The March of Life
Impulses. Networking. Holocaust Survivor Testimonies.
Since 2016, the March of Life Conference has taken place annually, which gathers, connects and empowers all the supporters and friends of the movement worldwide. The wide-ranging program includes (thematic) lectures and workshops on the topics of “Remembering, Reconciling, Taking a stand for Israel and against modern antisemitism”, as well as reports from different nations. Special highlights in recent years were Holocaust survivors shared their life stories and the Night to Honor Israel with dance, theatre and musical performances.
Save the date
The March of Life Conference from February 11 – February 13, 2022.
Registration available here soon.
Reports of the previous March of Life Conferences
MORE INTERNATIONAL AND INTERCONNECTED THAN EVER BEFORE
There was no stopping the annual March of Life Conference despite the lockdown. “Now more than ever – United to be a Light!” was the title of the conference. And indeed – the March of Life Conference has never been as international and interconnected as this year. Approximately 5,000 participants took part from more than 30 nations – among them many Holocaust survivors.
On Friday afternoon, the 150 national directors and March of Life organizers from 24 nations gathered together in a large Zoom meeting to look back on the past year, but more importantly, to start planning for 2021. With a visionary opening input, March of Life founder Jobst Bittner encouraged participants to take action, despite the restrictions, as local regulations allow.
Then on Saturday afternoon, the official part of the conference began with a wide variety of short presentations that addressed both history as well as the most current social issues. A central issue is the response to the worldwide rise of antisemitic conspiracy theories related to COVID-19. “Antisemitism knows no vaccine,” emphasized Jobst Bittner in his opening speech. If there are openly antisemitic flyers distributed in Berlin’s public transportation, there is an urgent need for action: “If you want to take responsibility for the future, you must not become trapped in the lethargy of the lockdown.”
In his presentation, Dr. Boris Zabarko, Holocaust survivor and historian, took an in-depth look at the invasion of the former Soviet Union by the German Wehrmacht and the associated extermination of Jewish communities in Ukraine. 2.7 million Jews lived there in 1941, 98 percent of whom were murdered in mass shootings by the Einsatzgruppen in their villages in front of their neighbors and friends. The Babi Yar ravine massacre in Kiev marks a turning point in the Holocaust. In just two days, more than 33,000 Jews were shot under the auspices of the Wehrmacht.
The crimes of the Wehrmacht in the Eastern Campaign still lie under a veil of silence in which the perpetrators are reinterpreted as victims. However, each country has its own historical responsibility and guilt to face up to. Denial and repression is the common characteristic. Jobst Bittner shared the universal keys with which every nation can break its veil of silence.
Michel Gourary, European Director of the March of the Living, gave a very personal account of what motivates him to be active for remembrance and for Israel. After being imprisoned in various concentration camps, Gourary’s grandfather was shot on the roadside during a death march from Flossenbürg to Dachau. He had been a supporter of Zionist Zeev Jabotinsky, who advocated self-defense for Jews. Alexander Gourary, Michel’s father, was part of the Zionist youth organization Beitar and went to Belgium for paramilitary training where he was captured by the Gestapo in 1943. “My father smuggled candles into the prison and built a hanukkiah to give hope to the prisoners. That’s why it is so significant for me that your movement started with the lighting of the hanukkiah,” Gourary says.
The secretary of the Council of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, Dr. Tomáš Kraus, also told the story of his parents, who were both survivors of the Shoah and dealt with this experience very differently. Before the war, his father had been a very well-known journalist who reported critically on the National Socialists and was therefore taken first to Theresienstadt and later to Auschwitz. After the end of the war, he returned to Prague and wrote about his experiences in Auschwitz. Kraus’ mother, on the other hand, represented the majority of survivors: they did not talk about what they had experienced or their lost families. At the end, Kraus appealed to the participants of the conference not to accept the isolation imposed by COVID-19: “When it is possible again – come and visit us! Especially during the crisis let’s stay in contact. The worst thing is to fall into a ghetto mentality.”
