The March of the Living (Hebrew: מצעד החיים, Mits'ad HaKhayim; Polish: Marsz Żywych) is an annual educational program which brings students from around the world to Poland, where they explore the remnants of the Holocaust. On Holocaust Memorial Day observed in the Jewish calendar (Yom HaShoah), thousands of participants march silently from Auschwitz to Birkenau.

March of the Living
Native name Marsz Żywych (Polish), מצעד החיים (Hebrew)
DateMarch or April annually
LocationAuschwitz-Birkenau, Poland
ThemeThe Holocaust
CauseHolocaust remembrance and education
ParticipantsStudents, Holocaust survivors, dignitaries

The March of the Living was founded in 1988, under the leadership of Israeli Likud politician Abraham Hirchson, Shmuel Rosenman, and Israeli attorney Baruch Adler, a child of a Holocaust survivor who was hidden by one of the Righteous Among the Nations.[1][2][3] Since its inception, almost 300,000 participants – including world leaders, educators, Holocaust survivors and students – have taken part in the program.[4][5]

History edit

The program was established in 1988 and takes place annually for two weeks around April and May, immediately following Passover. The initial program involved approximately 1500 Jewish high school students and teachers, mostly from North America, France, and Israel. Since 1996, it has been held annually.[6][7][8] In 1988, the initial parade gathered considerable media attention. Notable personalities such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Yitzhak Navon, Bibi Netanyahu, and some Polish dignitaries were among its attendees.[9][10]

The Israeli founders of the March of the Living were politician Avraham Hirschson educator Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, and attorney Baruch Adler. They were assisted in the early years by Jewish communal leaders and philanthropists from the United States (Alvin Schiff, Gene Greenzweig, Dr. David Machlis, and Joseph Wilf, the first North American Chair of the March of the Living), and Canada (Walter Hess, Shlomo Shimon, Rabbi Irwin Witty, and Eli Rubenstein).

Commemoration of World War II death marches edit

Writer and journalist Meir Uziel proposed the name "March of the Living" to contrast the death marches that were typical at the end of World War II.[10] When Nazi Germany withdrew its soldiers from forced-labour camps, inmates – most already starving and stricken by oppressive work – were forced to march hundreds of miles further west, while those who lagged behind or fell were shot or left to freeze to death in the winter climate. The March of the Living, in contrast to the death marches, serves to illustrate the continued existence of the Jewish people despite Nazi attempts at their obliteration.

After spending a week in Poland visiting other sites of Nazi Germany's persecution, such as Majdanek, Treblinka, and the Warsaw Ghetto, and former sites of Jewish life and culture, various Synagogues, many of the participants in the March also travel on to Israel where they observe Yom HaZikaron and celebrate Israel's Independence Day.[11]

Chazzan Shimon Farkas at the annual March of the Living in Auschwitz Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day, where he chanted El Malei Rachamim, the traditional prayer for the six million Jews who perished.

Chazzan Shimon Farkas has attended the March several times as part of the Australian delegation. He has performed at the commencement at Auschwitz in Poland by chanting the traditional prayer called El Malei Rachamim, which is said in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and performing Szól a Kakas Már with Chaim & Dov Farkas, his two sons.[12]

Frank Lowy, an Australian philanthropist and Holocaust survivor, shared his personal story with the March of the Living event attendees in 2014. He stood in front of a cattle car, which resembled the ones used to transport Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, including his father, Hugo Lowy. March of the Living showed a documentary detailing how Lowy learned of his father's fate with details of how and why he lost his life there.[13][14][15] The Australian delegation has participated in the March since 2001

Exhibit edit

In mid January 2014 a new exhibit on the March of the Living opened at the United Nations, which housed the exhibit until the end of March 2014. Titled "When you Listen to a Witness, You Become a Witness", the exhibit includes photographs, documents and writings devoted to the 25-year history of the March of the Living.[16]

An interactive component of the exhibition allows visitors to fill out their own pledge of tolerance and compassion which may be taken on the March of the Living and planted alongside thousands of other plaques of tolerance and compassion on the very grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau.[17]

The title of the exhibit is taken from the words of Judy Weissenberg Cohen in a speech given to students on the 1997 March of the Living describing the last time she saw her mother during the selection of Hungarian Jewry in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the spring of 1944.[9][18][19]

On March 10, 2014, a group of students from New York's Pine Bush High School[20] – part of a district where there have been press reports alleging widespread anti-Semitism – visited the UN Exhibit. They were addressed by Holocaust survivors Judy Weissenberg Cohen and Fanya Heller, as well as by Rick Carrier, a World War II Liberator.[21][22]

