This year’s delegation of March of the Living UK marked a sombre moment in post-war history. Poignantly, it might be the last time those travelling to the major sites of the Shoah are accompanied by survivors.
This was my second March of the Living and as we walked through Auschwitz-Birkenau I felt a sense of shock when I realised I had become slightly desensitised as I stood on those infamous train tracks, looking upon the rubble of the gas chambers and crematoriums.
We have all spoken about the six million before but it is a number impossible to visualise. However, looking at two tonnes of human hair, hundreds of thousands of shoes, glasses, suitcases, pots, and pans, housed in the barracks of Auschwitz I, something in me broke.
It is the closest you can get to comprehending that each life was murderously stolen – and yet it is still not enough.
As I stood there looking at people from around the world pouring over the Book of Names, desperately searching for ones they might recognise, I felt a wave of pain and resolve. Tragically, there will never be enough time and it is also impossible to learn about every victim of the Holocaust.
But there, in one of the darkest places on earth, Jews and allies had gathered at their own volition, to bear witness.
The trip itself was much more than a visit to Auschwitz. The itinerary of the programme was expertly organised to educate about the whole gamut of the Nazis’ cruelty in the Holocaust. We visited the sites of ghettos in Warsaw, Lodz, and Krakow, small spaces where hundreds of thousands were imprisoned. We read testimonies of life under such hardship, where hundreds of thousands perished in the appalling conditions.
We learnt of brave acts of defiance – including armed resistance – of those who against all odds found the strength to fight.
We also visited sites of mass graves in various forests. These ‘killing pits’ are so striking today as the memorials marking these acts of such evil, sit against the backdrop of peaceful, idyllic nature. At one site, we heard the testimony of Mala Tribich.
Her strength and composure was remarkable as she stood where her mother and sister were shot. On my previous delegation I had visited Majdanek, a death and concentration camp, and Belzec, an extermination camp.
Mala Tribich’s strength and composure was remarkable
This year, we visited Treblinka, an extermination camp active from July 1942 to October 1943, where up to 925,000 Jews were slaughtered. Unlike Majdanek, which was left largely intact, Belzec and Treblinka are now memorial sites, as the physical evidence of the camps’ existence were entirely erased by the Nazi regime.
The few testimonies we have were left by the few who managed to escape or survive as Sonderkommandos (Jews who were forced to help operate the Nazi camp system), those like Treblinka survivor Hershl Sperling.
The Nazis’ double victimisation of Jews, by forcing some of them to be a part of the process of the deaths of their people, was a new aspect of evil I had not really contemplated enough previously and chilled me to my core.
The visit culminated with a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, a network of camps, including the infamous base camp, Auschwitz I, with the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign at its entrance, and Birkenau, Auschwitz II, the largest of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps.
In total, 1.3 million were deported there from 1940-45, 1.1 million of whom were Jews, of whom 90 per cent perished in the gas chambers. The ‘March of the Living’, was a walk from Auschwitz I to Birkenau, led by our incredible survivors. It is an indescribable feeling to be part of a group of Jews walking freely in and out of Auschwitz. It didn’t matter what our religious observance was, nor our education, occupation, or politics.
As we marched, it was clearer than ever. We are one people.
Each person who visits a site of the Holocaust, listens to a survivor, reads a testimony, educates themselves – becomes a witness. All of us became witnesses with a duty to pass on the torch to the next generation, to ensure we never forget each of the six million. The Jewish people survived; we are here.
Talia Ingleby, is International Relations Officer Board of Deputies of British Jews and member of the World Jewish Congress Jewish Diplomat Corps.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.