Ottawa high school students currently in Poland on the March of the Living program left with well wishes from Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney.
Kenney – who is also minister of Employment and Social Development – spoke to the students April 1 at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre sharing his enthusiasm and encouragement about the deep emotional impact the program will have on them.
“If you’re a person of faith, you believe in providence, that sometimes things happen [that] can trigger a chain of events, [which will] in time, produce good,” Kenney said.
The March of the Living educational program allows students from around the world to travel to Poland to study the history of the Holocaust and to examine underlying causes of prejudice and its consequences.
The first March of the Living was held in 1988 and, to date, more than 150,000 youth from around the world have participated in the program.
The students, accompanied by Holo-caust survivors, march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).
“It always amazes me that people who lived through this unspeakable mystery of evil have been willing to dig deep back into those experiences to share them over and over again, as some survivors have, and how painful that must be for them,” Kenney said.
This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the deportation and devastation of Hungary’s Jews during the Holocaust, and there will be special emphasis on the stories of Hungarian Jewry during this year’s March of the Living program.
After Yom HaShoah, the students will travel to Israel and end their journey on exciting, optimistic terms as they celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
Josh Kofsky, a Grade 10 student at Colonel By Secondary School, expects March of the Living will be “overwhelming.”
“Just the stories and seeing the places where they went through such harsh life will be life-changing,” he said.
“I’m jealous. I wish I could join you,” Kenney told the students and their parents and chaperons.
Evan Zelikovitz, chair of the March of the Living Digital Archive Project, said he and his film crew will accompany the students while documenting the personal testimonies of about 20 Canadian survivors reliving the past as they participate in the March.
“We just want to capture their stories before it’s too late. There are only a few years left to go,” he said of the globally dwindling numbers of survivors.
“It’s a lot of walking and it is long hours, this trip. But it’s unbelievable,” he added.
Zelikovitz said he hopes to capture the profound impact by hearing the survivors tell their stories “in the very places where it happened: in the camps.”
The project is in its second year, and students watched a video Zelikovitz and his team produced during the 2013 March of survivor Joe Mandel telling his Holocaust survival and camp liberation stories for the first time ever to both students and his own family.
Kenney said he is proud to work with the March of the Living Digital Archive Project.
“I can’t think of anything I’ve been involved in, in public life, that matters more than this,” he said. “I only wish you had begun this kind of work a few decades ago to capture all the testimonies of the survivors.”
Zelikovitz said he believes these recorded stories will have a “huge impact” that will connect survivors with future generations, beginning with all students who continue to participate in the March.
“They are our next generation of witnesses.”