Between Sunday 12th and Friday 17th April 2015 two of our staff visited Poland as part of the UK March of the Living delegation.  James Griffiths, Director of Learning, and Marion Hutchinson, Holocaust Centre Educator, recorded a diary of their visit and experiences.

March of the Living

The March of the Living is an international, educational programme that brings Jewish people from all over the world to Poland on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest concentration camp complex, and killing centre built during World War II.

In 2010, March of the Living UK was formed by Scott Saunders, a British businessman, who was determined to make March of the Living a serious event for Anglo-Jewry.  The mission of the March of the Living is to challenge a new generation of Jews with one of the most significant events of Jewish history – the Shoah (The Holocaust).

The Survivors

March of the Living participants had the honour of visiting Poland with six inspirational survivors of the Holocaust, namely Arek Hersh, Mala Tribich and Renee Salt who are regular speakers at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, and Eve Kugler, Harry (Chaim) Olmer and Zigi Shipper.

Day 1

We arrived in Warsaw to join the largest ever contingent of March of the Living UK participants.  Whilst travelling by coach to the Centre of Warsaw our educator informed us that over the next few days we would be confused and challenged by the multi-layered complexities surrounding the Holocaust and Poland.  We first visited the Okopowa Jewish Cemetery where we spent two hours exploring, discussing and reviewing its significance.  The vastness of the cemetery stands as a physical reminder of the important part the large Jewish population had in Warsaw.

With a great deal to contemplate we continued our journey to the last remaining pieces of Ghetto wall in Warsaw, where we were told of the efforts made to smuggle food, provisions, and even arms over the wall, at whatever cost.

The wall stands in contrast to the vibrant, architecturally stunning POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.  This newly completed Jewish Museum located in the heart of Warsaw, charts the rich tapestry of Jewish History in Poland stretching back over a thousand years and again reinforced to us the importance of Jewish culture in the wider history of Poland.

As we emerged from the museum we embarked on a walking tour that followed the Hero’s Trail which marks the boundary of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Attendees included (from left to right) Renee Salt, Zigi Shipper, Chief Rabbi Mirvis, Eve Kugler, Arek Hersh, Mala Tribich, Harry Olmer and Scott Saunders. Copyright: Sam Churchill Photography.

Day 2

Our second day started promptly at 7.30 a.m. as we headed to a local school to meet a group of students who were involved with Forum for Dialogue, a project which encourages Polish teenagers to re-engage with the Jewish history of their town and foster Polish-Jewish dialogue.  Through research they created a film and a cultural trail to share their findings with the current inhabitants of the town.  Here, in their town today as in many other Polish towns there are no Jews amongst the population.

After a very warm welcome from the students and an informative morning learning about their research we set off towards Lublin, a town that has had a Jewish community dating back to the 14th Century, and visited the Chachamei Yoshiva which became an important centre for Torah study in Poland.

Our visit to Lublin was followed by a tour of Majdanek Death Camp, which was a vital part of the Final Solution.  The most striking features of the camp were its proximity to the town of Lublin and the extent to which it was still intact.  The mausoleum which contains the ashes of victims beneath the dome acts as a very poignant feature of remembrance.

Day 3

Belzec was a marked contrast to Majdanek as there were no remains of the original camp.  As we approached the memorial we entered a pathway which dissected a large area covered with black lava rock.  The sides of the pathway increased in height as we walked toward the memorial.  As we walked around the perimeter we observed the names of the many towns and villages from where the transports of Jews to Belzec originated.

During the evening we were invited to the Jewish Cultural Centre located in the old town of Krakow, for a series of talks and testimonials from survivors, local members of the Jewish community and Jonathan Orstein (JCC Executive Director).  Jonathan highlighted the importance of the JCC in Krakow as a Centre for developing the Jewish community.

Day 4

Our focus for the day was to learn more about Auschwitz but also to observe how the Jewish students on the visit were taught about this difficult past.  The students were challenged by their Educator from the moment they stepped off the coach.  They were asked to step outside their comfort zones and to view the Jews that arrived at Auschwitz through several lenses and to put aside the widely perceived perception of them as victims.  The students were also encouraged to confront the dilemmas that some Jews faced and the choices that they made.    

On the eve of March of the Living, a specially arranged service was held at the Galicia Museum in Krakow.  This service allowed us the opportunity to reflect on our experiences during the week.  During the evening we commemorated the liberation of Bergen-Belsen 70 years ago - a camp from which some of the survivors were liberated. The evening also included a talk by the Chief Rabbi, singing from the Israeli Scout Movement, and a speech from March of the Living UK founder Scott Saunders.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland. Copyright: Sam Churchill Photography.

Day 5

An early morning guided tour around Krakow old town was followed by the drive to Auschwitz where we were to join approximately 11,000 people from across the world for March of the Living.  The atmosphere that met us was carnival-like with flags waving, people singing and searching for and greeting friends.  This was very different from the previous day when the mood was a sombre reflection of the events that had happened here.  From Auschwitz I we marched the 3km towards Auschwitz-Birkenau where we were met by music and the readings of the names of children who were murdered.  The March culminated with a ceremony to mark Yom HaShoah which included messages and remarks, songs and mucic and the lighting of six torches.

Thousands of people take part in the March of the Living each year. Copyright: Sam Churchill Photography. 


March of the Living UK, 'March of the Living', March of the Living [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 13 May 2015).