This is a transcript of my letter published today in the Manchester Jewish Telegraph:
READER Stewart Reubens wrote last week that he would never go to Poland and that visiting Israel was a better way to commemorate our survival.
He was responding to the Jewish Telegraph’s complaint that Britain was poorly represented on the March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
While I would strongly agree that every Jew should visit Israel as often as they can, I have personal experience of the March of the Living.
I believe it is very important that our youth and, indeed, the older post-Holocaust generation should also visit Auschwitz-Birkenau.
If they can take in “the march”, so much the better.
In 1998 I flew with Manchester’s King David High School to Krakow and then went by coach to take part in the 10th anniversary of the march.
On my return I wrote in the Jewish Telegraph:
“I remember the soul-piercing sound of the shofar which began our march in Auschwitz. I remember walking with pride and defiance beneath those infamous words Arbeit Macht Frei amidst a forest of Israeli flags. I remember our young boys and girls from King David walking with thousands of young Jews and many adults like myself from all over the world in a river of blue coats which stretched in front and behind as far as the eye could see.
“I remember the impassive stare of the Poles who watched in silence. I remember the gates of Birkenau draped in a Magen David.
“I remember the clear, strong voice of Rabbi Israel Lau who told us we are an immortal people.
“I remember the words of Binyamin Netanyahu who proclaimed that we are the victors, not the vanquished and that we are invincible.
“I remember the cry in the voice of the cantor as he sang El Molei Rachamim when I thought my heart would burst.
“And I remember the Kaddish and the singing of Hatikvah in that place, in that hell.”
It isn’t about “survivor guilt”, Mr Reubens, it’s about survivor pride. We are still here, and all the Ahmadinejads, Hamases and Hezbollahs of this world cannot destroy us.
Their efforts to deny or belittle the Holocaust are best defeated by our honouring the memory of the victims; and where better than amidst the ruins of the instruments of their murder.
I returned from Poland with my spirit uplifted and with a bounce in my step. Never have I felt more Jewish than in Birkenau singing Hatikvah. Never have I been more proud to be part of the Jewish people.