My name is Dani Palter. I was on the March of the Living this past April. Growing up, I heard about the March from many older people that I was friends with. I always knew that I wanted to go on the March. What I did not know was how much the March would affect me – no one can even imagine what it is like until they go through the experiences that you go through on the March.
Words cannot describe what March of the Living meant to me. The trip was so far above and beyond every one of my (high) expectations. The things you see are unimaginable. The stories you hear are inconceivable. The friendships you form are unbreakable. The memories you make are unbelievable. The experiences you go through are ones that cannot be created in any other way than to be a participant on the March of the Living.
I know that the things that you see are there 365 days a year, and anyone who wants to can go visit. But I really don’t think that it is even close to the same kind of experience if you go without the March. The fact that you are there at the exact same time as 10000 other Jews (mostly around the same age as you) makes it such a surreal experience. The two highlights of my trip were the Poland March and the Israel March. There is no way to describe the sense of connection you have while participating in these two marches without being there. In Poland, on Yom Hashoah, everyone marches in silence with the people on your own contingent from Auschwitz to Birkenau. It is a HUGE sense of connection. Everyone is wearing their blue MOL jackets, and no one is talking. The Israel march was probably the best day of my life. It takes place on Yom Haatzmaout. It starts off at City Hall in Jerusalem, with a huge party. Then, people slowly start marching from City Hall to the Kotel. This time, it is the complete opposite of the Poland march. No one is with their own contingent – everyone is making new friends from around the world. Everyone is singing songs, both English and Hebrew. It is just a massive celebration all day long. For the last 24 hours of the trip, I don’t think I saw a single face without a smile…until we got to the airport and many people had tears streaming down their faces because they didn’t want to be leaving Israel.
A lot of my friends who didn’t go on the March went this summer with their camps or other youth groups. After talking to them about Poland when they got back, I really don’t think that they had even close to the same experience as we did. First of all, they don’t have that sense of connection to the rest of the people there, like we did on the March of the Living. As I mentioned before, the connection you feel to the rest of the people there, especially while doing the Marches, cannot be obtained in any other way. Second, they don’t get to go through the trip with a Survivor of the Holocaust. To me, this added SO much to the trip. We went through the saddest times, hardest times, most fun times, and all the times in between with the Survivors we were with. Hearing the stories about them being in the camps while we are sitting in the exact barrack that someone in their family was in is an experience that you can only get on the March of the Living. Another example of something special about the March are the small group discussions. Each bus is broken up into three or four smaller groups, and assigned to a chaperone. We talk about anything and everything in these groups. As was pointed out by a chaperone on our trip, you can see how much we have changed in the small groups. In the beginning, students were quiet and unresponsive, and could not wait to be finished meeting with our groups. By the end of the trip, my small group would find a hidden place in the hotel so that no one would disturb us when they were done, and we could talk for as long as we wanted. So as much as you can see and understand to an extent what everything was like during the days of the Holocaust if you visit Poland at any time, you don’t understand it the same way that we do because of the March.
I have been home from the March for almost 6 months, and it is so rare to go 3 days without the March coming up in one of my conversations with my friends. We still all go through our pictures on a regular basis. We are still in contact with the Survivor on our bus. We still plan reunions and talk to our chaperones. Once you go on the March, it is a part of your life forever.
It was truly the best experience of my life; one that I think every Jewish teen should go through. It is not possible to understand what the Holocaust was like, and how lucky we are to have Israel and to have come so far in the past 60 years without going on the March of the Living.