Hungary’s president addressed more than 11,000 March of the Living participants at Auschwitz on Sunday, writes Sophie Eastaugh.
As well as marking Yom HaShoah, this year’s ceremony honoured the 70th anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry. The Nazis murdered an estimated 500,000 Hungarian Jews in the last year of the war – three quarters of the country’s Jewish population – a vast number of which were sent to Auschwitz.
In a moving speech, Janos Ader described the concentration camp as “Hungary’s largest cemetery”. He also reflected on how his country had not only failed to reject the Nazis “evil scheme”, but was ready to assist it.
“Those that humiliated our Jewish compatriots and sent them to their death also humiliated the Hungarian nation,” he emphasised. “There is no forgiveness for a state turning against its own citizens.”
Representatives of 54 countries participated in the three-kilometre march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, including delegations from Brazil, Poland, Australia, Germany and South Africa.
A group of 204 young British Jews attended from the UK, in a week-long visit that included visits to the ghettos and camps surrounding Warsaw and Krakow, as well as tours of Poland’s rich Jewish heritage. Seven Holocaust survivors accompanied the UK group.
Hungarian survivor Ivor Perl returned to Auschwitz with the UK delegation for the first time since he was led on a death march in 1944, aged 12. He said of the ceremony, “It was very fitting and satisfying. I feel as if I have been reborn – a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”
Organised by March of the Living UK, the British delegation included members from across the spectrum of UK Jewish youth organisations, including the Federation of Zionist Youth, BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization), RSY-Netzer, LJY-Netzer, Habonim and Tzofim.
Scott Saunders, who founded the UK’s March of the Living UK group in 2010 said, “It’s very important for all young people to come here, to visit sites which are rich with Jewish history, not just death camps. It’s a message of how strong communities were, and how strong we need to keep them. You can’t just read it in a history book.”
Sarah Grabiner, 22, a movement worker for RSY-Netzer said, “Learning about the Holocaust with amazing educators has really inspired us all to learn from this experience and the events of history. We’re so committed to never letting this memory be forgotten.”
Since the March of the Living’s foundation in 1988, some 200,000 young Jews have marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau in honour of the victims.
Abby-Jo Sheldon, 21, a fieldworker for Habonim Dror said, “A lot of holocaust education is about making you feel sad. This trip has raised really hard questions, but the focus for the youth movements has been about how can use this experience to help society. Genocide is still going on, so we need education like this to get people to be aware and proactive.”
Eylon Aslan-Levy, an International Relations student at Cambridge University added, “It’s a profoundly moving experience to see a place so synonymous with death heaving with life and Jewish groups that are committed to continuing Jewish tradition and heritage.”