From Auschwitz to Birkenau, A Message of Solidarity

March of the Living (Joel Pollak / Breitbart News)
Joel Pollak / Breitbart News

BIRKENAU, Poland — President Reuvin Rivlin of Israel and President Andrzej Duda of Poland led 15,000 participants in the 30th annual March of the Living along the road from Auschwitz to Birkenau in a striking gesture of solidarity between the two nations.

The leaders marched together along the three-kilometer stretch, alongside Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau — himself a Holocaust survivor, liberated by the Americans at Buchenwald.

In the weeks leading up to the march, debates raged over a new Polish law that makes it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in the Holocaust. Jewish leaders and the Israeli government criticized the measure.

As Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, told Breitbart News during the march, “You can’t change history. Some Poles saved Jews, some did nothing, and some collaborated.”

But Danon, like his government, was also quick to stress the ties that bind the two nations together. He emphasized the strong relations between the two countries at the United Nations, where Poland often votes in support of Israel.

Along the route, the two heads of state spoke frequently, together with Rabbi Lau.

Small crowds gathered along the route, waving Polish and Israeli flags.

One survivor, Edward Mosberg, carried a Polish flag — a deliberate choice, his family said, to emphasize that Poles had also suffered in the concentration camps.

The marchers came from dozens of countries, including some with no sizable Jewish population, like Japan.

“It’s something I wanted to do all my life,” said Karine Carmona, 41, of Montevideo, Uruguay.

The marchers finally reached the entrance to Birkenau, the portal through which so many went to their deaths.

Holocaust survivor Shmuel Bogler, 88, told Breitbart News that he was participating in his third March of the Living.

During the Second World War, he was taken to Auschwitz from Hungary, then later transferred to a work camp and survived a death march across two months and five days until reaching Buchenwald, where he was later liberated.

At the end of the march, participants held a formal memorial ceremony in the plaza that lies between two of Buchenwald’s demolished crematoria.

Mosberg told the assembled marchers that each of them was now a witness to what had happened there, nearly a lifetime ago.

Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the March of the Living, challenged those present to turn “tears into action,” declaring: “We must stand up and oppose evil, racism, and discrimination.”

It fell to President Rivlin to tackle the controversy with Poland. Addressing President Duda, he said (in Hebrew): “It was not the Poles who created the death camps, but our people were not just killed in camps,” alluding to anti-Jewish pogroms in some Polish towns that occurred even after the war. He noted that Nazism would not have succeeded in Europe had antisemitism not created the “fertile ground” for the war’s atrocities.

President Duda responded by stressing Poland’s historical warmth toward Jews. He noted that the nearby town for which the concentration camp was named, Osweicim, was once a place where Jews and Poles lived together. Jews had also sought refuge in Poland from persecution elsewhere. It was Nazi Germany, he said, that imposed the system of ghettos and camps. And many Poles helped rescue Jews, and tried to warn the world about the Holocaust.

Today, Duda said, it was Poland’s mission to spread the truth about the Holocaust throughout the world.

Rabbi Lau had the last word. He thanked the Polish government for helping organize the March for the past 30 years, but also said that the Polish people would have to find out the truth about the collaboration of some Poles in the Holocaust, sooner rather than later.

Poles had been the “greatest nation” in helping Jews during the Holocaust, he said. “We will never deny it! But we want you not to deny other things.”

The day concluded with the singing of traditional Jewish prayers for the dead, and the singing of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named to Forward’s 50 “most influential” Jews in 2017. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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