March of the Living Testimonies

Witnesses in Uniform – Dor Kwiatek:
I got the opportunity twice to be on the trip to Poland, once during high school from Israel as we go from most schools in 11th grade and the second time during my service in the IDF. The Israeli Defense Force doesn’t just teach its soldiers their professional jobs but also puts a lot of emphasis on education and moral values. As part of my Company Commander course we departed along with a Holocaust survivor from Israel in uniform to Poland. Where the phrase “Never Again!” accompanied us the whole way there and back. The Jewish nation that was once at the mercy of others will no longer stand aside and let its fate be decided by violent haters. Now, with the strength of the Israeli State and Army, we will stand for our right to live in peace and will defend any Jewish community that will be threatened.

 

My Poland Experience – Ilana Shtivelman:
Almost two years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Poland to learn more about and to witness firsthand the remains of one of the saddest, most evil chapters of the history of the world. It was the most life changing experience, and to this day it remains indescribable, and I will forever feel numbed by it. I cannot even imagine the strength, perseverance, and hope people had to hold on to in order to survive. I will carry my Poland experience and newfound life perspectives with me forever, for my future family, for myself, and most importantly, for the millions of innocent souls who were brutally murdered.
I remember standing in front of the infamous Auschwitz gates, which state “Work Makes You Free”, and thinking how quaint the little “community” I was about to enter looked. Thinking, that the only thing that separated this from, let’s say a university campus, was the horrors that occurred on the premise over 70 years ago. I will never forget the feeling- a burst of anger, devastation, despair, but also pride and determination- I had, while holding an Israeli flag at the entrance of a place that merely 70 years ago, was a death sentence to my people. I, along with millions of others, am living proof that we survived, we persevered, we have hope, and we will live on to honor all those who were murdered. We will live on for them, we will be happy, and we will ensure that history never repeats itself. Their heroism and sacrifice wasn’t for nothing- we are here today, and that means something. We keep saying “Never again”, yet humans keep destroying each other in the most inhuman ways. We have over 6,000,000 reasons to change our world for the better, to stop the hatred and the indifference, and to start caring about one another. We must remember what happened always, not only once a year, because it is our obligation to those who lost their lives at the hand of unimaginable evil, and to those who will hopefully never know the power of such evil. We must ALWAYS remember and make sure it never happens again. “Our obligation is to give meaning to life and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life. ” – Elie Wiesel

 

March of the Living – Steph Erdman

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My experience on the 2014 march of the living trip was one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I explicitly remember celebrating my 17th birthday on April 29th in Treblinka — an extermination camp built and occupied by Nazi Germany. I remember our tour guide telling us the majority of children didn’t live to see their 13th birthdays. Hearing that, I remember the sudden rush of emotion I had. I was standing in a concentration camp, celebrating my 17th birthday as a Jewish girl. It was hard to fathom that only time separated me from the holocaust. I felt extremely proud, yet overwhelmed by emotion. This is my most distinct and vivid memory from the trip, that will stick with me forever.

 

March of the Living – Matthew Cohn:
I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the March of the Living in April 2014, spending two weeks with thousands of other students in Poland and Israel. The ability to see and feel the camps, fields, villages and ghettos where so many millions of Jews were murdered changed my perception of the Holocaust from that of historical understanding to that of a witness; transforming vague concepts that I had read or heard of into memories that I will never be able to forget. The experience of not only hearing from Holocaust survivors, but spending time with them and learning from them, showed me the resiliency of these individuals and the Jewish people. When we traveled to Israel after a week as witnesses to evil, the spirit of Jewish rebirth was palpable, as was the importance of ensuring a future in which the atrocities of the Holocaust are never forgotten.

 

My Holocaust Connections – Ilana Shtivelman:
I always knew, and now remember, my great grandmother- Mana Pisorevsky- for her kindness and warmth, and for our ice cream dates. She passed away when she was in her late 77, and I was merely a child. She lived a happy life, filled with love, laughter, children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren!
 But her story didn’t start out this way- rather, it was quite the opposite. My great grandmother, born in 1923, was originally from Moldova. In 1942, the Romanians had invaded, pushing the Jews out of their homes in Moldova. As a result, she was placed in a ghetto with her entire family (her parents and her 4 siblings) in Bagdavanka, a village in Ukraine. She was 19 years old at the time, and every few days she would sneak out of the ghetto with her older sister, to steal food for their family from a nearby farm. One day, her sister got paranoid and refused to leave her family. My great grandmother had no choice but to get the food anyway, otherwise her family would starve. And so, she snuck out that day, as she had before…and that ended up saving her life. Upon her return to the ghetto, as she was approaching it, she saw the Nazi soldiers lining up everyone in the ghetto, and shooting them one by one. She watched as her entire family was being shot in front of her. Upon this horror, she ran away as far and fast as she could, until she eventually ran into an underground partisan party in a forest. From then on and until the end of the war, she stayed with them, and helped in their counter Nazi efforts, by intercepting and translating documents from the Germans, and creating anti-German propaganda in the multiple languages that she spoke (Russian, Romanian, among others). Almost half a century later, she made Aliyah (immigrated) to Israel with her family in 1991. She received medals for her service (both from the former Soviet Union, and from Israel) and lived to be an incredible and resilient woman, mother, grandmother, and my great-grandmother.