The UN Exhibit became the basis of a book published in the fall of 2015, titled, Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations. The book has a unique interactive feature where the survivors, World War II liberators, and Righteous Among the Nations featured in the book, include an invisible link embedded on their image. When their image is accessed with a smart phone or other device, the reader is taken to an excerpt of their video testimony on USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education (created by Steven Spielberg) or March of the Living Digital Archive Project websites.[23] Translations in several other languages are already in the works.[24]

President of Poland Andrzej Duda with Aharon Tamir, deputy chairman, March of the Living

In recent years the March of the Living (MOTL) has attempted to broaden its focus from only concentrating on the Holocaust, and include other program content in the Poland portion of the trip. These elements include: celebrating Jewish life before the war, establishing dialogue with Polish students, meeting with Polish Righteous among the Nations, and connecting with the contemporary Polish Jewish community.[25]

in 2018, marking 30 years since the first March, Israel's delegation to the United Nations headquarters held an event with participation from Holocaust Survivors and other ambassadors from around the world. The reports also note a second reason for the gathering, a new law passed in Poland, absolving them of responsibility for the Holocaust. During the event, an exhibition called "Testimony" was inaugurated. The exhibition features a collection of photographs showcasing Holocaust survivors as well as students who have taken part in the parade since 1988, creating an additional experience for its visitors. Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon talked about witnessing attempts rewrite history, saying, "It is precisely from the UN headquarters that was established following the greatest tragedy known to mankind that we must oppose any move to change the face of history and rewrite it. Every day, and especially on this day, it is more important than ever to remember those who perished and perpetuate the truth." March of the Living's president and co-founder Phyllis Heideman said, "We should not see the Holocaust as a historical, distant event, but as a perpetual symbol of darkness and darkness." Co-founder and chairman Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, speaking about the March explained, "The youth go to Poland for a week and from there to Israel for a week. Even before they leave for the trip, 12 meetings are held in which they receive an overview of everything related to the Holocaust and Israel. Close to 40% of the youth, by the way, are not Jewish."[26][27]

As part of a global initiative to raise awareness about antisemitism, the march includes non-Jewish young people as well. They believe that the key to fighting this disease is through clear and defined efforts to combat it, and they hope to spark a meaningful conversation about the issue.[10]

Cultural impact edit

Canadian teens meet with their Polish counterparts in Warsaw on the March of the Living (2 photos)

In May 2023, The March of the Living's Chairman described the modern culture of the new participants saying, "This year, we brought a new group of young leaders: online influencers and bloggers were on the March. They helped us reach new audiences of young people. Millions of views on social media, thousands of comments, shares and "likes". Because in a world where books are not burned but rather cancelled online, we should all be united in speaking out against antisemitism and all forms of hatred."[28]

When speaking about this year's upcoming march [in 2024] Rosenman stated special attention will be paid to fighting antisemitism, with emphasis on the atrocities of October 7. "Now we see the [parallel] between the Holocaust and what happened in October."[29]

In January 2024, the Israeli president Isaac Herzog hosted an event as his residence with March of the Living to commemorate the Kindertransport, which brought nearly 10,000 children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland to the United Kingdom in 1938–1939 during the Nazi regime. The event brought survivors of the Holocaust together and those who were part of the Kindertransport.[30] Chairman Shmuel Rosenman commented "[We were] shocked by the stories of the survivors about what they experienced 85 years ago, and horrified by the abhorrent stories from Israel. We were reminded that the hatred of the Jews has no expiration date. It changes its form. But its motivation is the same – the annihilation of the Jewish people."[31]

It is worth noting that a group of 30 individuals comprising of adults, young adults, and Holocaust survivors from Australia is set to participate in the March of the Living in 2024, representing the Australian delegation's 23rd year in attendance. Since 2001, when Australia first joined the March, around 2,000 Australians have taken part in this event. This number includes 1,200 students, 450 adults, 300 educators and survivors, and 50 young adults.[32]

The 2024 Australian March of the Living Delegation edit

During the March of the Living in 2013, Frank Lowy, an Australian philanthropist and Holocaust survivor, shared his emotional story with the participants. Standing in front of a cattle car like the ones used to transport Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau, he recounted how his father Hugo Lowy was also transported in a similar wagon and disappeared into the smoke of Birkenau upon arrival. At the memorial ceremony, he expressed his sadness and longing for his father, stating that he still missed him even after 69 years since his murder in Auschwitz. In the upcoming 2024 March of the Living, two Australian Holocaust survivors, Peter Baruch and Judith Solomon, will join the event.[32]

Peter Baruch, who is now 85 years old, hails from Poland and is the sole survivor of his extended family. Judith Solomon, born in August 1942 in Budapest, Hungary and was kept with her mother and grandmother in the Budapest Ghetto during the war. They managed to flee with Raoul Wallenberg's assistance and were later liberated by American soldiers. In addition, five high school educators who teach Holocaust Studies at non-Jewish schools and two former Australian Parliamentarians – one of whom is non-Jewish, have also joined the 2024 group.[32]

The press release from the Australian delegation states their intent is increase participation from the "wider community, " to reach their goal for 2027, for a 50/50 representation of both Jewish and non-Jewish participants.

In commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the destruction of Hungarian Jewry in the spring of 1944, with most of them killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau, a special march will take place in Budapest, Hungary, prior to the March of the Living in Poland. The Budapest program will be led by the renowned Cantor Shimon Farkas from Sydney, Australia, who has previously attended the March with his sons. "This year, I will travel to Budapest and Auschwitz with the 2024 March of the Living along with my two wonderful sons, wife and grandchildren,' said Hungarian born Shimon Farkas. Three of his four grandparents perished in Auschwitz.[33] "We will sing Jewish melodies in the very places where so many of our beloved ancestors were sent to their deaths 80 years ago. And our message will be loud and clear: Hitler, you did not win and you will never win! Am Yisrael Chai!"

Documentaries and Publications edit

In 1988, the March of the Living program began with around 1500 Jewish high school students and teachers from North America, France, and Israel.[8] The very first documentary film on the program was made during this time, following the Florida March of the Living delegation. This was an Emmy Award-winning film with Suzanne Lasky Gerard directing, while Colleen Dewhurst and Jonathan Silverman provided the narration, and the soundtrack was by Vadim Dreyzin. The film was updated by director in 2023, and titled "The March of the Living: Then and Now."[34][35]


In 1993, "For You Who Died I Must Live On...Reflections on the March of the Living" was published by Mosaic Press. The book was edited by Eli Rubenstein, and featured the experiences from participants on the March from its first four years. It was subtitled, "Contemporary Jewish Youth Confront the Holocaust." The book won the 1994 Canadian Jewish Book Award.[36]


Each of Us Has a Name (1999) was produced and directed by Fern Levitt follows the journey of Canadian Jewish teenagers and Holocaust survivors on the March of the Living as they visit former Nazi German death camps in Poland, as well as other historic sites in the country.[37](Global Television Network)


In 2009 two different documentaries featured March of the Living participants or students on similar experiences during their time on the trip. The documentary Defamation, by filmmaker Yoav Shamir, includes a group of Israeli students during their time at Poland sites, including the stop at Auschwitz.[38] Director Jessica Sanders made a documentary titled March of the Living, which focuses entirely on the program and participants.[39]

Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations is a book authored by Eli Rubenstein and published by Second Story Press in 2015. The book is inspired by a 2014 United Nations exhibit showcasing the reflections and images of Holocaust survivors and students who participated in the March of the Living since 1988. Witness has been published in Spanish, Polish, and Hebrew languages. In 2020, a special edition of the book was released to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII and the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny. This edition features liberation stories of Holocaust survivors, an afterword by Steven Spielberg, founder of the USC Shoah Foundation, and content from Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis related to the March of the Living and stories concerning the Righteous Among the Nations.


Late 2015 saw the release of Blind Love, a documentary film about six blind Israelis traveling to Poland with the help of their guide dogs on the March of the Living to learn about the Holocaust. The blind participants and their guide dogs marched from Auschwitz-Birkenau in memory of the victims of Nazi genocide and against prejudice, intolerance and hate.[40]

The film premiered during Holocaust Education Week in Toronto, with the co-sponsorship of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. It was also broadcast on the CBC's Canadian speciality channel Documentary in late 2015 and then again in 2017 on Holocaust Remembrance Day, as well as in Israel on its main station Channel 10 (Israel) on the same day. The film also was broadcast on PBS in the United States.[40][41][42]


The film "Our Liberation: Stories of Holocaust Survivors" Road to Freedom" was premiered on i24NEWS by International March of the Living and the March on International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021.[43]

The movie depicts the emotional experiences of six Holocaust survivors as they return to the moment when Allied troops liberated the Nazi concentration camps, granting them the long-awaited freedom.[44]

Naomi Wise directed and produced the documentary. The film highlights the personal stories of Holocaust survivors who participated in the March of the Living. The survivors featured are Miriam Ziegler, Faigie Libman, Ernest Ehrmann, and Joe Mandel, as well as the late Robert Engel Z"L and Howard Kleinberg Z"L.[45][46]


"Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations", directed by Naomi Wise, premiered  on i24 News on International Holocaust Survivors Day, on June 24, 2021.  The event marked the first ever international Holocaust Survivor Day, honoring the resilience, courage and contributions of Holocaust Survivors.[47][48]

