AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU — This year’s March of the Living in Poland was held on a gloomy Thursday that saw occasional bursts of sunlight, a fitting backdrop for the mood and mixed feelings of many of the more than 10,000 participants in the annual Holocaust commemoration event.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” said participant Richard Goldhar, 34, who was participating in the march for the first time. He said visiting the death camps was anxiety-inducing, but that Krakow was “a beautiful city.”
Numerous groups from more than 40 countries attended the annual three-kilometer march from Auschwitz to Birkenau — ranging from the United States, Israel and Germany to Argentina, Panama and even Morocco — but one group from Canada stood out for including no less than nine Holocaust survivors.
Organizers said a total of just 70 survivors participated in the 2019 march, compared with some 500 at the first event in 1988. With the number of living survivors dwindling from year to year, the time is fast approaching when none shall be left to come here and share their memories of the atrocities.
“Over the past year alone, of those who accompanied us all the years, six Holocaust survivors died,” said Shmuel Rosenman, March of the Living chairman and co-founder.
Of the nine Canadian survivors, only two were able to walk the entire three-kilometer route.
“The first time I walked here was in 1943, with my family, when we walked from the Judenrampe to Birkenau,” one of those two, Nate Leipciger, 91, told The Times of Israel during the emotional march — making it his 21st. His family died at the camp. “And now I came back with my family.”
His family now includes his three daughters, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. “Unfortunately one of my daughters succumbed to cancer several months ago, so we walk with her with a heavy heart, but we have to move forward with our wonderful family who are very supportive and understanding.”
Leipciger’s nephew, Tobaron Waxman, said seeing a group of such positive elders, all with a sense of humor, gave him “hope for the future.”
“Only two are walking, but their attitude and the way they carry themselves, as elders, whom we usually associate with the past, actually have a lot to teach us about the future, the way they have survived,” said Waxman, who was marching for the first time.
Another Holocaust survivor in the group, Tova Rogenstein, 86, said: “It’s hard because of the feelings, reminding [me] of life with my parents.”
“It has been touching, rewarding, and solemn,” said Goldhar, who is a younger member of the group.
But Hedy Bohm, 91, emphasized her happiness: “As long as I see the young people, all these thousands of eager, Jewish young faces, I’m happy to be with them, happy to share what they want to hear and to know.”