Walking to remember

By Elana Zeltser

Joel Spielberger ’12 hung his head as he toured the remains of a concentration camp in Poland alongside Holocaust survivors who made narrow escapes only 60 years ago.

“They would stand in front of a gas chamber and say ‘I watched my sister go in there,’” Spielberger said.

Spielberger was accompanied by Jon Alkalai ’12, Jason Rostovsky ’12, Shana Saleh ’12 and 200 other students from the Los Angeles area on the annual, two-week March of the Living program.

On the second day of the trip, they were joined by international March of the Living factions, reaching a grand total of nearly 12,000 people. Together they chanted, sang and marched in step between the concentration camps Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The one-hour long walk took place on Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Rememberence Day, paying homage to the millions who lost their lives in the camps.

“I realized how connected I was to the land that I was in,” Alkalai said. “It was something that I was proud of myself for doing.”

Following the march, the Los Angeles division visited four different concentration camps during their one-week stay in Poland.

The camp Mydonic was the most intact, and students were able to navigate through gas chambers and crematoriums that looked as they did during the Holocaust.

As the tour commenced, students were handed letters written to them by their parents before the start of the trip.

“My parents just reminded me why it was important that I was there and how proud they are of me,” Alkalai said. “Everyone was reading these letters and everyone was bawling. It was really sad, but it was also a very powerful moment.”

Alkalai and Spielberger said one of the most inspirational part of the trips was listening to the survivors recount their experiences.

“They told us all their stories all the time,” Alkalai said. “They were treated like holy people when they were around us.”

After bussing through Poland, the 200 students took a plane to Israel, just in time for Israeli Independence Day.

“The whole point of the program is you go to Poland and witness the lowest point in Jewish history, and then you fly straight to Israel to celebrate what the Jews have become today,” Alkalai said.

In Israel, they went to the Western Wall to honor those executed in the Holocaust.

“There were a lot of nameless faces and faceless names that died in gas chambers, and the whole trip was about honoring them,” Spielberger said.

Ultimately, Spielberger said he left the trip feeling grateful.

“It gave me a sense of humbleness and appreciation of my life compared to the life I would have had only 60 years ago,” Spielberger said.