By Phyllis Greenberg Heideman
The 2018 March of the Living marks thirty years since the first 1,500 participants gathered in Poland and marched along the path of memory that marchers have taken each year since.
As we again gather in Poland to march together from Auschwitz to Birkenau, we are more than merely walking along the 3.2-kilometer path that connects these two historical sites of our Jewish past. We are marching from our past into our future.
We are visiting ancestors who rest here on these hallowed grounds and keeping a communal promise to never forget but always remember them, their lives and their legacy. With each footstep, our presence chants a silent but strong and meaningful “Hineni” – I Am Here.
March of the Living participants learn and feel history where history happened. This experience provides a pivotal and transformative moment for many and it is for that reason we are steadfast in our commitment to teach the lessons of history where they occurred.
I believe that our presence is felt, our voices are heard and our commitment to memory is transmitted to those who perished as well as those who survived each year as we make this journey. We renew an important statement to the Jewish People: we are another generation of survivors committed to helping protect the future.
By learning the lessons of the past, we are strengthened to protect the future. By visiting the sites of the past, we become witnesses to history with tools of truth as devices of defense. Many March of the Living alumni have successfully taken their place as leaders in communities around the world. This is a clear tribute to this organization’s educational philosophy and purpose, which have helped empower them to do so. Our belief in the importance of the transmission of memory to the continuity and stability of our future is a message we will continue to teach as we march into the next thirty years and beyond.
The role of the March of the Living in the future of the Jewish People rests in our commitment to carry the torch of memory as a means of igniting an attachment to the past as a connector to the future. We are in the unique position of educating a committed group of alumni who can lead Jewish communities around the world into the future. If knowledge is power, then memory is truly powerful. Our younger generations face fast-paced and ever-changing times, and we take seriously our responsibility to prepare them to feel better equipped to face the future.
By reaching back to their roots and understanding the strength they possess within themselves, our alumni expand their horizons, embrace new directions and serve as change-agents in their classes, communities and countries. The many individual initiatives and innovative projects we have seen alumni create as a result of their March of the Living experience is true testimony to the power of this thought-provoking program.
The expanding of one’s mind using reflections of the past as tools to address the future is a valuable asset for anyone hoping to make a difference. We are proud to have been able to provide so many participants with an experience affording them the opportunity to understand the past and contribute to the future. We have a firm commitment to continue our mission for many more years to come in the firm belief that the world is a better place because of the March of the Living and the graduates we send out into the world who are indeed committed to making a difference.
Phyllis Greenberg Heideman is President of the International March of the Living, an immersive Holocaust education experience that brings individuals from around the world to Poland to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hatred.