Adult March of the Living 2008
The Jewish Holocaust Museum & Research Centre and Descendants of the Shoah, will again be taking part in an adult group for the March of the Living to Poland and Israel in April / May 2008. There will be an Information Night for the 2008 program - date to be confirmed - at the Jewish Holocaust Centre, 13-15 Selwyn Street, Elsternwick.
By Pauline Rockman
This paper was presented at The International Consortium for Intergenerational Programme - Connecting Intergenerational Communities through Creative Exchange Conference, Melbourne 26 29 June 2006.
I would like to acknowledge the wurrinjiri the traditional owners of this land.
I am inviting you to accompany me on a journey, a journey that traverses generations, time and history, to confront one of humanity’s greatest inhumanities - The Holocaust or Shoah (the Hebrew word) and my heritage. I am referring to the Australian Adult March of the Living program. I will commence by providing you with some background to the AMOTL program, examine some of the reasons for embarking on such a journey, I will consider the journey and its ramifications for 3 generations with some comments from the participants.
The Jewish Holocaust Centre Melbourne, the programs’ auspice body, regards the Adult March of the Living as central to its mission, which is: To honour the memory of those who were murdered and suffered in the holocaust, and to learn the value of struggling against racism and intolerance. The March of the Living commenced in 1988 as an annual journey for thousands of Jewish secondary students from around the world who gather in Poland and Israel to mark two of the most significant dates on the modern Jewish calendar: Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in Poland and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) in Israel.
In an act of international commemoration on Yom Hashoah, thousands gather in Auschwitz 1, behind that infamous sign “Arbeit macht frei”. They march the three kilometres from Auschwitz 1 to Birkenau.
Over the years the program has expanded to include people of varied backgrounds and religions and some adult groups. Today I view the program as one of heightening the awareness of people of all religious, racial and ethnic backgrounds about the dangers of intolerance and to promote greater understanding among diverse groups.
In 2003 I was a participant in the March of the Living, accompanying the Australian student delegation to Poland. These are year 11 students and the program has been in operation since 2001. Poland had been a place I was dreading to go to but at the same time felt compelled to visit. Like many of my contemporaries growing up in post war Melbourne, my life has been shaped to a great extent by an event that I did not personally experience - the Shoah. Like many other Melbourne Jews part of my family had roots that went back centuries in Poland.
On my return to Melbourne I commenced planning for a return journey. The aim was to provide a commemorative, educative and interactive Holocaust Study Tour to Poland and Israel. It would be an intergenerational group of adults, composed of holocaust survivors, and descendants, the 2nd and 3rd generation as well as interested others. Educators, guides and psychologists would accompany us. This vision was realized and in April 2004 became the first Adult MOTL from Australia. I consider it to be an innovative intergenerational program, a vehicle whereby three generations are given space and a safe environment within a group framework to be in Poland and Israel.
The goal of the Adult March of the Living Australia is for adults of all ages to honour the memory of those who were murdered and suffered in the Holocaust and to learn the importance of struggling against racism and intolerance.
Why embark on this journey? Our AMOTL journey is about walking upon the landscape of destruction and annihilation. It is learning about the vibrant daily life in Poland that was devastated by the Holocaust as well as coming in contact with Jewish life in today’s Poland. It is about dialogue with young Polish people and then on to Israel. It allows the participants to travel with survivors, the eye witnesses and to commemorate and memorialize in a group setting. It gives them the opportunity to explore their roots, seek out family history, and learn about the landscape, in a supportive and informed atmosphere.
The 3 generations I am referring to are Holocaust survivors, their children the 2 generation and their grandchildren, the 3rd generation.
In considering the 3 generations of the Shoah, firstly in the period that followed the Shoah, just after World War II - the survivors were motivated by a desire and need to bear witness for those who had perished, and they tried to speak but people could not listen. The survivors were told to get on with life, to begin again.
As the years passed a distance emerged from the events and silence as the next generations grew up. The last decades have witnessed an incredible outpouring from the second generation - the emergence of a trend to break that silence. There was a movement from debilitating silence, to an explosion of conversation that still continues to this day.
For the 2nd generation, those born after the Shoah, our life has been greatly influenced by a vicarious event. I consider that part of our legacy involves a taskto commemorate and honor the survivors and victims and to pass it on in a way that somehow grapples with what happened.
The 3rd generation has a greater distance and similarly many share the commitment to Holocaust remembrance. Indeed many were the ones who actively encouraged their grandparents to give testimony, so that future generations would learn about their experiences during the Holocaust.
The process involved in creating a structure for this program, was aimed specifically for the emotional well being of the participants.
In planning the program, I was aware of the emotional depth, the huge sadness and loss, the seesawing of emotions that the proposed journey could present.
