1,000 PEOPLE AT THE BRANDENBURG GATE

More than 1,000 participants gathered 70 years after the end of WWII and 50 years after the resumption of Israeli-German relations on May 10, 2015 for the March of Life in Berlin. Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, thanked the participants of the March of Life in a letter of greeting for their commitment and summarized the core motivation of the movement. “All who say, “Never Again!“ today, have to rise and take a stand, when Jews in Germany are afraid again to go out on the streets wearing their kippa.“

As part of the run-up to the March of Life, the Holocaust survivors present at the Saturday evening meeting in the C-Campus received a special recognition and honoring. 18 survivors had come from Berlin and Israel to participate in the March of Life. Gita Koifman, president of the Israeli Association of Concentration Camp and Ghetto Survivors, said at the meeting, “When I first met Christian friends of Israel, as a Holocaust survivor I felt for the first time that we are not alone. Marches of Life in so many different places are the highest level of commemoration which we can only reach together.”

At the end of Sunday's March from Anhalter Train Station to the Brandenburg Gate [1] , Holocaust survivor and guest of honor, Yechiel Aleksander, shared his story in brief words. “In Auschwitz, I didn't have a name, just a number. I survived two death marches. And today, I am part of a March of Life for the third time!” The former General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan J. Kramer, recognized the March of Life as a memorial event that does not only reach the mind, but also the heart. “Please don't stop“, he said. The cantor of the Jewish Community in Berlin recited kaddish. Dr. Franziska Eckert of the university hospital Tübingen spoke about the silence in her family. “My grandfather was part of the SS and a mass murderer. After the war, nobody in my family would talk about this. That is the reason why I want to find the words today that my grandfather never found. I want to take a stand against anti-Semitism.“

Jobst Bittner, as the initiator of the March of Life, explained that even 70 later, when Germany has received so much unmerited grace and blessing, we must never attempt to put the past behind us. Together with pastors from Berlin, Poland, Russia, Latvia and the Ukraine he read the following declaration: “We promise to never stop remembering the victims of WWII and of the genocide against the Jewish people. We also promise to never stop raising our voices publicly in the face of newly rising anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews, of racist prejudice and xenophobia. Germany is not a 'leader nation', but a 'servant nation'. We are not called to dominate other countries but to serve them with our gifts. We are grateful for the Jewish heritage of the Christian faith, and we recognize the lasting election of Israel as God's chosen people.“

MK Robert Ilatov, member of the Israeli parliament, looked ahead. “As a member of the Knesset, I am proud to be standing here today - 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, as a Jew, as Israeli. The March of Life is a sign that we want to shape a common future.“

The final celebration was the Festival of Life. The President of the Jewish Community in Berlin, Dr. Gideon Joffe, welcomed the participants of the March of Life in the Grand Hall of his congregation. There the renowned Holocaust researcher, Dr. Gideon Greif (Israel), gave a historic overview of the death marches from Auschwitz. He spoke about how the Holocaust had 'destroyed the souls of the perpetrators'. At each of the events, young people broke their silence on how deeply their families had been involved in national socialism and how they had been part of the deprivation of Jews of their rights, of deportations, and murder. This was the foundation that made a way for the reconciliation and friendship hat became evident at the Festival of Life. Jews and Christians had jointly put together the evening's program.

The March of Life in Berlin so far crowns several hundreds of Marches of Life all over Germany and worldwide since the beginning of the movement. Next to organizers from across Germany, representatives from Austria, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, the Ukraine, and the United States had made the journey. They met on Saturday morning for the official reception ceremony. On behalf of the Israeli Knesset, Gita Koifman presented each of them with a special award to honor their commitment and efforts to commemorate the Holocaust and their friendship to Israel.

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[1] You can find information on the different sites along the route in the March of Life Berlin brochure, which you can download here (in German).

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