Tali Katz, MOTL Youth Delegation 2016
How does one put the two weeks of March of the Living into words? How does one express the utter pain, tragedy and heartbreak of the week in Poland and the celebration, excitement and energy of the week in Israel?
Coming from the southern tip of Africa, coming into contact with Jews from all around the world is not so common. We interacted with Jews from all over, places where you would never think Jews to live. Yet these Jews were one of the loudest and proudest groups. We don’t share the same cultures from our countries but we have so much more in common. We are all Jewish young adults, we a part of the same religion, we listen to the same music and most importantly, the youth delegations now have the same responsibility to take our lessons that we have learnt over these two weeks and pass them on to the future generations. We became witnesses. We saw that it actually happened. We as the youth have the job to teach so that history will never repeat itself. So that this pain, tragedy and heartbreak will never again be seen.
I learnt. I learnt to live in the moment. I learnt to appreciate what I have. I learnt about our past. I learnt how important it is to teach. I gained knowledge and personal growth that can never be achieved by reading books and watching movies about our past. I experienced pain that I never thought was possible while we recited kaddish at the death camps for the 6 million Jews.
I became a part of something so much bigger than myself. People who were strangers and just faces at the beginning of the journey, became people I depended on. Someone I had only known for a week became my shoulder to cry on. They became my friends.
We left our heartbreak in Poland and touched down in Israel. The land of the Jewish people. The land where during the war, this would never have seemed possible. It was difficult to make the transition between crying about those Jewish souls who were murdered, to being able to celebrate. Israel was imbedded into our souls even more so than before as we celebrated Israel’s independence day. After spending a week at the extermination camps, we saw Israel in a different light. We saw the need for Israel. We understood and saw for ourselves that if Israel existed 72 years ago, there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust. The Jews would have had somewhere to go. We were grateful and privileged to be there for Yom Hazikaron – to mourn the souls of those who died protecting our country and then to be there for Yom Ha’atzmaut. To celebrate how far the Jewish nation has come. No matter how many times the world tries to exterminate us, we will come back stronger than before.
March of the Living 2016 has been a life changing experience that I will never forget. I take home with me the lessons and memories but most importantly a responsibility to educate.
Never again shall we be silent while innocent people are being slaughtered, whether they are our brothers, sisters or members of other nations. Never again shall we be indifferent to the suffering of others. Never shall we forget the 6 million Jews who perished. And never shall I forget this experience
Erin De Jongh, MOTL Youth Delegation 2016
It is impossible for me to sum up the past 2 weeks in writing. It is a lie for me to say that I have come home with all questions answered. It would be incorrect for me to say that I have understood and processed everything we did and saw. But it would be accurate to say that I have learnt more than I predicted, that this trip exceeded all expectations and was most definitely the most meaningful journey I have and ever will go on.
By going to Poland I learnt so much about the Holocaust and I was able to become a witness. I was able to see this horrific event in real life and no longer through the history books. It helped me understand and truly comprehend what horrific torture the Jews were actually put through. This journey may have confused me so much more on Judaism and G-d through that time period but it showed me how important being a proud Jew is in these days. It has forced me to make sure that this sickening event, which affected all Jews of that time period as well as murdered 6 million, will never be forgotten and can never be denied. Although now I question so many things, it has helped me connect to Hashem on a new level. It has encouraged me to practice my Judaism on a larger scale as Jews of that time never got the opportunity to. This journey urges me to always voice my opinions and never let anyone say something against Jews or the Holocaust.
I have come home with so much more insight and thoughts on so many new things. Life is seen in a new perspective through my eyes. I now have a much bigger responsibility in the future generations of the Jewish people. This trip has forced me to now make sure that this part of our history as Jewish people and the history of the world will never be forgotten and can never be denied. My role is now to pass on all this information I learnt to whomever I get the opportunity to.
This trip was not only one of sorrow and mourning, but also one filled with unity and hope. As we marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau I felt the thousands of Jews beside me all doing the same thing, feeling the same emotions all because we have the same history and the same future because we are Jewish. As we stood at the pit of ashes at Birkenau I saw strangers comfort one another, this taught me true unity. This taught me to put my differences aside and to just connect with everyone around me. Seeing the Jewish youth there for one another gave me hope and confidence that this will never happen again. It gave me hope that we are stronger than ever. It gave me confidence that together we can overcome evil.
By travelling to Israel and touring the way we did, we got to broaden our knowledge on the Middle East conflict. I learnt why Israel is so important to us as Jews and because of this I will continue to defend and stick up for our land.
I went with friends and came back with a family. We are all so privileged and fortunate to have been able to have gone on this amazing experience. We have all come back as changed teenagers. Everything we learnt and saw will have an impact on ourselves on our choices every single day.
Micaela Tucker, MOTL Youth Delegation 2015
My March of the Living experience cannot be expressed through pictures or put into words. It had an effect on me that cannot fully be shared with anyone but the other 43 members, that, along with myself, made up the South African youth delegation of 2015. It was a surreal 2 week long adventure that I am eternally grateful for and will remember forever. We journeyed back into our past, and traveled through the morbid memories, that remain in the soils of Poland and in our hearts.
This past Yom Ha’Shoah, which was the 70th anniversary of the liberation from Auschwitz, we marched in solidarity with Jews from around the world and united as one nation. We marched in remembrance of the 6 million who went into Auschwitz but never came out. We marched as a people with a horrific history, but we marched as a people with a future. We visited the concentration camps that were once factories of death, but are now museums of our past.
I remember sitting on the train tracks and looking at the remains of Birkenau in front of me, and feeling numb. It is inconceivable to try fathom what happened those 70 years ago, I didn’t know how to react or what to think, it was difficult for me to understand emotionally what I was seeing as I felt so out of touch and distant to my surroundings, however I had a true and deep understanding that what I had witnessed must never be forgotten.
As we marched and made our way to Israel, I started to see the guiding light, an essence of hope. In Israel we marched to the Kotel and at that moment I started to form an understanding as to what this journey meant to me.
Regardless of what type of Jew you were, whether it be ultra orthodox or irreligious, and regardless what beliefs you had in politics and G-d, you were a target to the Nazi regime for being a Jew. We were killed as a nation. If we died united, we must live united. We, as the future generations, have a series of responsibilities: to remember, to unite and to prosper as a Jewish nation.
And so I urge you, the South African youth delegation of 2016, to prepare yourself for a truly life changing and eye opening experience, this is a journey of our people, a march of the living in remembrance of the dead, but also, and most importantly a march of our freedom. Those responsibilities are now upon you, you are the future generation.