Joint Statement of Poles and Germans for Reconciliation and Against Hatred and Anti-Semitism

On January 17, 1945 the death marches in Auschwitz marked the beginning of the last horrific chapter of the Holocaust. 70 years later, on January 17 and 18, 2015, approximately 500 Poles and Germans walked along the historic death routes together: to remember, to reconcile and for Israel - against Anti-Semitism and hatred.

“As Christians, we must never again become accomplices through our indifference“, summarized Bishop Grzegorz Rys from Krakow at the closing event in Oswiecim (Auschwitz) as one of the central messages of the March of Life. “Our fathers could never even have dreamed of our worst enemies becoming best friends.“ This was how one of the Polish organizers described the special atmosphere of friendship at the March of Life between Poles and Germans, and Christians and Jews.

The official opening of the series of events was a lecture by Prof. Gideon Greif, a Holocaust researcher from Tel Aviv, with a historic overview over the death marches that had literally covered the land with a trail of blood. With temperatures as low as -30°C in open cattle cars or walking through the snow, with insufficient clothing, starved and weakened, thousands had lost their lives. In full view of the population and sometimes only hours away from being liberated by the Allied forces those to weak to march on were shot.

On the morning of January 17, 2015, approx. 250 participants had already walked along the historic route between Gliwice and Oswiecim in Polish-German teams as a symbol of repentance and reconciliation.

At the subsequent memorial event, Yechiel Aleksander, survivor of one of the death marches from Auschwitz, warned especially the younger generation, “Unless you think of yesterday and the day before yesterday, you cannot plan for tomorrow.“ The official representative of the city of Gliwice, Andrzej Karasinski, was deeply moved by the event and spoke about his grandfather, who had been arrested by the Gestapo and who had survived a death march. Two sisters from Germany shared about their grandfathers, who had worked in the then German city of Gleiwitz as police officer for criminal investigations and railway employee respectively. In their jobs, they had been involved directly in the Holocaust, and so their granddaughters now had the opportunity to ask forgiveness in their place. Also the Polish participants confessed their guilt towards the Jews and asked forgiveness for all acts of collaboration, denunciation and indifference.

The following day, the March of Life ended at the former concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, from where the death marches had set out. More than 500 participants walked along the “Road of Death“ that led to the gas chambers. At the historic selection point, the ramp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, German children and grandchildren of Nazi perpetrators broke the silence about the guilt of their fathers and grandfathers. One woman shared how her grandfather had been involved in setting up the electric fence and wires in the gas chambers in Auschwitz. In prayer the participants entered into a covenant of life in this place of death, blessing Poland and Israel.

The final event of the March of Life was the Festival of Life, celebrated in a conference hall just a few hundred yards away from the former main camp of Auschwitz. Moved by the atmosphere of joy the president of the Jewish community in Katowice, Waodzimierz Kac, said, “I don't like coming to Auschwitz. But thanks to you, for the first time I was able to sense joy here. I felt such fellowship and friendship with you that I can truly look towards the future with hope now.“ Jobst Bittner, initiator of the March of Life movement, emphasized this positive outlook on the future, “The 70th anniversary of the death marches marks a special moment in time, in which a new chapter of blessing has opened up for both Poland and Germany, standing closely side by side with Israel.“

The march from Gliwice to Oswiecim was the beginning of a series of more than 30 other marches that will take place in Austria and Germany until May 2015 in memory of the death marches.

For further information on the March of Life see www.marchoflife.org

Media reports about the March of Life in Poland

Deutsche Welle TV-report:
http://dw.de/p/1EMQE

Deutsche Welle reportage (polish):
http://dw.de/p/1EMYN
 

TV Imperium, local TV in Gliwice (polish):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w26QyIwxZ1c

Gosc, local newspaper in Gliwice (polish):
http://gliwice.gosc.pl/doc/2327099.Pamieci-ofiar-Marszu-Smierci

TVS, regional TV in Upper Silesia (polish):
http://www.tvs.pl/informacje/niemcy-i-polacy-wspolnie-przeszli-w-marszu-zycia-gliwice-oswiecim-2015-zdj%C4%99cia

Report on the website of the city Gliwice (polish): https://gliwice.eu/aktualnosci/miasto/na-znak-pamieci-i-pojednania 

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