwitz to salsa dancing at night,” Vigran said. “This has been a life-changing experience. But beyond that, a bond has been formed with this group. This group is filled with a special group of people that allow each and every one of us to fully take in the moment and realize the horrors that stand before us. We all truthfully connect with each other and allow each other to be ourselves to our fullest. I think that is what makes this experience so special.”
March of the Living chaperone Anne Goldstein also noted that comradery felt among the group, including their tour guide, Peppi.
“These teens might not have had a lot of experience with loss in general,” Goldstein said. “The teens learned to lean on each other. They listened to the stories Peppi shared, and they cried together.”
Because of this trip, Silverman says she has felt connected to Judaism more than ever before. It strengthened her Jewish identity and made her appreciate her religion more because she was able to learn more than what she was taught in school.
“This trip gave me a new understanding of the Holocaust and has given me a new appreciation of life and religion,” Silverman said. “I now fully understand the horrors the Jews had to go through and feel proud that we are still here today.”
Another teen on the trip, Micah Nourie, had a similar experience.
“Throughout my life, I heard about the immense power and weight of this trip through my mom, who chaperoned twice and spoke once at the March,” Nourie said. “I remember the look on her face when she told us about her experiences. Being there myself, walking the same steps that not just she walked, but the millions of our people that were brutally and senselessly murdered walked in, began to truly show me the power of this trip.”
From Poland, the teens flew to Israel to experience what many consider the “light” of the journey. Once there, they traveled the country experiencing Yom Hazikaron, Israel Memorial Day and then celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. This is just one other way to show the perseverance of the Jewish community.
Silverman’s favorite moment was walking through the Kotel or the Western Wall. The Western Wall is in the Old City of Jerusalem and is one of the last remaining walls of the ancient Jewish temple and is one of the holiest sites in Judaism. Thousands of people of all faiths journey to the wall every year to visit and recite prayers.
“I felt proud, empowered, and refreshed, especially after spending a heartbreaking week in Poland. Despite everything the Jews endured in Poland, they persevered,” Silverman said. “Being able to walk with a new generation of Jews in our beautiful country of Israel, was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. To me, this moment felt like our revenge, and that feeling I felt walking through the Kotel is something I will never forget.”
Nourie recommends this trip to anyone considering it. He felt the closeness from being with the group and said it is an experience that he will never forget.
“The fact that the Jewish people still exist to this day could be seen as a miracle. Having a chance to see what remains of what our people went through truly gives you a different perspective,” Nourie said. “Then being able to go to our homeland, our own country, I have never been so proud to be Jewish.”
Even after this experience, the journey continues, and these teens will always remember this incredible time they had. Of course, the main message will live in their hearts forever: We are still here.
“The Holocaust may be over, but antisemitism is still an extremely prominent issue, which is why our strong but powerful community of Jews must be vigilant and educate others about our history and religion to ensure that the Holocaust never happens again,” Silverman said. “Holocaust survivors are dying, and there aren’t many left, so it is up to new generations to educate themselves and others on the Holocaust, so that we never forget this horrific part of history.”