2018-04-25 / Columns

On the ‘March of the Living’ and the power of memory

Jewish Federation CEO

Our Jewish Federation March of the Living mission started in Poland, where we toured three concentration camps. The first, Majdanek, remains much as it was when the camp was liberated. We walked through the site, in and out of the bunkers. We went through the gas chamber, and I could see how it happened in my mind: Manipulated people walking through actual showers, convinced they were going to get “clean.” And then moving them through to another room, where the killer gas flooded the lungs of all who entered. As we left the gas chamber, I noticed a butterfly and was reminded of the lives that were not free, of those taken from our world.

The following day we toured both Birkenau and Auschwitz. Walking up to Birkenau, we came to the train tracks that we all had viewed so many times in pictures. Much of this place, where so many were sent to their deaths, had been destroyed. But the train tracks leading to the death camp still remain.

The graffiti butterfly in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, Germany. The graffiti butterfly in the Jewish quarter of Berlin, Germany. Auschwitz was preserved like a museum.

The bunkers housed different exhibits, all horrific and shocking. The ground, dirt with rocks embedded, made it easy to lose my footing. I imagined those who were so weak falling to their demise as I navigated the paths they took. Walking out of Auschwitz, I saw a single butterfly flutter past.

Before we set out for Germany, we participated in The March of the Living—tens of thousands of people from all over the world walked out of Auschwitz and down the road into Birkenau.

My youngest daughter, Emma, also participated with five other teens from our community on the BBYO March of the Living experience. When we got through the march, Emma, my stepmother Rande Dubrow, and I sat together in front of the gas chamber and crematorium. It was with my arm around Emma, and with a grandmother on her other side that my tears began to stream. How lucky was I to hold my child when in this exact spot so many women had their children ripped from their arms and sent to their deaths. And as I sat there with my family, I saw another butterfly.

Poland and the march filled me with such emotion, that I was afraid of what I would find in Berlin, Germany. My experience in Berlin, however, blew me away with memorials (beautiful testimonies) to the atrocities their people committed throughout the city. They “own” what they did. However, they do not “apologize,” as they fear apologizing would then put it behind them, and they would forget what took place. Instead, they constantly recognize their part in it.

The Holocaust memorial was a full city block, made up of 2,711 concrete pieces meant for exploration and reflection. We walked by hundreds of stumbling blocks, each a brass reminder, inscribed with the names and histories of Jews who were sent to their deaths. We walked down a street completely covered in the most amazing graffiti. And then I saw it. A big, colorful butterfly painted on a wall, residing on the same street as a beautiful painting of Anne Frank.

I unexpectedly fell in love with the city of Berlin and all it offers in acknowledging the atrocities committed. As I sit here, traveling on a five-hour bus trip from Berlin, Germany to Prague in the Czech Republic, I am so very grateful for the time I have spent in Europe thus far. We are all so very fortunate to bear witness and say, “never again.”

Find out what Prague had to offer in the next issue of the Voice. s jweiss@jfedsnj.org

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