The International March of the Living is an annual educational program that brings together Holocaust survivors with family members and others from around the world to Poland, to study the history of the Holocaust and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hatred.
Thousands of people usually take part in the march on the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp. Since its inception in 1988, more than 260,000 people from 52 countries have participated in the program on Holocaust Remembrance Day in tribute to the 6 million Jews who perished during World War Two.
For the first time ever this year, participants from Israel’s new Abraham Accord allies Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco also joined the virtual event, which was held online for a second consecutive year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People in Saudi Arabia also participated, in another sign of a regional warming of ties with the Jewish State.
Those involved in the event laid virtual messages of remembrance on the railway track leading to the gate of the death camp as part of a computer simulation.
“Today we stand together with our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world. The Holocaust was a crime against the Jews that stemmed from hatred and discrimination for no reason. Never Again!” wrote the Co-founder of Sharaka – The Gulf-Israel Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Dr. Majid Al Sarrah, who has previously visited the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
Sharaka, meaning “partnership” in Arabic, is based in Israel and the UAE. According to its mission statement, the organization “believe that realizing the tremendous potential of the Abraham Accords requires deepening mutual understanding, building personal ties, and encouraging diverse forms of cooperation.”
Through joint initiatives, projects, and dialogues in order to build bridges between their societies, Sharaka leads inter-faith delegations of young Israelis including Israeli Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews to the Gulf, and brings delegations of Emirati and Bahraini influencers to Israel to learn about Israeli culture and history.
March of the Living organizers stressed that despite curbs imposed on gathering in the real world that it important that the commemoration was held.
“We have no other choice,” said 84-year-old Holocaust survivor Tzipora Freund, who joined the event from Israel.
Israel President Reuven Rivlin was among other dignitaries who also posted poignant messages of remembrance.
More than 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, died in the gas chambers or from starvation, cold and disease at Auschwitz, which the Nazis set up in occupied Poland during the war.
“We have to remember that the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and also hate and racism are things that are happening. It’s not something that is part of history,” said Baruch Adler, 70, Co-founder and Vice Chairman of the March of the Living.
This year’s event hailed “the relentless commitment of the selfless professionals facing today’s world health crisis,” said organizers, which included the bestowing of a special award for Dr. Anthony Fauci, The Chief Medical Advisor to United States President Joe Biden was recognized for moral courage in medicine.
“I believe that the healing arts lie on the path of goodness, the same path all of you have chosen in remembering and listening to the voices of those who perished in the Holocaust,” Fauci said. He added that the enduring lesson of the ages is not just “that goodness and evil coexist, but that we are free to choose one over the other.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Day was also marked in Dubai, in what Channel 12 News hailed as the first official commemoration in an Arab country. A delegation of Jewish and Arab Israelis
Held a ceremony that included several dozen social media influencers in the Gulf where they shared experiences of survival and remembrance.
At the close of the event, the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities hosted a webinar with a panel of four young Muslims from the UAE and Bahrain discussed their own reactions to have visited Yad Vashem.
Also for the first time, Jewish communities of Bahrain and Dubai participated in the global Shoah Yellow Candle Holocaust Remembrance Program. 24-hour Yahrzeit memorial candles, whose color is reminiscent of the yellow stars Nazis forced Jews to wear, are lighted “to remember our 6,000,000 brothers and sisters who died for no other reason, but they were Jewish,” says the organization.
“Join us in remembering,” urges the Yellow Candle website, writing: “The tragedy of the Holocaust is not forgotten in order to prevent similar heinous crimes or a repeat offense. By participating in this program, you are helping to keep the memory of the Shoah alive and to remember what happens when good people do not stand up.”
As many in the Arab world marked Holocaust Day for the first time, an Israeli-Arab lawmaker stormed out of the Knesset during a traditional remembrance ceremony that includes the reading of names of Holocaust victims.
Dignitaries such as President Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut participated in this year’s event, in which Knesset Members (MKs) are also invited to join.
When far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Religious Zionism faction was called to the platform, the Co-leader of the predominantly Arab Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi rushed out of the plenum.