OSWIECIM, POLAND -The always-solemn nature of the annual March of the Living took on an additional measure of sorrow at Auschwitz on Monday, coming amidst the Polish national tragedy as the country lost its President and many national leaders in a plane crash only days earlier. As they slowly and silently walked the three-kilometers from the concentration camp at Auschwitz to the death camp at Birkenau, thousands of participants in the March of the Living wore black ribbons in respect for the Polish tragedy.
“President Kaczynski always served as a true friend of Israel, the Jewish people and as a strong leader committed to advance his country away from the very difficult and tragic history which culminated during the Holocaust,” Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the International March of the Living said from Birkenau. “While our program this year remained focused on the main theme of the March – to memorialize the victims of Nazism – we saw it as only appropriate to offer this fitting tribute and join in the national sorrow that is sweeping Poland.”
The March of the Living was led this year by Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency and a human rights advocate who was imprisoned for nearly ten years because of his activities on behalf of Soviet Jewry. In his remarks, Sharansky urged the entire global community to become involved in the continuing campaign to combat hatred and intolerance of all forms exclaiming “It is easy to say Never Again. The challenge is to give these words some sort of meaning.” Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, himself a child-survivor of the Holocaust has joined every March of the Living since its inception in 1988 and again helped lead the ceremony, using his address to appeal to the international community to not ignore the plight of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
Sharansky was also joined by Shahar Pe’er, the highly-ranked Israeli tennis star who marched alongside her grandmother, who was born in Hungary and survived Auschwitz. Avram Grant, manager of the Portsmouth Football Club, left his team in the United Kingdom immediately following a victory to join the March of the Living where he offered tribute to the millions who were killed during the Holocaust. Addressing the ceremony atop the infamous destroyed Birkenau crematoria where the Nazis carried out their Final Solution, Grant dedicated his remarks to his father, who survived the Holocaust and died in October 2009.