March of the Living: ‘My heart was broken in Poland and mended in Israel’

Elizabeth Greenberg (third from right) enters Birkenau with fellow March of the Living participants on Yom HaShoah, April 16.

Elizabeth Greenberg (third from right) enters Birkenau with fellow March of the Living participants on Yom HaShoah, April 16.

Fourteen high school students from Ottawa were among the thousands of Jewish teenagers from around the world to participate in the 2015 March of the Living in April. Participant Elizabeth Greenberg reflects on the experience.

Last month, I was lucky enough to participate in the 2015 March of the Living. The March is a two-week trip that brings high school students from around the world to Poland and Israel.

In Poland, we learned about the Holocaust and 18,000 of us marched the three km from Auschwitz to Birkenau together on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). Then, in Israel, we commemorated Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Remembrance Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and celebrated Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

The week in Poland was an intense experience. Having attended the Ottawa Jewish Community School from kindergarten to Grade 8, I thought I knew about the Holocaust. But there is reading about it and there is being right there. Visiting the concentration camps and the ghettos of Poland is something I will never forget. My heart felt heavy, as if the souls of those who died there were with me and living through me.

The Majdanek concentration camp moved me deeply. We visited the imposing monument that houses the ashes of the victims. As we stood, overwhelmed by the memorial, music began to play. It was a recording of Jews liberated from Bergen-Belsen singing “Hatikvah.” Standing there, arm and arm with my fellow marchers, hearing “Hatikvah” and seeing the remains of those who perished, sorrow seeped into my soul. At that moment, I felt a connection I have never felt before.

I was also especially struck by our visit to the Lopuchowo Forest. It is near the town of Tykocin and home to three mass graves where the entire Jewish population – 2,000 people – of Tykocin was executed. I had not previously heard of Lopuchowo and was dumbstruck by my visit. We toured the forest in total silence. This most moving moment of the trip swept me up. I had never really understood how silence can scream until that moment. It was so hard walking back to our bus realizing the victims never got to take this path home.

We did and saw so much I think I am still trying to process it all. The two weeks flew past. There are so many people who touched my life: the Holocaust survivors who shared their stories, the friends I went with, the new friends I made, our amazing chaperons, Gaby Scarowsky and Margo and Norman Viner, just to name a few. I am so lucky in so many ways. I got to see, to touch, to feel our history – and then celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Israel! I fell in love with Israel. The sights, the sounds, our story, it was amazing. I did not want to leave!

The best way to sum it up was that my heart was broken in Poland and mended in Israel. There is a scar – but a scar I wear with pride and that will help me to never forget.

An information meeting for 2016 March of the Living will take place Tuesday, June 9, 7 pm at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre. Students (and parents) who will be in Grades 10, 11 and 12 next year are invited.

For more information, contact Benita Siemiatycki at bsiemiatycki@jewishottawa.com or 613-798-4696, ext. 227.

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