On December 18, 2022, twenty-five college students boarded a plane to Warsaw, Poland, connected by their commitment to participate in March of the Living and learn about the Holocaust. The trip was several years in the making, first delayed by a worldwide pandemic and then the war in Ukraine.
This trip was personal
March of the Living is an act of commemoration; a demonstration that the deaths of six million Jews and millions of other innocent victims are remembered. The South Palm Beach County delegation shared testimony on behalf of our local survivors, speaking about them during visits to poignant places: reciting Kaddish (the Mourner’s Prayer) at a cemetery in Lodz, where the grandmother of a child survivor was buried before the war; and speaking about a survivor of Majdanek concentration camp outside the barracks where he slept. Bundled up against the cold, the students could not help but reflect on the fact that those encamped had nothing to wear but pajamas…a brief glimpse into how brutal circumstances were for those in the camps.
Together, the group visited museums and memorials in Warsaw dedicated to larger than life heroes. In Lodz, they paid their respects to previous generations at the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe. In Krakow, the students traveled to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, witnessing the horrors of the Shoah; and were inspired by the thriving JCC of Krakow and the Jewish community they serve. Visiting other towns and villages, they learned of the rich cultural and religious lives of Polish Jews prior to WW2.
There were undeniably bright spots in this most serious of travel endeavors, too, including spending the last night of Hanukkah with Jewish Ukrainian children, celebrating in a way new to them.
An unforgettable encounter
The itinerary underscored the overwhelming loss of life, business, culture, education, and the rich Jewish heritage that existed before Hitler came to power. Participants came back forever changed.
“Wrapping tefillin in Majdanek, there was a feeling I have never felt before,” said Aaron B. “I thought it was a feeling of extreme sadness, but…realized it was the strong feeling of being proud to be Jewish. It was an extremely emotional moment. Since that moment I have put tefillin on…and I haven’t felt prouder of being Jewish. That day on the March will be a day I will never forget.”
“I felt an extra strong and powerful connection to our Jewish culture and its history. To me, the most important part of our trip was our visit to Treblinka,” said Gaya A. “That’s the place where I feel as though I was fully able to release my emotions and really feel everything that was bottled up inside. To have the opportunity to walk away from those terrible places, as so many of our people could not, really gave me a new perspective on life and what it means to be Jewish.”