This trip has been full of emotions: ones that made us laugh and ones that made us cry, ones that made us angry and ones that made us lose the ability to feel completely. Today, however, we felt an immense pride to be Jewish as we marched as a community. This community, filled with Argentinians, Canadians, Indians, Belgians, Cincinnatians, and many more, marched to remember our shared history. We marched to show that we WILL NOT be silent. We WILL NOT allow a Holocaust ever again. And we WILL remember the lives lost. The most powerful experience of the entire trip thus far for me occurred after the march as we went to sit to watch the ceremony. A Holocaust survivor stood in front of the 15,000 person crowd, draped head to toe in his striped uniform, wearing a bracelet with the number given to him at Auschwitz written across it. He spoke of his family, his sisters, mom, father, each of whom were taken from him and murdered. It can be difficult to comprehend the immensity of the Holocaust, but his one story touched me and made me understand in a way I haven’t before. Each life lost was a person like him, someone with family and friends, history and a future. That moment of understanding reiterated to me why I was there marching. There are countless families and histories that were completely wiped out; I was there to march for those lost families who have no one to march for them. I’m so grateful I was able to experience this along side the people on this trip and Jews from around the world, and I am excited for the many more experiences we will share.
This morning, waking up in our beautiful hotel in the city of Krakow, we were all ecstatic for our day. We left the hotel and walked to the Rama Synagogue and Cemetery. There, we listened to the story of Rabbi Moshe Isserlis and Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman. These rabbis were extremely influential, and were more intelligent than anyone could ever imagine. These men left a lasting impact on the city of Krakow. We left notes on the grave of Rabbi Isserlis because the words in our letters will go straight to god, similar to the Kotel in Israel. After that, we traveled to the Krakow Ghetto wall, where we saw plaque-like structures along the wall of this run-down area. We returned to the hotel, gathered our swag for the March, and went on our way for the hour long drive to Auschwitz. When we arrived, we walked into a sea of people from all around the world. Hearing dozens of different languages, seeing signs of countries I have never heard of, and experiencing something I have never experienced before. As we began the march in the blazing heat, I reunited with tons of friends from around the country, from BBYO, camp, and more. Being around so many Jews at one time made me so happy. We started marching, and I could not believe how many people were there. We walked under the sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” meaning “Work will set you free.” We walked past a group of Korean Christians and Poles, giving out pins and letters of apology. This made me feel very eerie, and extremely weird. As we arrived at Birkenau, in the distance, I saw a sea of blue jackets, more people than I have ever seen in one place. Over 15,000 people were marching and attended the ceremony at Birkenau. We walked atop of the train tracks, and into the enormous ceremony where the President of Israel, the President of Poland, many other leaders and Holocaust survivors spoke. After the ceremony was finished, we walked back on the train tracks, pushed our plaques into the ground, all with a message along the lines of “I march for the 6 million who can’t,” as mine wrote. We took pictures while covered under Israeli flags. I have truly have never felt more proud to be Jewish.