Global, Identity, Politics

Taub: March of the Living Too Obsessed with the Dead

Tad Taube writes on the need to revamp March of the Living in The Forward:

Each year in April, thousands of Jewish youngsters from Israel and the Diaspora make a pilgrimage to the sites of the Nazi death camps in Poland, to commemorate the millions murdered, to remember and never to forget. The March of the Living has become one of the most important international Jewish events, a practical implementation of Emil Fackenheim’s 614th commandment: not to grant Hitler a posthumous victory.
Surely, world Jewry would be greatly deficient in its fundamental obligations, both to the dead and to the living, were it not to make it possible for today’s youth to personally confront the sites of the ultimate horror.
Yet as young Jews march in pain and sorrow through Auschwitz and Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek, they are shown but a glimpse of the glorious 900 years of the history of Polish Jewry. Only occasionally do they learn at all that Jewish history did not end there with the Shoah.
Of course, it would be difficult to include everything in one short and emotionally charged stay; however, the program should not be entirely focused on the victims. And when nine centuries of life are reduced to but five years of death, the impressions that emerge will be unavoidably distorted.

Full story.

7 thoughts on “Taub: March of the Living Too Obsessed with the Dead

  1. Anytime the Jewish community has “Living” in the title of a program or museum, you know it’s going to be death camp related.

  2. My daughter went on this two years ago. It was amazing. My Uncle was killed at Madjanek. I will never get there as I don’t fly, so my daughter went and was unable to tell us about it…too emotional. We viewed the pictures she took and could understand. But focusing on the dead? No…the nightlife in Poland was fun…the trip to Israel uplifting…

  3. Back in the days when I worked as a campus Hillel program director, I was honored to be asked to lead a “Bridges of Understanding” group. At the time, “Bridges” was a partnership between Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and a program through the German government in which groups of about twenty undergraduate and graduate students travelled around Germany for three weeks. There were multiple agendas for this experience: to engage Jewish students the notion of “being Jewish with other Jews;” to show them the history of Jewish Germany — including the rise of antisemitism in the 1930s through the Holocaust; to dialogue with German (non-Jewish) university students; and to experience German Jewry firsthand. Since that time “Bridges” severed its relationship with Hillel, but the experience we had was absolutely amazing.
    One of our students had been on “the March;” most of them knew of the trip and were aware that this was a different program altogether. Where the March focused on death, this program focused on aftermath. True, some of it was propoganda from the German government, but we spent quite a bit of time with Jews in Frankfurt, Berlin and Dresden. As well as Shavuot in a small town (with even a smaller Jewish community) called Giessen. We saw the newly expanded Jewish communities — primarily Jews from the former Soviet Union who were being absorbed by those who were trying to rebuild the Jewish infrastructure which had laid dormant. (We were also fortunate to have quite a few Russian speaking students in our group.)
    Many in our group recall our visit to the Deutsche Bank building in downtown Frankfurt only a few days into the trip. It appeared to be partly a lecture of apology as well as a presentation on how repentant they have been. But what irked many of us was their statement that large amounts of reparations money was being fed towards The March.
    I cannot comment as someone who went on “The March.” But from the experiences of friends and colleagues who did participate, the message is one of victimization. “Look what they did to us. They’ll keep on doing this if we don’t watch out. Israel is the only place where the Jews will have a safe haven.” Meanwhile, we had seen firsthand what was going on in Germany, where Holocaust memorials were prevalent all over every major city; where we experienced no visible signs of antisemitisml and where our experiences touring a concentration camp were with newfound friends from the University at Marburg — who had toured these camps many times before but never alongside Jewish participants.
    The article above comments that the Shoah was not the end of Judaism in Poland. “Bridges” showed us that Judaism lives on in Germany as well. Unfortunately, it appears the March is giving young Jews a completely different message.

  4. I went on the March in 1996 with the BBYO contingent. I agree with the criticism that the program didn’t do enough in the way of contextualizing the Shoah amid the long history of Jewish life in Europe. But it did make some efforts. We had survivors with us who told us about their lives in Europe before the war. We toured the Jewish quarter of Krakow. We met with contemporary Jewish residents of Warsaw (including fellow teenagers) and spent a day helping to restore the Jewish cemetary there. We also had a Polish university student with us as a translator. She had never met a Jew before, but grew quite close with several members of our group. She made a point of charging us to return to Poland later in our lives to see more of the present, something I still fully intend to do.
    In my opinion programs like the March of the Living have an important role in the education of Jewish youth today. Unlike Israel (which I believe every Jew should visit, preferably when they are young) I do not think that every Jew has an obligation to visit the death camps. But somebody needs to go. As the last of the survivors die out over the coming decade or two, somebody will need to carry forward the “never forget” mantra. The survivors who were with us in Poland implored us to do so, and I took that mission seriously, returning home to my overwhelmingly non-Jewish community (I was one of 5 Jews out of 1400 students in my high school) and giving presentations that introduced many of my classmates and neighbors to the history of the Shoah for the first time.
    So overhaul the MoTL? Sure, it can be improved to focus less on death and more on the myriad ways Europe (not just Israel) has changed for the better since 1945. But in the face of the Janjaweed militas and Ahmadinejads of the world, we still need people who can testify to the death and destruction that happened in the hope that it doesn’t happen again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.