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Can One March Help Descendants of Nazis and Survivors Reconcile?

70 years after death marches killed some 25,000 Hungarian Jews, descendants of perpetrators join survivors's children for remembrance march.
By Nissan Tzur
First Publish: 4/19/2014, 9:30 PM

March of the Living (file)
March of the Living (file)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

70 years ago, the Holocaust in Hungary began with the invasion of the German Wehrmacht in March 1944.

With gruesome efficiency Adolf Eichmann, supported by the Hungarian authorities, organized the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. On November 1944, after the end of the regular deportations, people were sent on death marches from Budapest. 85,000 were sent to Austria for forced labor, 25,000 of whom perished already along the way from Budapest to the Austrian concentration camp Mauthausen. They died from exhaustion, hunger, or after being shot by their Nazi guards. 

70 years later, from April 22 to 27, 2014, the March of Life will take place in Hungary. Under the title “Remembering, Reconciling, and Shaping the Future in Friendship”, 250 participants from Germany will be walking together with several hundreds of participants from Hungary along the routes of the former death marches. 

At the sites where people were deprived of their rights, dispossessed, deported, and murdered, German and Hungarian descendants of the perpetrators will walk together with the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. With the March, the participants want to honor Holocaust survivors and set a mark for Israel and against anti-Semitism and racism. 

Many of the participant’s fathers and grandfathers were actively involved in the Holocaust against the Jews of Hungary as members of the SS or Wehrmacht, as administration officials, or as members of the Hungarian Arrow Cross party. With memorial events and prayer marches they will make a powerful statement against forgetting and for remembering and reconciliation in twelve places all across Hungary. 

The March of Life will culminate in a major march on Saturday, April 26, in Budapest across the chain bridge to the Shoe Memorial near the Parliament building. The next day will see participants join the better-known “March of the Living” walking to the Keleti Station.

The March of Life is organized with the support of public institutions, the Lutheran, Reformed, and Free Churches, as well as in partnership with the “March of the Living International” and the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ). 

The March of Life was initiated by Jobst and Charlotte Bittner. Since 2007, reconciliation marches have taken place in 13 different nations and 120 cities with over 20,000 participants.

In November 2011, the initiative was honored with an award by the Israeli Knesset for its special efforts among Holocaust survivors. For 2014 and 2015, the organizers are planning on having reconciliation marches in 100 cities in Germany and neighboring countries to commemorate the death marches 70 years ago.