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In first, Arab Israeli delegation joins March of the Living at Auschwitz

Group of Israeli Muslims, Christians and Druze participates in annual Holocaust event, speaks with survivors at Nazi death camp: ‘We want to understand the pain’

Visitors to the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp after the March of the Living annual observance, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 28, 2022. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)
Visitors to the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp after the March of the Living annual observance, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 28, 2022. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

For the first time, an Arab Israeli delegation took part in the annual March of the Living at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland on Thursday for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The delegation of about two dozen participants, which included Arab Israeli Muslims, Christians and Druze, was organized by the non-profit organization “B’Yachad,” meaning “together.”

Before the trip, the group made a preparatory visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum. After arriving in Poland, participants visited the old Jewish quarter of Krakow and Oskar Schindler’s factory.

At Auschwitz on Thursday, the group met with Holocaust survivors, one of whom told its members, “You give me hope.”

During the march, the group was accompanied by Knesset MK Abir Kara.

“We are Israelis in every way, and are supposed to live like Israelis,” said Mahmud Abu Ria, one of the group’s participants.

A participant in a delegation of Arab Israeli Muslims, Christians and Druze speaks to Israeli television during the March of the Living, April 28, 2022 (Channel 12 screenshot)

“I grew up with Jews and heard stories from my friends from all over the world, that there was persecution, they wanted to murder them and destroy them,” his brother, Amir, told the Kan public broadcaster.

“When they see some Arab group that wants to hurt them or a terror organization that wants to destroy and murder Jews, just because they are Jews, there is fear,” he said. “There are flashbacks to what their grandparents said.”

“I want to understand the pain of the Jews that I work with and live with every day. I need to understand their pain and what lies behind it,” he added. “I can’t live in the country without getting to know the other side.”

The brothers are from the town of Sakhnin in northern Israel and said their grandfather fought alongside Jews before the establishment of Israel in 1948. They said they came from a military family and their brother was currently serving in the IDF.

Also for the first time this year, the march included an official delegation from the United Arab Emirates and a ceremony in Arabic. Delegates also came from Syria and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, and East Jerusalem.

A group of Muslim influencers also participated, part of a group called Shakara that aims to strengthen the bond between Israel and the Arab world following the Abraham Accords.

Several thousand people in total participated in the march, one of the world’s largest annual Holocaust commemoration events, which took place this year after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Participants in past years have numbered in the tens of thousands.

Led by eight Holocaust survivors and Polish President Andrzej Duda, 2,500 Jews and non-Jews from 25 different countries gathered to commemorate the six million Jewish Holocaust victims on Yom Hashoah, or Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, and take part in the 3.2-kilometer (two-mile) trek.

This year’s march took place under the shadow of war in neighboring Ukraine, and a number of Ukrainian refugees were among those in attendance.

More than 1.1 million people were murdered by the Nazis and their henchmen at Auschwitz. Most of those killed were Jews, but the victims also included Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and others. When the Soviets liberated the camp, they found about 7,000 survivors.

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