The public Night to Honor Israel was another highlight of the conference, which was translated simultaneously into six languages. Dr. Thomas Feist, Commissioner for Jewish Life of the State of Saxony, spoke about the celebratory year “1,700 Years of Jewish Life in Germany.” “If we use this year to bring Christians and Jews closer together and try to heal existing wounds, it will benefit not only Germany, but the whole world,” emphasized Feist. In his view, March of Life takes the right personal and practical steps to achieve this, starting with the acknowledgement of guilt and the request for forgiveness.
The guest of honor for the evening was Holocaust survivor Ruth Steinfeld from Houston, whose family was from Ladenburg near Mannheim. She spoke of how difficult it had been for her to talk about her experiences and face her past. But when she visited her former childhood home in 1981, she was able to forgive the Germans and make peace with her history, which changed her life forever. To honor her, part of her biography was performed in a piece of drama, “Forgive, but Never Forget,” in which dancers danced in front of her old house in Ladenburg.
At the conference, the motto for the marches and events on and around the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day Yom haShoah in April was introduced: “United to be a Light! Together for a Better Future without Antisemitism and Hatred of Jews”. The program will include local events with the reading of the names of victims of the Holocaust, a joint international online conference and, depending on COVID-19 regulations, larger or smaller marches.
You can also easily participate in the program with your city on and around Yom haShoah. You can find more information on our website at www.marchoflife.org.
Conference Image Gallery: http://bit.ly/InstGal
SAYING “NEVER AGAIN” IS NOT ENOUGH!
Representatives from 19 nations at the 5th March of Life Conference
The annual March of Life Conference in Tübingen has never before been as international as this year. Whole teams from 19 nations – from the USA to Ecuador, Lithuania, Finland and Great Britain – attended the conference. The participants took up the challenge to effectively combat antisemitism in their own streets, as the motto “Bringing the voice against antisemitism to the streets” states. An important aspect of this was to come to terms with history: “Every nation has a history of guilt. The right way to deal with it is to speak the truth, repentance and changing one’s way,” emphasized March of Life initiator Jobst Bittner.
The only survivor from Mykulychyn
The life story of Holocaust survivor Ruth Michel was also part of this truth. She is the only survivor of the last German raid in December 1941 in Mykulychyn. “I tell my story to show where xenophobia and antisemitism can lead. I am also doing this because it is my personal fight against antisemitism,” she explained in her introduction. Together with Ukrainian helpers, a special task force murdered all the Jews in the village by shooting them in the neck – men, women and children; including Ruth’s father Aaron Rosenstock. In 2010, Mrs Michel returned to Mykulychyn to search for the mass grave, which lay in the woods, overgrown and forgotten. “I had it cleared and planted with greenery and put up a commemorative plaque,” she told the eager listeners on the opening evening of the conference. It is one of many thousands of mass graves in Ukraine.
Ruth Michel’s story encompasses many nations: Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. Bishop Anatolij Gavriluk from Ukraine and Edward Ćwierz from Kielce in Poland, spoke very personally about how difficult it sometimes is to break the veil of silence about anti-Jewish pogroms and antisemitism in their nations.
An instrument of peace
But all the more encouraging were the many reports of how each March of Life brings about lasting and visible changes. One example is the mayor of the 12th district in Budapest. After a journalist found out about his grandfather’s active participation in a massacre of Jews, the mayor sought advice from representatives of March of Life on how to make reconciliation and coming to terms with the situation possible, and he later met with the Jewish community. More and more, the doors are opening for the efforts of coming to terms with the participation of the Hungarian population in the Holocaust. Already this year, there will be seminars in Hungary on personal working through the past.
In Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, the Marcha de La Vida was honored and awarded as an “Instrument of Peace in the City” in 2019. The city of Halle has also officially declared the March of Life as a municipal event against antisemitism. Holocaust survivor Ruth Michel was very encouraged by the commitment of the participants: “I am very moved to see that there is perhaps is a new direction in Germany after all!
