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Organizers and participants in the March for the Living

Teen visits death camps, participates in March of the Living

Thanks to the generous teen grants offered by the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, high school senior Liyah Rozett experienced a trip that has made an indelible mark in her mind and her heart. 
    Because she had visited the death camps in Poland earlier in the trip, she felt ready to take part in the March of the Living. Little did she know at the time that nothing could prepare her for what she was about to witness. 
    “I thought I had experienced the worst of it and felt apathetic about my tour, since I (thought) I knew what to expect,” she said. “As I got off the bus, I remember thinking about how beautiful the area was. There were farmer’s markets, small surrounding neighborhoods, and people treating it as if it were just a park. In fact, if an unknowing individual came across Majdanek without the knowledge of its history, they would never believe the true horrors of what had occurred there.”
    The March of the Living is an annual educational program that brings students from all over the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust.
    Held each year on Yom HaShoah (also known as Holocaust Memorial Day) thousands of participants march silently from Auschwitz to Birkenau, which was the largest Nazi concentration camp built during the war. This year myriad students from countries including Israel and Poland were in attendance, as well as non-Jewish groups.
    One of the key elements of the event is for Holocaust survivors to share memories of their wartime experiences with the students.
    Part of Liyah’s preparation for this groundbreaking trip was listening to stories from her father. He made sure to emphasize how life-changing it will be for her.
    “He told me that I would never be the same,” she said. While she had knowledge of the genocide that had occurred in Poland, it meant nothing compared to being in the physical presence of where the atrocities took place and she found herself overwhelmed with emotion while walking through the camps. She said the most challenging part of the trip was seeing the Majdanek Death Camp, which was a German concentration camp located in Lubin.

Liyah Rozett

    This extermination site and work camp held over 500,000 people from 28 different nations imprisoned during its time of operation. “Witnessing the showers and gas chambers, I was horrified to see the blue residue still left from the Ziklon-B that was used for extermination. The crematorium contained ovens as well as saunas for the SS commanders who used the steam from the bodies for their own pleasure. There was a large dome on the grounds of the camp that contained the ashes of those murdered. As I stood there in the cold looking at a pile of human ash, I had feelings I could not explain. We all stood silent, not truly comprehending what we were seeing.”
    While her time in Poland was not a joyful experience, it was an incredibly meaningful one.
    “Spending a week visiting concentration camps was emotionally draining,” she said. However, visiting the town of Tykocin was a refreshing contrast from the rest of the trip. Upon entering the synagogue, we were welcomed by singing and dancing to traditional Jewish music. We were among groups from Mexico and Canada and we were all holding hands, celebrating our return to Tykocin and our living generation of Jewish descent.”
    While visiting the town the group was taken to Lupochowa Forest, not being told of the meaning of the location. After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, the German armed forces returned to Tykocin. The Jews were told to congregate for relocation to a ghetto in Czerwony, but they only made it as far as the Lupochowa Forest before the SS officers massacred and buried them in trenches. “We gathered in the forest, ‘listening’ to the silence in the middle of the mass grave,” Liyah explained.
    The transition to Israel after spending a week in Poland was the most significant for her.
    “Poland was a time of sorrow, remembering our ancestors who were murdered in a foreign land,” she said. “Europe was once a place of refuge and the only place for the Jewish people to go. With no land to call their own, the Jewish people had no escape when the Nazis sentenced them to death. Zionism goes beyond the political title it is given today; it is the belief that Israel belongs to the Jewish nation.
    “As someone who was born in Israel and moved to America at a young age, I sometimes feel disconnected from my Israeli roots. Visiting Poland reminded me how proud I should be of my heritage and the importance of Zionism.”  

GENA ANSELL-LANDE is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.

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