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March of the Living

Reminder of ‘lives and futures lost, stolen and trampled, but not forgotten’    

20140427_160704The year 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Hungarian Jewish community to the Nazi killing camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The gravity of this passage of time was clear- ly evident in Budapest, Hungary on April 27. Under the banner of the March of the Living Foundation in Hungary, approxi- mately 30,000 people marched from the banks of the Danube through the main street of Budapest to the railway station, in replication of the 1944 Death March and in remembrance of the more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were led to the trains that fed the flames in Auschwitz- Birkenau. In a span of 10 weeks, Adolf Eichmann oversaw the speediest and most brutally efficient extermination of the Jewish people recorded during the Shoah.

As I was privileged to be among those 20140427_172433gathered in Budapest, listening to the chanting of Chazzan Shimon Farkas, Cantor of the Central Synagogue in Sydney, Australia, I was reminded of the lives and futures lost, stolen and trampled, but not forgotten.

Following the formal ceremonies, a delegation of Hungarian Jews boarded the train for the historic overnight journey to Oswiecem, Poland, following the same route as the “death train” of 1944.

Upon arrival the following morning, on Yom Hashoah, the delegation continued on to Auschwitz to participate in the 2014 March of the Living, where approximately 12,000 survivors, adults, students, dignitaries and organizational representatives from 42 countries around the globe convened to pay tribute to those who perished and honor those who survived. The Hungarian delegation dedicated their participation to their fellow countrymen who comprised a third of all those murdered in Auschwitz.

Since 1988, the March of the Living has annually been led by former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, accompanied by various dignitaries.

Each year the official procession- al of the March of the Living commences under the sign of Arbeit Macht Frei with the sounding of shofarim. Following the 3.2-kilometer path of the death march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, those assembled walked in dignity, remembering the past and recommitting themselves to building a strong future for Israel and the Jewish people.

In commemoration of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry in the final year of World War II, Hon. Janos Ader, the President of Hungary, took to the podium and clearly pronounced that he believed that a government’s primary obligation is to defend and protect its citizens and that Hungary had failed to protect its Jewish citizens. In a remarkable display of leadership and commitment to righting history, President Ader delivered a most eloquent and straightforward address, believed by this writer and many others to be one of the most poignant public statements accepting responsibility for the actions of his country during the Holocaust.

20140428_142448During his annual address to the March of the Living, Rabbi Lau, speaking from his own personal experience as a survivor of Auschwitz, reminded those present of the importance of remembering our proud ancient heritage and our responsibility to protect and preserve the legacy of that heritage for generations to come.

Chief Justice Grunis of the Supreme Court of Israel, accompanied by eight Supreme Court justices, marched alongside Rabbi Lau, Israeli Chief of Police Yochanon Danino, and other leaders including philanthropist Leonordo Farkas, carrying a newly scribed Torah, the final letters penned during the formal ceremonies at Birkenau. The Torah has been brought to Jerusalem, where it was again carried, but this time through the streets of Jerusalem from Safra Square to the Kotel during the March of the Living processional on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The lives of the participants on the 2014 March of the Living will have been changed forever by their experiences: listening to survivors, visiting the sites of this dark chapter in world history, gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of the meaning of human dignity and the important role they can play in ensuring a better world for all mankind.

*Editorial original published in The JEWISH TRIBUNE • May 9-15, 2014

Copyright © 2014 · Richard D. Heideman. All Rights Reserved.