10,000 + Marched Under Iconic Sign “Arbeit Macht Frei” Entering Auschwitz-Birkenau on Yom HaShoah

March of the Living 2013
March of the Living student participants at Auschwitz; courtesy

The International March of the Living, an annual Holocaust program, was held on Monday, April 8, 2013, at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Starting at the entrance of Auschwitz under the iconic sign, ARBEIT MACHT FREI, 10,000+ high school students from around the world along with Holocaust survivors, members of the Israel Defense Forces and people of other faiths, walked the three kilometers to Birkenau in a silent tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. The March serves as a hopeful counterpoint to the experience of hundreds of thousands of Jews forced by the Nazis to cross vast expanses of European terrain under the harshest of conditions – the infamous “death marches”.

For the first time in its 25-year history, the ceremony at Auschwitz was broadcast LIVE. The inspiring program included messages from Israel’s President, Shimon Peres and Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The gathering was addressed by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, current Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and a child survivor; Jewish communal leader and philanthropist, Frank Lowy of Australia, a Holocaust survivor whose father perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau and whose family has dedicated a memorial there; Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder, President of the World Jewish Congress; Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, son of a Holocaust survivor. This year marked the first time that an IDF Chief of Staff has led the March.

Solemn and uplifting musical interludes were performed throughout, emphasizing the themes of prayer, resistance, remembrance and hope, and in honor of the 70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A song written by March of the Living alumni entitled, “Requiem of the Warsaw Ghetto,” was featured and Cantor Dudu Fisher and Jewish soul-singer Neshama Carlebach performed.

At the close of the program, six torches were lit, each reflecting a theme that paid tribute to the 6,000,000 lives lost:

  • to those who risked their lives saving Jews during the Holocaust
  • to the survivors who picked up the pieces of their shattered world and began life anew
  • to the rabbis, scholars, teachers and students who perished
  • to the 1,500,000 innocent Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis
  • to the second generation who never had the privilege of knowing or loving their grandparents
  • to the celebration of the establishment of the State of Israel