By Ester Khachatryan
Two students visited death camps and concentration camps in Poland and then traveled to Israel during the March of the Living Holocaust awareness trip from April 7-21.
Michelle Yousefzadeh â10 and Eli Moghavem â10 joined high school students from all over the world in the 20th march since the program was initiated in the late 1980s.
The program allowed 162 Los Angeles teens, seven Holocaust survivors and 18 program staff members to connect to their history.
The trip offered young people the opportunity “to participate in history, as well as the present and the future,” said Director of the March of the Living program in Los Angeles Monise Neumann. “The significance is simply to connect them to a part of their heritage that perhaps defies description and to allow them to participate in a very personal way inÂ two of the most powerful historical events in modern Jewish history â the destruction of European Jewry and the rebirth of the State of Israel.”
“The March is keeping alive the memory of the six million Jews who died, and not to think of the six million as one figure, but to fully understand how many people that is by focusing on the individuals,” Moghavem said.
“This program not only teaches you about the history of the holocaust but it is also about what you can do to prevent it from happening again,” Yousefzadeh said.
“Since the survivors of the Holocaust are getting older and older and since this is the last generation of witnesses who can hear first hand about the atrocities of this time period â it is our goal to encourage as many students as possible to learn about participating in this program,” Neumann said.
Students traveled to Poland to celebrate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 11.
They visited the Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek death camps.
They then marched from Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp built by Nazis, to Birkenau death camp, retracing the path of countless victims of the Holocaust.
The program took students to the mass grave of more than 700 children who were beaten to death.
All those gathered said Kaddish, a mournerâs prayer, over the graves.
“If they had the chance to live they would have had a chanceÂ to haveÂ a bar mitzvah, they would have had a chance at an education, a marriage, and a family. So it makes you think about the different people they could have been: doctors, teachers, artists. It is such a shame, think about all of that lost potential,” Yousefzadeh said. “It affectedÂ me because I felt that I could make my life more meaningful by assuming the impact they could have made.”
Students visited Holocaust survivor Benjamin Lesserâs parentsâ graves.
The Lesser family tried to escape from Poland by train but a neighbor saw them and reported them to Nazi guards. The Nazi guards killed Lesserâs parents.
Lesser founded Zachor Holocaust Remembrance Foundation in 2009 to keep the memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive for future generations. Lesser gave out pins that said “Zachor,” Hebrew for “remember,” to all participants.
In Israel, students stayed in youth hostels and visited an orphanage for children from abusive and broken homes.
On April 19, students celebrated Yom Hazikaron, the Jewish Memorial Day remembering soldiers who died in the line of duty.
“Everyone in Israel knows someone who has lost his or her life in battle,” Yousefzadeh said.
Commemorating the holiday in Mount Herzl cemetery, students visited the graves of deceased soldiers.
“It made me rethink my priorities. It is easy to get carried away with college decisions, grades and little disputes among friends. At the end of the day, thatâs not what makes life meaningful,” Yousefzadeh said.
During Yom HaâAtzmaut on April 19, the mood changed from the gravity that marked Yom Hazikaron to a celebration commemorating the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
Both Yom HaâAtzmaut and Yom Hazikaron, are signaled with sirens that go off throughout Israel, prompting citizens to take a moment out of their day to remember the meaning of these holidays for the Jewish people.
“Overall, the trip taught me life lessons that I wouldnât have been able to learn from a textbook,” Yousefzadeh said.