ORT CIS students moved by March of the Living experience


20 May 2005 For the first time, students from ORT schools in the former Soviet Union have participated in the annual March of the Living in Poland. The 118 students from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) were among more than 300 ORT students from France, Italy and Israel at the event. Together with 18,000 other young people, the ORT students marked Yom HaShoa by walking the three kilometers between Auschwitz and Birkenau, the concentration camp complex where more than one million people most of them Jews were killed. The event symbolises the death marches that took place when the Germans began emptying the camps and forcing prisoners to walk hundreds of kilometres in freezing weather with little food. Thousands died on the marches. ORT students on the March of the Living At Birkenau, the students were addressed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. ‘Remember the victims and remember the murderers, he told them. ‘Remember how millions of Jews were led to their deaths and the world remained silent.’ The World ORT representative in Russia, Avi Ganon, was with the students. The memorial service concluded with these thousands of young people singing Hatikvah. It was a profoundly moving affirmation that Am Yisrael Chai the Jewish people lives, Mr Ganon said. Among the ORT students present were Misha Litvak, 16, and Inna Aihenvald, 17, who attend the ORT Technology School in Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. The program of our visit was rich and interesting, combining all the unbearable grief of the Jewish nation as well as the happiness of being together with Jewish students from other countries, said Misha. It was as the group reached Birkenau that he was hit by the enormity of what had happened there 60 years previously. When I was entering the central gates it took my breath away. I started to understand how valuable human life is. We saw the barracks and the heaps of clothes left by children killed in Auschwitz. We saw the suitcases that belonged to people arriving at the camp. The cases were signed with their names the people still had hope But then I realised that it was not only those people who died; they might have had children who would have been the same age as I am. Amid the tears, Inna said she also felt pride. In this place the Nazis tried to destroy all Jewish people; but despite their cruel actions some survived, she said. All the victims remain in our memory but we took part in the March of the Living to look ahead because our survival means we have a future. The day before the service at Birkenau, ORT students from France, Italy and the CIS came together for a ceremony in Warsaw in memory of the wartime ghetto, in which ORT had set up workshops that provided material and psychological sustenance for hundreds of Jews. That event was part of a packed schedule for the rest of the students four-day stay in Poland, including the extermination camp at Treblinka and the historic city of Krakow. To help them prepare for their visit, World ORT prepared a workbook of archive material, including testimony and photographs, describing ORTs role in the area during the Shoah. ORT had thousands of students and trainees in Poland before the German invasion of 1939 but managed to resume operations under occupation. The students visited the areas where the events as described in the workbook took place, said Judah Harstein, World ORTs Head of Jewish Education. We feel that this insight has helped the ORT students and teachers to relate in a personal way with the history of the period, and to appreciate the vital role in which their organisation played.