After repeated anti-Semitic graffiti in Helsinki, the Israeli ambassador personally called the Finnish March of Life Director and urged him: “You have to do something now! If you wait for too long, it will be too late!” Jobst Bittner also emphasized this in his speech on Saturday evening: “It is not enough to say ‘Never again!’ It is not enough to say, ‘We remember!’, but then not to stand up. Therefore, this is the call to all churches, to all pastors: Change your priorities! Raise your voice! Become active! Becoming active means this: bring your voice to the public, mobilize your churches, your congregations, your friends!” Then the motto for this year’s marches of life was released: Saying ‘Never again’ is not enough – actively against antisemitism and racism and for Israel! Jobst Bittner explained: “We hope that this poster will be visible in the most diverse languages on hundreds and hundreds of marches; that this movement and our common voice will become unmistakable in our cities and nations”.
Shlomit Steiner of the Yad Vashem Memorial supported this call with her powerful lecture on the role of language in antisemitism: “Don’t stop at ‘Never Again’, but deal with the core of the Shoah: this is Antisemitism that has been able to survive for centuries in the language of hatred. It did not begin in Auschwitz, but in the language of antisemitism, which was tolerated in public and thus became normal. You must take action against it!”
This appeal is followed by the Marches of Life this year – become part of this common voice and come to a march near you.
You can find more information under the heading Events/Marches.
Picture gallery of the conference:
Videos of the conference:
Impressions 1st day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-XyFXRkp5M
Impressions 2nd day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE4TKk8-d-k
Night to Honor Israel: https://www.facebook.com/marchoflife/videos/194045578631460/
Song “Rumania, Rumania” by Aaron Lebedeff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDYl04o-Sg8
The play “Why there are no excuses”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urXiHIM14fY
WHEN THE VOICE OF MEMORY BECOMES A POWERFUL VOICE AGAINST ANTISEMITISM
“It is as if we had climbed a mountain from two sides for centuries and now comes the time when we meet at the top through the March of Life as Jews and Christians,” explained the director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, Josh Reinstein, at a breakfast reception of the approximately 90 international March of Life organizers.
The three-day conference was an encouragement to each individual to raise their voice and be a light, be it in their personal environment or in public on the streets during marches of life around the world.
Organizers of the various marches reported on their experiences and how the March of Life is an answer to the shift to the right in society, to which politicians are struggling to find. Edward Cwierz, who is a special voice for remembrance and working through the past in Poland, confirmed the conference topics on Saturday morning: “Life is too short to be afraid and to remain in the same place!
Shaya Ben Yehuda, Director of the Department of International Relations in Yad Vashem, spoke about his own family in a moving talk on Sunday morning about the different voices of remembrance. His father could never speak about his experiences, even until his death. He only reacted with tears to inquiries. He was one of the many “silent voices” of the survivors. Ben Yehuda’s mother Chava, on the other hand, told of her experiences as a Jewess in Wroclaw – “My mother taught us as children that we have to look for friends. At that time I could not imagine finding friends. But through you – Jobst and Charlotte and all of you here – I found many friends!
Friends were there also, the Holocaust survivor Dr. Arie Itamar who told his life story on Friday and Saturday evening, and Itzak Rosman, chairman of the Society for the Memory of the Exodus 1947. Born in Odessa, a city full of flourishing Jewish life in the Ukraine, Arie Itamar had to flee with his grandmother to Central Asian Tajikistan on a risky way during the invasion of the Germans. His father was killed in the battle for Moscow. After the end of the war, the family joined the refugee movement to Eretz Israel and in June 1947 boarded the refugee ship Exodus, the failure of which finally led to the founding of the State of Israel in May 1948.
Jobst Bittner, founder and president of the March of Life Movement, stressed that the basis for an audible, authentic voice of remembrance was the working through of one’s own family history and the guilt of Christians during the National Socialist era. In his lectures, he used concrete examples to show how the Church’s reaction to National Socialism at that time paved the way for the Shoah and what the consequences are to this day. Very impressively, two families told how the veil of silence about the complications of guilt within one’s own family had affected the lives of the next two generations. Their coming to terms with it changed their hearts towards the Jewish people and released the motivation to stand up today with the March of Life against anti-Semitism and Israel hatred.
At the end of the conference, the Jewish German rapper Ben Salomo expressed the impact of this: “I have often considered going back to Israel because of anti-Semitism in Germany. But the way in which the March of Life is working against anti-Semitism makes me hopeful for the future.”