The film, shot on location on the March of the Living in Poland, draws on the most poignant moments captured between survivors and students since 1988. March of the Living Survivors featured in the film include Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, Judy Cohen, Max Eisen, Max Glauben, Bill Glied, Pinchas Gutter, Denise Hans, Anna Heilman, Mania Hudy, Max Iland, Howard Kleinberg, Nate Leipciger, Faigie Libman, Sol Nayman, Edward Mosberg, Irving Roth, Rena Schondorf, Albert Silwin, Stefania Sitbon, Sally Wasserman, Elie Wiesel, Helen Yurmas,  Miriam Zacrojcyk, and Sidney Zoltak.[48][47]

Saving the World Entire

"Saving the World Entire: Rescuers During the Holocaust" (2023),  directed by Naomi Wise, premiered on i24 News on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, 2023[49][50][51]

January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is globally recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Saving the World Entire profiles the courage of four Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Archival testimony – provided by USC Shoah Foundation and March of the Living – focuses on four Polish rescuers whose stories have been shared with March of the Living students. The Polish rescuers – all honoured at Yad Vashem as  Righteous Among the Nations – are Zygmunt Krynski,  Sister Klara Jaroszynska, Czeslawa Zak, and Krystyna Puchalski-Maciejewskai. The Holocaust survivors they rescued who share their story in the film are Sidney Zoltak, Eva Kuper, Olga Kost & Felix Zandman.[52][51][49][50]

In 2024 coinciding with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, International March of the Living released two Holocaust documentaries related to the Kindertransport:


"Journey of Hope": Retracing the Kindertransport after 85 Years" is a documentary featuring three Kindertransport survivors, Walter Bingham (100) Paul Alexander (85) and George Shefi (92), retracing the journey they took to escape Germany as children 85 years ago after the Kristallnacht pogrom.[53][54][55]

The film premiered on Jan. 24, 2024 at the Israeli President's Residence with the attendance of President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog and nine Kindertransport survivors, including Mirjam Beit Talmi Szpiro, who was both a Kindertransport survivor as well as a survivor of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, at Kibbutz Zikim. The film was  broadcast on i24News.[56]


In January 2024, International March of the Living released the film "If We Never See Each Other Again", a documentary based on interviews with Kindertransport survivors from the USC Shoah Foundation, marking 85 years since the start of the first Kindertransport. The film was aired on JBS.[57]

The International March of the Living has commissioned a number of shorter Holocaust documentaries:

  • The Choice is Ours: Courageous Acts of Medical Professionals During the Holocaust[58][59]
  • Full Circle – Ukrainian Family Saves Jewish Woman During Holocaust – 80 Years Later Kindness Repaid[60][61]
  • United We Stand: Black Soldiers Liberating Hitler's Camps and Jewish Activists in Civil Rights Movement[62]
  • It Was The Right Thing To Do[63]
  • Point of No Return: The Nuremberg Laws[64]
  • Nuremberg Trials – Staying the Hand of Vengeance[65]
  • 100,000 Souls: The Legacy of Raoul Wallenberg[66]
  • Czeslawa & Olga[67]
  • Twice Liberated[68]
  • Candles of Kindness[69]
  • Auschwitz-Birkenau: 70 Years After Liberation; A Warning to Future Generations[70]
  • Lay Down Your Arms[71]
  • Requiem for the Warsaw Ghetto[72]
  • Live and Die with Honor: The Story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising[73]
  • I Am Anne Frank[74]
  • Anne Frank:70 Years Later[75]

2020–2021 Cancellation Due to Covid-19 edit

For the first time since its inception in 1988, the March of the Living program to Poland and Israel was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting thousands of prospective participants – including students, survivors, educators and dignitaries from around the world. It was then cancelled again in 2021.In its place, an online virtual program was implemented instead in 2020 and again 2021 [76][77][78] The in-person March of the Living resumed in 2022, though some groups cancelled because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.[79]

See also edit

  • Edward Mosberg, Holocaust survivor, one of the biggest supporters of the International March of the Living, often attending the march wearing his original concentration camp uniform.

References edit

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Further reading edit

  • Rubenstein, Eli (1993). For You Who Died I Must Live On: Reflections on the March of the Living. Oakville, Ontario: Mosaic Press. ISBN 0889625107.
  • Shevelev, Raphael; Schomer, Karine (1997). Liberating the Ghosts: Photographs and Text from the March of the Living. Anacortes, Washington: Lenswork Publishing. ISBN 1888803002.
  • Berlfein Burns, Jan, ed. (2014). March of the Living: Our Stories: A Collection from the Holocaust Survivors of the Los Angeles Delegation of BJE. Los Angeles, California: Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. ISBN 9780985835439. OCLC 940568018.
  • Rubenstein, Eli (2015). Witness: Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations. Toronto, Ontario: Second Story Press. ISBN 978-1927583661.

External links edit