There was this itinerary I was creating of places we would visit in Poland and Israel, the physical journey and then there was the other, the emotional journey. I see both aspects working together to produce a meaningful experience.
I believe that for an experience such as this to be sound and meaningful the importance of a space or forum for participants to be able to reflect upon their experiences in a safe and non-threatening atmosphere is essential. This was provided through reflection groups and large group events. This in turn greatly facilitated dialogue across the 3 generations.
Preparation began before departure. There were four 3 hour sessions held at the Holocaust Centre. These sessions were divided into education, information and group relations. Reflection groups with 810 people commenced with a facilitator and where possible participants over 3 generations. This practice continued in Poland and Israel and when the group returned.
Over 3 programs in 2004, 2005 and 2006 a total of 133 people have participated. They have ranged in age from 19 to 84 years. Participants have been mainly, but not only, 2nd generation from Melbourne, aged between 45 and 60 years. They have included 13 holocaust survivors; people from Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Byron Bay and Israel. There have been combinations of: husband and wife; father and son; father and daughter, mother and daughter, mother and son, 3 sisters, and grandfather and granddaughter combinations.
The bonds that developed during the journeys have been incredible and still hold fast to this day. They exceeded the normal interaction of a group traveling together. The process set in motion on this journey, impacted heavily on the participants on many different levels. I believe this produced a deep level of meaning for many of the participants and led to the acknowledgement of “transformational and life changing” incidents. I believe this was due in part to the traumatic nature and content of aspects of the journey, the landscape we were confronting, the 3 generational components and the group cohesiveness.
This can be illustrated through the voices of two participants on the 2005 journey and I quote:
“Once we breathed in the traumascape with the survivor eye witnesses, the events that they testified to can never again be said to be unspeakable or unimaginable… we heard and we saw. And we were all transformed by what we heard and saw. We can never hold on to the innocence of ‘before’.”
Reunions are constantly being held, initially every 2 to 3 months and then at least twice a year after the first year. Recently there was a 2 year reunion for the first group and the turnout was over 90%.
The creative outpouring has been extraordinary, 2004 produced a book of their experiences and a film, 2005 have individually produced several short films, a monthly newsletter for the first 6 months and an exhibition is currently being planned to be held at the Jewish Holocaust Centre, the date to be confirmed. The 2006 group returned last month, their first reunion was held on June 18.
Many of the participants from the first two years have become actively involved in volunteering their services at the Jewish Holocaust centre as guides, in the archives, and working on future AMOTL journeys. There are other participants who have focused on a wide variety of related activities, ranging from Holocaust education to participation in the council of Jews and Christians.
Some quotes from AMOTL participants:
A 26 year old female, granddaughter of survivor said ”after the trip my life now has a focus, a meaning… thank you (the organizers) for making it happen. I was working on a job, with no clear goals, today I have completed some study and have enrolled for further, and I am volunteering at the Jewish Holocaust Centre.”
An Australian woman who traveled with her daughter on the 2006 trip said “It was life changing for me… my daughter and my grandchildren will view the world very differently. I am inspired to tell more people to go…Thank you Pauline for putting your heart and soul into this journey for the group. I grew over there, so did my daughter and our relationship.”
I believe that a positive outcome of these journeys is a respect of the past, with the participation of survivors, and a glimpse into the future, with particular emphasis on the role of the young… the 3rd generation.
There is a deep sense of privilege expressed by the 2nd and 3rd generation to be traveling with survivors. I quote:
A participant speaking about a Holocaust survivor said “Young people wanted to be in his company and he treated them with the deepest respect, openness, sharing his wisdom and great humour generously.“
These journeys serve to arouse in us all a sense of pride in our identity; it has created an extraordinary group feeling… we became a family. It also provided a shared experience and a desire to tell others to make the journey.
As the group leader these ventures have illustrated to me the incredible power and energy inherent in the process for those who have undertaken this journey. I believe it has been an extraordinary time for all participants, indeed transformational for many. The group has functioned as an amazing source of energy, support and learning. The interaction of three generations has been a tremendous asset.
I have come to realize after 3 trips to Poland, as I start talking, as the dialogue increases, that I am the facilitator, giving others permission to complete the circle to go to Poland, to as Amelia Klein (educator on the first AMOTL) says “walk the landscape and trace the memory maps.” By participating in March of the Living, by treading upon the landscape and memory maps of the Shoah… we, of the generations after the Shoah are on some level, mirroring the journey of the survivors… as they entrust us with their stories.