Every voice and every march makes the difference – United to be a Light!
You can find more pictures on Facebook.
MARCH OF LIFE DAY WITH MK YEHUDAH GLICK
“You don’t have to be Right or Left to join the March of Life. The March of Life unites all nations. From here should come a message of life, of peace and of love,” said the Knesset representative MK Yehudah Glick who described his first encounter with the March of Life movement in Poland as an ‘unforgettable experience’.
For the March of Life Day on February 10, 2018 organizers and friends of the movement from all around the world came together for exchange, mutual encouragement and planning the worldwide advances and preparation for the March of the Nations in Jerusalem. Among the speakers were Rabbi and Knesset representative MK Yehudah Glick, Maren Steege from the Consulate General of the State of Israel in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Gerd Walther, Mayor and co-organizer of the March of Life in the coastal sea-side resort of Ueckermuende, Holocaust researcher Prof Dr Gideon Greif and Holocaust Survivor Assia Gorban.
The initiator of the movement, Jobst Bittner, began by asking the question, “What would it have been like after the 1938 November pogrom when on this fatal night ten of thousands of people had taken to the streets against anti-Semitism?” He emphasized the importance of public statements against anti-Semitism and on behalf of Israel. Working through family history and historical reappraisal should not be relegated to television documentaries. An indifferent position towards Israel must be erradicated. One of the main focuses of this March of Life Day was on the Aktion T4 within which the murder of handicapped people took place marking the start of the Nazi’s mass murders. Professor Dr. Gideon Greif gave a moving afternoon lecture on the topic.
An Iranian citizen affirmed, even in face of the Iranian threat, “I stand firm with the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Iran invests its entire funds in the fight against Israel. We cannot be silent because if we do the same thing can happen again.“ Gerd Walther, the mayor of the coastal sea-side town, Ueckermuende who has been organizing Marches of Life in his town since 2015, spoke about his own personal working through family history and how he recognised it as his task in the name of the town to ask survivors and their descendants for forgiveness. Assia Gorban, representative of the Holocaust survivor association ‘Pheonix from the Ashes’, emphasized the meaning of the March of Life for Jews who live in Germany. Maren Steege from the Consulate General said of the State of Israel that its establishment can be an example for every pioneer project, “… the State was not only created by the hands of men. With all the courage and all the determination, the history of Israel teaches us that we can anticipate the miracles of the Almighty.”
Pictures can be viewed on Facebook
A clip and also the entire Evening Programme can be found on YouTube
FROM THE HOLOCAUST TO NEW LIFE – 2ND MARCH OF LIFE CONFERENCE IN TUEBINGEN
Organizers and friends from all over the world came to Tuebingen on March 3rd to 5th, 2017 for the 2nd March of Life Conference.
Among the guests of honor were Israeli Member of Knesset Robert Ilatov, Chief Rabbi Netanel Wurmser and Auschwitz Survivor Yechiel Aleksander. More than 4,000 participants who had been unable to attend personally joined the event via live stream. The program was full of ground-breaking, diverse teaching. The account by Holocaust survivor Yechiel Aleksander was especially moving. The local newspaper published a detailed report on his life following the conference.
In lieu of “An Evening to Honor Israel” Saturday evening, Israeli Member of Knesset Robert Ilatov, Tuebingen’s Senior Mayor Boris Palmer, Chief Rabbi to Baden-Wuerttemberg Netanel Wurmser, and others spoke about the necessity of remembering the past and to take to the streets for life. In his introduction, Jobst Bittner emphasized the strength of the March of Life movement, to bring people together, from different nations, denominations, religions, and political parties, who unite against forgetting and modern anti-Semitism. Netanel Wurmser admonished in his address: “We are living in a time, when life is being threatened of no longer being valuable, and we approve of too many things. We have to invest all of our strengths into making sure that life will once again receive content and a true value.” “It can´t be”, Boris Palmer stated, “that people who wear a kippah have to be afraid in Germany again. We will not tolerate this! It’s final: Germany stands steadfast on Israel’s side – today and in the future!” Robert IIatov spoke about modern Israel and accounted Christian supporters to “the most important allies Israel has today.”
