For the 23rd year in a row, an international commemoration of the 1945 Death March from Auschwitz to the death camp at Birkenau will take place in Poland. Over 10,000 people, including students from more than 30 nations, are expected to take part in what is known as the "March of the Living.”
The march is the world’s largest annual memorial service for the victims of Nazism and the Holocaust. This year’s event will feature the re-dedication of the famous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, which was stolen in December and recovered in pieces shortly afterwards.
The three-kilometer march from Auschwitz to Birkenau will take place on April 12, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It commemorates the Death Marches that the Nazis forced Jews to take along that very route in the 1940s; tens of thousands of Jews perished in three of these Death Marches. It was originally initiated by former Cabinet minister Avraham Hirschson as a loud proclamation that "Am Yisrael Chai" - the People of Israel still live; many of the young people taking part in the march will travel from there to Israel to take part in Independence Day festivities the following week.
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and Natan Sharansky have been chosen to lead the March of the Living this year. Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, sat in Soviet prison for 11 years for his desire to move to Israel, and later served as a Cabinet minister in the Israeli government. Rabbi Lau, a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, for the second time, was one of the youngest survivors – eight years old – to be rescued from the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Among the participants in the March will also be survivors of the Holocaust who will be returning to the area of their suffering for the first time. March organizers say that a heavy emphasis has always been placed on involving survivors in the annual program and integrating them within student groups.
Program participants will travel around Poland to learn about 1,000 years of Jewish life in the country, which culminated with the ghettos and concentration camps where the Nazis carried out their genocide against European Jewry.
“The Arbeit Macht Frei sign has served as a place of reflection and memorial for the more than 150,000 people who have participated in the March of the Living since 1988,” said Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the International March of the Living. “Its theft shocked the entire world, and we therefore see it as appropriate for the 2010 program to rededicate this sign.”