In the future I will relate to my grandchildren that I stood with a survivor of Auschwitz Birkenau, on May 4 2005 on the ramp at Birkenau. This was just over 60 years to the time she herself had been transported there with her mother and sister. This diminutive, powerful figure, speaking publicly for the first time… I will never forget her words and that sense for me almost of disbelief, not in her words, but that I am actually standing here listening to her words.
I consider Intergenerational journeys that are commemorative, interactive and educative as a powerful and positive way of tackling some huge issues. These may include the impact of parents and family history in the holocaust as it presents on the current identity of the participant. I saw the effects on the group I went with, listened to their comments and impressions.
There has been a sense of understanding and respect for each generation’s unique experiences through open dialogue that was a regular feature.
Each generation has recognized the unique experiences of the other. Through speaking and listening, the survivor generations have had their experiences affirmed and have been validated. In turn they have been able to entrust their stories to the next generations and feel confidant that their legacy will live on.
Another holocaust survivor said, “all I want to say is, I feel that this particular trip was my best trip that I have experienced in my life! In my life! I am a seventy five year old man, which is an old man. What I have seen, what I have been through, the friendships that I have made, that will, will treasure in my heart as long as I will live.”
Each generation has its important role to play. The survivors as the witnesses to the trauma, who pass on their stories to the 2nd generation. The second generation as the “drivers” to go to Poland to “tread the landscape.” The 3rd generation is the bridge between and past and the future.
In 2003 Poland’s President Kwasniewski addressed the assembled March of the Living group at Birkenau. He appealed to the youth, the March of the Living participants, to take a closer look at Poland, not to dismiss the land of many of their ancestors and to work towards making the world a better place than the one that they inherited, “you hold in your hands the possibility of changing the world.”
In this process the participants after the survivors become the eye witnesses to the landscape of the Shoah, the bridge between the survivors and the next generations, the bearers and transmitters of the memories, the links transmitting the message of the survivors - Zachor remember, to tell the world not to leave a legacy of hate. To teach tolerance and understanding of the other.
This is summed up by a participant from the 3rd generation who journeyed to Poland in 2004 with her grandfather, a holocaust survivor.
“I am thankful to be the link in our family and to be able to pass on this legacy so his story can be told in the future.”
Pauline Rockman is the President of Descendants of the Shoah Inc., Co-President of the Jewish Holocaust Centre, Melbourne and Director of the Adult March of the Living Program for Australia.
The Generation that suffered and are the witnesses to the Holocaust are leaving us. We, the Descendants are charged with the responsibility of keeping the memory alive and ensuring that the victims and the lessons are not forgotten.
The Holocaust was over sixty years ago and is being consigned to history with the inevitable consequence of time. In another generation, that’s all it may be History. Despite all the articles, Museums and the efforts of our own Holocaust Museum and Research Centre and Spielberg Foundation it may just be an academic exercise. Or a sideline as to a war that was
Without more will it, as memories fade, buildings crumble and the revisionists take on the debate, become a footnote? Is it to be remembered as just one more tragedy? Do we remember the Crusades, Russian Pogroms or the expulsion from Spain? Yes if we are into history but does it have relevance to our lives as Jews?
How to remember the Holocaust and make it a pivotal part of future Jewish life is a task that we the Descendants must now embrace.
Accordingly we would appreciate your suggestions as to how the Holocaust may be remembered. For instance, is it to be by ensuring that:
Should it be remembered at all?
Is it really important to the Jews of South Africa, America and Australia who were not directly involved? What of its importance to the Jews of the East, who only really became involved with the creation of the State of Israel?
Will history in fact judge the Arab/ Israeli conflict as its legacy?
And what of the meaning to our religion and religious observance?
We would be pleased to have your insights and thoughts.
THEY STOOD SIDE BY SIDE
By Avi Kegel (about his mother, Chaya Kegel-Edelstein)
They stood side by side at the train station, their eyes scanning the large crowds, moving back and forth in front of them, ignoring them as if they weren't there, something the mother would actually welcome right now, but she realized it was too late for that now, her daughter was leaving, and soon.
Every few seconds or so, a new announcement would be heard through the loudspeakers system, letting passengers know of trains that were about to depart, what tracks they were leaving from, and where they were going.
The young girl was holding her mother's hands tightly, and the mother could feel the small hands perspiring, making her hands wet as well.
She understood it to be a sure sign of nervousness, which she very much shared with her daughter, on this early and beautiful June morning.
It was an unusually warm today, but she still made sure to pack some extra warm clothes in her daughter's small valise, just in case the evenings will be a bit chilly, which she knew they could very well be, in the part of Russia her daughter was going to.
She looked down at her daughter, so proud, and yet so nervous at the same time.
Her daughter was only eight years old, and yet, she was leaving today on a summer vacation trip, that would take her deep into Russia, and would last for three and a half weeks.