Part of the evening program included a dramatic reading of the stories of Holocaust survivor Jerzy Gross, which was illustrated through music, dance, and theater. This made the meaning of an eye-witness account relatable for the younger generation.
The participants were exposed to encouraging reports concerning the development of the March of Life movement in different parts of the world throughout the conference. March of Life plays an ever more defining role in the culture of remembrance in Poland, Hungary, Latin America, the USA and more. Jobst Bittner used the example of Israel’s Patriarch Jacob to demonstrate how you should not let up in pursuing a goal, for example a March of Life, in the face of resistance. But rather continue even more determined, “As long as descendants (of victims) have to dwell in the shadows of the Holocaust, our responsibility is not over yet.”
Prof. Dr. Gideon Greif from Israel, who is connected with March of Life as one of the world-wide most renowned Holocaust Researchers, taught afterwards about the birth, development, and meaning of the Zionist movement. “Zionism is a permanent dream,” he said at the end of his remarks, “which every Jew and non-Jew, who loves the chosen people, must bear in his heart. Zion is not only a place. It is a nation, a past, a present, and a future. It is the place of God, his promises and their fulfillment.”
The biblical view of Israel and the March of Life movement was conveyed in Gottfried Buehler (ICEJ-Germany) and Pastor Stefan Haas´ inputs: The nations will go up to Israel and worship the God of Israel. Even though today’s events in world politics are far from this, God is already bringing representatives from the nations to Jerusalem as harbingers now. Thus the conference date for “March of the Nations” 2018 in Jerusalem was announced: May 13th to 15th, 2018, the nations will gather for a march of reconciliation in Israel.
That afternoon, 400 participants split off into eleven different workshops on relevant topics to March of Life, such as “Working through Family Truths”, “Jewish-Christian Encounters”, “Handling Modern Antisemitism”, and others. The workshops were recorded and some were streamed live.
The different components of the conference led to one unique conglomerate, which directs the path from the past into the future. Chief Rabbi summarized the message of March of Life with these words, “It is very important to convey: Am Israel Chai!”
View conference sessions on YouTube: March of Life
View photos of the conference on Facebook: March of Life
Annual Marches of Life on Yom haShoah
The first March of Life conference in Tuebingen was attended by 400 participants, including organizers of marches from all over Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Poland, Belarus, Switzerland and Northern Ireland.
Jobst Bittner, initiator of the March of Life Movement, stressed that in a time of social and political upheavals, it is more important than ever that Christians make a public statement for Israel and against any form of hatred towards Jews, and take to the streets together with their Jewish friends. He called for annual Marches of Life on Yom haShoah (the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance Day) everywhere in cities in Germany, Europe and worldwide.
Dr. Andre Gasiorowski (Israel), Chairman of the Holocaust Survivors Fund Helping Hands Coalition, stressed the importance of personal research about family history that characterizes the March of Life. Addressing the German descendants of the perpetrators, he said, “When I publish the stories of Holocaust survivors on the Internet, they are frequently commented on by anti-Semites who claim that everything was a lie. When you write about what your own grandfathers did, there are no such comments. There is nothing that can be said against them.”
As guest of honor, Holocaust survivor Yehuda Berkowitz (Israel) spoke on two evenings. He was deported as a teenager from former Hungary to Auschwitz, and carried his dying father on his shoulder during the death march from Auschwitz. The March of Life was created as a symbolic reversal of these death marches, by the descendants of the perpetrators asking forgiveness for the wrong done by their families and transforming paths of death into paths of life together with the survivors and their descendants.
Next to the prestigious Holocaust Researcher Prof Gideon Greif (Israel), who was one of the speakers of the conference, other Jewish guests had come from Germany, Israel and the US. Andras Patkai from the Israel Allies Foundation said “We are from different backgrounds but we are united on one point: Zion. And we are not ashamed to say that”. The conference was accompanied by a lot of fellowship, good food, dancing and creativity, including the musical “Never Again Silence” to illustrate the conference theme.