A delegation of refugees from the war in Ukraine will participate in this year’s March of the Living, on April 28, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, as thousands of participants will walk in silence the 3.2 km route from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the two largest Nazi death camps built with Polish citizens’ enthusiastic support during World War II.
After a two-year hiatus due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and while the war in Ukraine is raging––with Poland hosting an estimated three million Ukrainian refugees––march organizers decided to bring back the event with limited participation, only 2,500 marchers from 25 countries. Those countries include the UAE, in addition to the winning side back in 1945, the UK and the US, and the losers, Germany and Austria. Israeli marchers will be on hand as well.
Most notably: the March will include a delegation of refugees from the war in Ukraine, who will be joining to show their support for preserving the memory of the Holocaust––which, at the time, was supported enthusiastically by hordes of Ukrainian citizens and the state police.
Only eight Holocaust survivors will participate in the March this year, which may be their last. With that in mind, march organizers are saying the march will mark the transfer of the torch of remembrance from the generation of survivors to the generation of their grandchildren.
The delegation of refugees from Ukraine was organized by the Polish missionary group Shalom Ministry Association, with headquarters in the town of Oswiecim near the Auschwitz death camp, and by Dr. David Machlis, an economist at Adelphi University, who serves as Vice Chairman of International March of The Living and believes the march should not be limited to Jewish participants, but be expanded to anyone who is interested in commemorating the Holocaust.
The Shalom Ministry Association’s website proclaims that it “embraces Christians of different denominations from Poland and other countries. It is here in Oswiecim, in the place that has been raised to be the symbol of the Holocaust, that God laid it on our hearts to work for reconciliation between Christians and Jews, to teach about Israel, to encourage Christians for intercessory prayer for Israel and show the Jews mercy by providing them with practical help.”
“Once a year, the Nation of Israel celebrates Yom – ha Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) when Jews from all over the world remember the Holocaust and those who were murdered simply because they were Jews,” the association explains, probably using Google Translate to get the strangely inappropriate word “celebrates” in this context. “Every year, we organize a group called ‘Polish Friends of Israel’ to join in and march with the Jewish people who recall with great sadness this terrible tragedy. We want to show them our solidarity with Israel as the state and the nation.”
Dr. David Machlis noted: “The Holocaust has taught the world the price of indifference. To avoid the mistakes of the past, it is our hope and prayer that the symbolism of the presence of these refugees will resonate throughout the civilized world.”
The delegation of Ukrainian refugees in this year’s march includes Lila Buzeniuk, her two daughters, Olesya and Nastya, and her son Denis. Lila was quoted as saying, “Before the Russian troops invaded our town of Vinnitsa, we lived together peacefully. We studied, we worked, and we rested together as one family. Now everything has changed. The war divided our family and forced us to leave our home and our country. But we survived and we are alive. We found shelter and refuge in a sister country. Thanks to wonderful people we will live, we will remember – and never forget. We are Ukrainians.”
Lila’s testimony reminded me of “The Last Jew in Vinnitsa,” a photograph showing a Jewish man outside Vinnitsa on the Southern Bug River, in west-central Ukraine, about to be shot dead by a member of Einsatzgruppe D, a mobile death squad of the Nazi SS. The victim is kneeling beside a mass grave already containing many bodies, while behind, a group of SS and Reich Labor servicemen watches.
According to Yad Vashem, Vinnitsa was occupied by the Germans on July 19, 1941. Beforehand, approximately 17,500 Jews had managed to flee eastwards with the retreating Red Army. Vinnitsa Jews were forced to wear an identifying armband with the Star of David, and their property was confiscated. They were confined to specific areas of the city and many were assigned to forced labor. By the end of July hundreds of Jewish men had been murdered in the cemetery in Vinnitsa. By the summer of 1942, most of the remaining Jews in the city had been murdered.
Yefim Podlipsky, a 2022 Jewish refugee from Vinnitsa, who before the war ran a tourism company, was rescued with his son Oleksander and his wife Olga. Olga holds a master’s in education and works as a teacher. All three will participate in the March of the Living.
Demko Natalia from Vinnitsa, formerly a lecturer in the town’s pedagogical college, will be on hand, as will Demko Vasyl, a retiree from Vinnitsa.