 

March of the Living – Maddie Elman
Two years ago, I was fortunate to go on the March of the Living. It was an experience I will never forget. I was able to spend a week in Poland as well as a week in Israel. It was truly a trip of a life time and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go on it. Although it was super hard and very emotionally challenging, I am incredibly proud of the opportunity I got. Since going on the trip, I feel much closer to my ancestors. I also felt very fortunate to go on this trip because I was able to be with multiple holocaust survivors. I was able to hear their stories and that makes me able to testify and pass the stories along so that something like this never happens again.

 

March of the Living – Jesse Wolfsohn
The March of Living was an extremely informative and educational experience in my life. We were accompanied by two child survivors, Max Iland and Lillian Nemetz-Borks, who were in hiding during the War. We saw the train station where Max’s mother and brother were taken away. We had the opportunity to visit the house where Lillian was hidden during the War, where she explained her experience and the abuses she faced. A specific memory that pierces my mind like a knife was when we visited Tykochin and its surrounding forest. This was the site where an entire community of Jewish people were murdered. I remember hearing about how the killers were provided with alcohol so that they would not be traumatized by what they had done, and how they would go home to tuck their own children into bed after murdering others. I looked at Max, and immediately hugged him, and we both started crying. I hugged Gaby Scarowsky, my mentor and trip leader. I thought of stories from my father about relatives who had lived in Lithuania and had suffered the same fate, never leaving because they believed the Messiah would save them. Throughout the rest of this journey, we visited numerous concentration camps, most infamously, Auschwitz-Birkenau. I carried a photo of my grandfather’s parents—the only photo of them that still exists—with me the entire time. Throughout the actual march, I envisioned my grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, walking with his arm around me, telling me that he was proud of me for going on this journey.
Something that stuck out to me was the normalness associated with these camps. There was a man riding a red bike, a father with a child on his shoulders, and frogs croaking in pools used to dump ashes. It was hard for me to come to terms with this, but eventually I realized that despite horrors, everyday life must carry on. Additionally, when studying the Holocaust, it is important to understand the life to understand the destruction. The victims were so much more than individuals who were persecuted by the Nazis. These were mothers, newly-engaged couples, doctors, Rabbis, musicians and the like. These were people who had dreams, passions and plans for the future. It should be these attributes that define who they were; they should not be defined merely by the fate they suffered. In Israel, Max, who had never had a bar mitzvah due to being hidden during the Holocaust, finally had his bar mitzvah with us at Masada. I had an Aliyah, and there was a film crew from March of the Living Canada recording this emotional event. With the above mentioned in mind, I have learned that despite horrors and struggles that one may encounter, it is important to be able to carry on with life. If we can carry on with our values, we can continue to be who we are as individuals. As is found in the Talmud, forgetting where we came from and who we are in our cores is akin to forgetting what our right hand does. As tzedekah—charity—is an inherent value in Judaism, Hillel has decided to incorporate a can and sock drive into our Holocaust Education-based Shabbat dinner. I believe that continuing to help those in need will allow us to continue to maintain who we are as Jewish people at our cores, thus showing that we have not been defeated.

 

My Experience On The March Of The Living – Ashira Prizant
When I first arrived in Poland, I was shocked to see the country wasn’t just in black in white. In my mind, I had a picture of the country that looked like the history books- black and white, bleak, mournful. The countryside was beautiful, and life looked pretty much the same there as it did here. And I think that’s what truly chilled me to the bone. During the Holocaust, people went about their everyday life while they watched others be marginalized, ridiculed, suffer and systematically exterminated. Normal people, like you and I not only thought this was ok, but caused it to happen. This is the unfortunate capacity of the human being. On the other hand, we know so many people risked their lives to save someone they weren’t related to, and hid them in their basement, their walls and businesses; who wrote them visas, or smuggled them out of the country. At the same time that the worst of humanity was engaged in the destruction of lives, the best of humanity shone through the many who acknowledged the value of human life, equally, and were determined to do the right thing. In Jewish tradition, we are taught in the Talmud “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Yerushalmi Talmud 4:9, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a) In the Holocaust, so many worlds were destroyed because of hatred and the oppression of the “other”. We can’t even imagine now how many world changing philosophers, musicians, artists, physicians, researchers, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons were lost to our existence. As I stood in Auschwitz with the survivor who accompanied my bus, he told a story about a time he had just one piece of bread and someone begged him to share it. He needed that bread to save his own life, and he couldn’t bare to give it up. I stood there watching a 70 year old man cry about this incident decades later. He had never forgotten what happened that day, never forgotten what it felt like to be stripped of his own humanity- the underlying tragedy of the Holocaust. May we always be blessed to have our humanity, and never take it away from anyone else. May we never forget.

 

 

Blessed is the match consumed in the kindling flame.

Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart’s secret places.

Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake.

Blessed is the match consumed in the kindling flame

-Hannah Szenes