Being a second generation survivor, who through my youth heard my father willingly talk about his hardships and experiences, I have always felt the need to better understand what he endured.
From the time of his deportation from Rhodes Island in July 1944 to Auschwitz and his eventual liberation from Mathausen Concentration Camp in May 1945, his world and my fate were parallels which inconceivably could ever have been imagined to cross. As with all survivors, his story is a patchwork of lucky turns and fate.
I have always felt the need to try to understand what my father spoke about and with this year marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; I felt this was a good time to partake in the 2015 March of the Living.
The journey began with counselling sessions given by Richard Friedman in Cape Town which gave us a good understanding of what the trip would encompass. Later on down the line, staring at the ash memorial at Majdanek, Richard’s briefing proved to be invaluable.
Our trip started in Krakow; one of the largest pre-war Jewish cities with around 65 000 Jews. Krakow was hardly damaged during the war and its Jewish quarter, known as the Kazimierz, has retained its Jewish identity with several synagogues and businesses displaying Jewish names and memorabilia. There is a well-managed Jewish centre doing amazing work within the community and we attended a talk done by a Polish gentleman who is honoured as a Righteous Amongst Nations. On the edge of Krakow stands the infamous Plaszow concentration camp, well known as it was here that the Oskar Schindler story played out.
The next part of our trip was to the biggest and most notorious Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz, located near the town of Oswiecim. Auschwitz I was the base camp, Auschwitz II — Birkenau the extermination camp and Auschwitz III — Monowitz the labour camp. Transports from all over Europe brought Jews daily to be exterminated.
Here we understood what my father and his family went through; the horrific cruelty that the Nazi’s inflicted. Those to the left and those to the right.
On 16 April, thousands of Jewish people came together to share in the “once in a lifetime experience”, the three kilometre march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. This year attended by 9000 youth and 2000 adults, it was truly a memorable experience. We marched to remember, to think, to understand, to honour and to preserve. The march concluded with the singing of Hatikvah, reaffirming “Am Yisrael Chai” — the Jewish People live! The rest of the itinerary took us to the cities of Lodz, Lublin and Warsaw, visiting the remaining Ghetto sites, cemeteries and memorials. The other camps we visited were Chelmno death camp and Majdanek death and labour camp, both leaving lifelong emotions as to the pain, suffering and agony in the most horrific places ever created by man.
The destruction of almost an entire generation of Jews occurred; we have to keep their memory alive, by visiting and bearing witness to this dark chapter in our history. Reprioritise your Jewish identity and give next year’s march serious consideration.
Sarina Blacher was born and grew up in Zimbabwe. She is married with two children and currently volunteers as a guide for school groups visiting the Cape Town Holocaust Centre.