To her, it seemed like eternity, but there was no way of convincing her daughter not to go on this date, but rather wait for the next date in July, and then go with her older brother Jacob, who was initially supposed to go with her today, but then had to change his plans because of some unrelated reasons.
Jacob, was four years older then her daughter Chaichke, but to her, sending a twelve year old boy with her young daughter would mean so much, and would make her that much more relaxed then she felt this morning, but she knew that what was done, was done, and her daughter was living today.
In the last few weeks, she has tried as hard as she could to hide her fears from everyone else in the family, but has failed miserably.
"Why are you so worried," her husband Abraham had said.
"She'll be fine, and have a great time there. Do you know how many kids will be there with her, probably a couple of hundreds, so why are you so worried?"
"I'm worried because she's my daughter, and besides, times are so tense in Europe, I don't have to tell you."
"What are you talking about; Russia and Germany have signed an agreement of non-aggression, which I assure you will be respected by both. Hitler is crazy, but not that crazy to attack Russia."
She remained silent, somehow not convinced, but she wasn't in the mood to argue.
Maybe he's right, and I'm simply overreacting, like every other mother would, she tried to rationalize.
But nothing really helped, and the closer they got to the date, the more nervous she became, a fact that was abundantly clear to everyone in the house.
And now, standing there on the platform, her heart was racing, her knees were weak, but she remained standing, putting a brave expression on her face, and trying to smile anytime her daughter would look up at her.
"Come let’s go, I just heard the announcement for your train," the mother said, and then led Chaichke in the right direction.
They reached the right area, where a group of kids, most of whom looked much older then her daughter, were gathering. They were making a lot of noise, as kids normally do.
She sent a quick glance down at her daughter, who returned the glance, a forced, brave smile on her face. She must be very nervous, the mother thought, I know I would be. They got closer to the group of kids. She scanned the kid's faces, trying to find one girl, who appeared a bit more mature, a bit more responsible then the others.
And then she spotted her. She was a bit taller then most of the other kids around her, and had a nice calm expression on her face. That's the one; she decided and marched forward, almost dragging Chaichke behind.
"Mommy, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, come with me."
They reached the girl, who was surrounded by a few friends.
As she approached them, the group immediately stopped their conversation and looked at the older woman, a question mark on their faces.
"Hi," she said, her voice quivering.
Even though she was only addressing kids, not much older then her daughter, she still found herself very nervous, and she knew why. What she was about to request meant the world to her.
"Can I speak to you in private," she finally managed to ask, as she stared at the girl she has chosen for the job.
"Yes, sure," the girl answered, and then they walked away from the crowd of kids.
When they reached a quieter corner on the platform, she let out a long worried sigh, and then spoke directly to the older girl.
"This is my daughter Chaichke. As you can see, she's very young. Would you mind, watching over her a bit during the trip, it would mean so much to me?"
There was no hesitation, and the girl answered immediately.
"Of course, why not, I'd be delighted to."
The mother wiped off tears of gratitude off her face and smiled.
"Thank you so much, you have no idea how much better you made me feel."
"Oh don't worry; we are all going to have a wonderful time over there, right Chaichke?"
"Right," Chaichke answered softly, but didn't sound too convincing.
The mother bent down and hugged her daughter, a long hug that neither one of them knew that day, would also be her last.
She wiped off the tears that were now rolling freely down her face.
"Bye my Chaichke, please be a good girl, and do what they tell you to do. And don't forget to write to us, okay?"
"I will mommy, I will, don't worry so much."
"Okay, okay, I won't," the mother lied, still wiping more tears off her face.
"Your daughter will be just fine," the older girl said, trying to cheer the mother up.
"Come, let’s go, I'm sure your mother has other things to do, and besides, we're going to board the train in a few minutes."
"Bye mommy," Chaichke said one last time, and hugged her mother as hard as she could, as if she was afraid that this would be the last time she would ever hug her mommy.
And then she let go, and walked away, holding the hand of the older girl.
Her mother stood there and cried, wiping tears off every few seconds.
She watched, and waived, as the kids started to board the train, and still stood there when the train finally started to move.
She saw Chaichke one last time through the window, and waived frantically at her,
"Bye my love, bye, your mommy loves you very much."
But she knew that her daughter didn't hear her.
She stood there for another minute or two, starring at the disappearing train, and then she left, never to see her daughter again.
The date was Friday, June 20th, 1941.
Two days later, on Sunday, June 22nd, 1941, the German army invaded Russia, and my mother, Chaichke, never got to see her mother or anyone else from her immediate family ever again.
Postscript: My mother and that older girl are still best friends to this day.