Miracles and Memories
Written by: Michaela Symons (Keshetnick)
The holocaust is something every Jewish child knows and learns about at some time in their lives. This was the case for me, I knew a lot about it and going to a Jewish day school meant it was constant point of discussion with many guest speakers and outings on the topic. However no amount of knowledge or stories could have ever prepared me for the March of the Living (MOTL), for the places I’d visit and the things I would see.
Possibly two of the best, most intense and challenging weeks of my life; it completely changed me and the way I view the world and the people in it. Every single moment in Poland and in Israel was special and memorable, and a day that really stood out for me was the actual march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. When we first arrived at Auschwitz, before the march, we were given some time to meet the other delegations. This was such an eye opener, seeing thousands of Jewish youth and adults from all over the world. I met Americans, Canadians, British, Australians, Brazilians… the list is endless.
Zach and I, the only two Netzerniks in the South African delegation, happened upon a huge group of British youth movements with the majority of them being a part of Netzer. The two of us were beyond surprised as there were about 10 000 people there and we found them in the masses of people at the Camp that day. There was excitement on both sides when we started speaking and realised we had mutual friends, South African bogrim that had gone on shnat with many of British Netzerniks there. They started a Netzer style prayer service which Zach and I gladly joined; it was like we were back at home on Summer Camp.
As we were sitting in a big circle singing Netzer songs, in one of the most terrible Death Camps of the Holocaust, I felt that feeling of a Netzer family more than I ever had before in my life. Instant connections were made with the British Netzerniks and I felt such a sense of comfort being with people who had grown up in the same movement as I but just in a different country. Though I was saddened by being in a place that contained so much suffering I was reminded of the Jewish peoples continued strength while we all sang ‘Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu’ and filled the death camp with song.
Oceans and borders may have divided us but our religion connected us.
I never fully understood the importance of Netzer until Auschwitz, until I sang the Netzer song with relative strangers and realised that no matter where you are in the world you are never alone. Netzer is a worldwide family that connects people from all over the world. This is the power of Netzer and any other youth movement, creating bonds between the Jewish youth of the world. Though this was only one hour during two jam packed weeks, it is something I will never forget! That this revelation occurred in the most unlikely place on the planet is in itself a miracle and is a memory that I will cherish my entire life.
Honoring Family Heritage
Written By: Zacheriah George Schwartz (Keshetnick)
My journey started in Amsterdam, where all 39 of the South African delegation met at the Scholl Airport to embark on this journey through Jewish history together. We were asked to say our names and say why we were there in Poland for the march, my reason being my Grandfather, George Alfred Schwartz, who was captured in North Africa in May 1944 and sent to the death camp in Sobibor, where he managed to escape, only to be sent to Auschwitz where he stayed until the Allied Forces liberated the death camp, as I am a third generation survivor on my father’s side.
I now feel that I have honored my Great Grandfathers name.
The history that had been left behind was awe-inspiring to experience first-hand, explaining to me what had happened to my family and others just like them during this period of time, where we were persecuted for being nothing more than Jewish. I am overwhelmed that I had the opportunity to go on MOTL, especially because we were celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, of the Jewish people from Hitler and his Nazi regime. From my journey and my time spent in both Poland and Israel, I have gained much heartfelt respect, and I would encourage and advise anyone who had family in these death camps to go on the March. I made good friends for life and not just from South Africa but from around the world – my MOTL was a huge success. My flight was long and my journey was short. Two weeks in two different countries was definitely an experience I will never forget. Poland was amazing!
The whole experience felt quite long, but having been home for two weeks and four days, I am so grateful for having been able to go.