Thousands join March of the Living in Poland

Some 10,000 participants from 40 different countries, many of them teens and youths, made the three-kilometers-long journey from the Auschwitz extermination to Birkenau as part of the 28th annual March of the Living on Thursday afternoon.

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Ahead of the march, the Jewish Quarter in the city of Krakow was filled with thousands of teenagers, both Jews and non-Jews. Over the past week, the march’s participants visited Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, the Zgody Square from which the 64,000 Krakow Jews were sent to the death camp, ghettos, monuments and extermination camps. All groups are escorted by local tour guides, history experts and Holocaust survivors, allowing participants to not only witness the destruction caused by the Holocaust, but to also hear from people who lived through the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

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Participants from Israel, as well as the US, Canada, Britain, France, Morocco, Australia and Japan, among many other nations, took part in the march, which is done in memory of the marches of death during World War II, during which long columns of prisoners were forced to walk great distances under heavy guard and in inhuman conditions. Many of them were murdered on the way or died of exhaustion or diseases.

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The march, which began at 1:30pm local time (2:30pm Israel time), reached the gas chambers in Birkenau at around 3:30pm local (4:30pm Israel time), where all of the different delegations come together to hold a memorial ceremony.

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Over 220,000 people from 52 countries have participated in the March of the Living since it was founded in 1988 to revamp Holocaust education, creating an emotional experience that students could connect with outside of the classroom.

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About 50 young Polish Christians greeted all who joined the march. “We’re Israel’s Polish friends. We’re here because we believe Jesus is here. In this place, in our country, the biggest horrors in history were committed. We feel we must come here. We love you.”

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A delegation from the Prime Minister’s Office continued their march raising their Israeli high. “For most of us this is our first time here,” they said, “but also for those who were already here, to arrive as part of the official state Israeli delegation, to represent the Jewish state, to demonstrate that Jews live in the place in which once stood death factories for Jews – is extremely significant for us all.”

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This year, the march was led by Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv Yisrael Meir Lau, and a delegation of five Knesset members and international law experts who participated in a conference organized by the March of Living Foundation on Wednesday to mark 80 years to the establishment of the Nuremberg Laws and 70 years to the Nuremberg Trials.

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In light of the ISIS suicide bombings in Europe over the past year, the March of the Living received unprecedented security on Thursday, and included both undercover and uniformed Polish policemen, as well as security guards hired by the march’s organizers.

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March of the Living vice chairman Aharon Tamir said that many parents of teens expected to participate in the march have expressed concern for the safety of their children. “This is a wide-scale logistical operation that we’ve been working on for months,” he said.

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