Polish students join March of the Living

A young Polish boy scout marches through Auschwitz holding a Polish flag May 5. (Chanan Tigay)

A young Polish boy scout marches through Auschwitz holding a Polish flag May 5. (Chanan Tigay)

KRAKOW, Poland, May 9 (JTA) — There are more Jewish studies majors at the Jagiellonian University here than there are Jews in the city. Last week, some of them, along with an estimated 3,000 other Polish students and teachers from across the country, participated in the March of the Living. They were among approximately 18,000 people from all over the world, Jews and non-Jews, gathering together to remember the Holocaust. The inclusion of so many Polish participants was a first for the March of the Living, which was launched in 1988. The Polish American Jewish Alliance organized a week-long joint trip for 15 Jewish studies students from Poland, none of them Jewish, and a college group from the Anti-Defamation League. The American contingent included both Jewish and non-Jewish Judaic studies majors. The students met in Krakow, where they were treated to a performance of Jewish song and dance and to short speeches by other Polish students, who discussed Jewish life in Poland today. As Justyna Kutrzeba, a Jewish studies major from Krakow, later put it, “Jews had a long history in Poland, and we have to understand them to understand ourselves.” The contingents then traveled to Auschwitz for the March of the Living itself, to Majdanek, a death camp near the city of Lublin, and to the Warsaw Ghetto. Mateusz Bochenski, who is from Poland, noted that “Poland is a special link” in Holocaust history. “We grew up with remembrance,” he said. “Our grandfathers told us about the Jews. It’s part of our history, and we can’t say it’s not.” Miriam Klein Kassenoff, a Holocaust survivor and educator from Miami who accompanied the students, said the most surprising part of the March of the Living for her was meeting the “wonderfully educated Polish youth, incredibly sensitive to the plight of the Jews during the Holocaust.” She said that when she returns to the United States she plans to add to her educational materials the idea that Poles were under occupation by the Nazis, and that to accuse them of being accomplices to the Holocaust does not tell the whole story.

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