(JTA) — Thousands of young people from at least 45 countries participated in the March of the Living in Poland at the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex of concentration camps.
The 27th International March of the Living took place Thursday on Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Each country’s delegation was accompanied by a survivor to tell his or her personal story.
Yad Vashem chairman Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yaffo and former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, led the two-mile march from the Auschwitz concentration camp to the Birkenau extermination camp. Lau told the participants how he survived the Holocaust, and he showed a Torah scroll that had survived and required extensive repair.
Survivor Sigmund Rolat recalled his Polish nanny, Elka, who remained with him in the Czestochowa ghetto in order to protect him.
“We stand here in solidarity, mourning and fear,” he said. “Our unity is rooted not only in our Jewish peoplehood, which we share with those whom we remember today. Their Jewishness was not incidental to their fate; it determined it. But our unity today encompasses all, Jews and non-Jews, who remember, grieve and mourn – and participate in our solidarity.”
Pope Francis sent a message to the march.
“All the efforts for fighting in favor of life are praiseworthy and have to be supported without any kind of discrimination,” he said. “For this reason I am very close to these initiatives, that are not only against death but also against the thousands discriminatory phobias that enslave and kill.”
The participants spend a week in Poland studying the Holocaust before traveling to Israel for another week of study, which includes its national Memorial Day commemoration and Independence Day celebrations.