A letter from Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger to the 2024 participants in the March of the Living trip that takes young Canadians from Poland to Israel

Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger, seen at Auschwitz-Birkenau, is on the 2024 March of the Living Canada trip to Poland and Israel. (Credit: Chen Schimmel)

Dear March of the Living participants,

Thank you for your courage to be part of this year’s March of the Living.

In a way you are doing a mitzvah (fulfilling a commandment) to ”be strong and be strengthened”.

Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger walks at Auschwitz-Birkenau on the 2024 March of the Living Canada trip (Credit: Chen Schimmel)

As a Holocaust survivor, witnessing the scene of Oct. 7 was the most difficult and most horrible experience since the Holocaust. The antisemitism that you experienced and that you will experience as the year progresses will be horrible and you will require all the strength, all your patience, all your resolve, all your wisdom and all your knowledge of the truth, to overcome and fight it. This is an unprecedented time, and I hope the March will re-enforce our collective commitment to stand together and fight the evil forces that threaten Israel’s existence, and by extension our security.

It is sad that we must speak of the events of Oct. 7, and the subsequent war against Hamas and the collateral death of innocent Gazan civilians used as human shields by Hamas. Remember, no innocent Palestinian life was threatened before Oct. 7. Remember, Jewish rights are also human rights. It requires our help, and all our friends’ help, to insure that what happened in Birkenau and in Israel on Oct. 7 never happens again.

As a Holocaust survivor I was fortunate to survive under miraculous and unusual circumstances, as did all other survivors. You will receive our books and will become aware how each of us survived in different ways and under different circumstances and how there is a common thread running through all our survival stories. You will find the common thread to be hope, hope of survival and continuation of life as Jews. Our common background was that no matter where in Europe we found ourselves we were in danger of being murdered for the crime of being born Jewish. Today, our grandchildren are proud to have been born Jewish and are proud to be part of our wonderful nation, part of our people, part of our religion and heritage. I would like to think that you too, dear participants, share this feeling of pride and resolve.

Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger speaks to students on the 2024 March of the Living Canada trip (Credit: Chen Schimmel)

This trip on which you will embark is a trip of commemoration, rededication, and discovery of the people who were so brutally murdered. It is difficult to imagine the large numbers of people lost, but going to Poland you will learn who the individuals were, some of whom were your predecessors and possibly your family members. They had lives and dreams, aspirations, and futures which were cut short with their demise.

You will visit concentration and death camps, former ghetto sites and many monuments, but you will also visit synagogues which were the centre of their lives and there you will feel the spirit and the joy that once was. Those far away places and sites will evoke in you unsuspected feelings of kinship and connection. Take in every moment which you will experience, they will become beacons in your life’s journey.

Holocaust survivor Nate Leipciger speaks to students at Auschwitz-Birkenau on the 2024 March of the Living Canada trip (Credit: Chen Schimmel)

These moments will become especially poignant when you arrive in Israel. You see, to me each trip on the March of the Living, even though it brings back terrible memories, are victory trips. The Nazis gave me a one-way ticket to Auschwitz which I was not supposed to leave. But providence, luck and perseverance enabled me to come back year after year with such wonderful, bright, proud, dedicated and committed young Jews that you are. This was never supposed to happen. The reality is that you will be Marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau not in a death march, but in a March of the Living. You will be marching in silence in honour and in memory of our people. You will be marching with your heads up high maybe even wrapped in an Israeli flag to proclaim to the world “We are Here.”

The next segment of the trip will be entirely different, but it is part and parcel of the life-changing experience that awaits you. In Israel you will realize what this trip is all about. No manner of description, pictures or anticipation will have prepared you for your personal experience. Like thousands of Marchers before you, you will have difficulty in putting your feelings and experiences into words. As an observer and a participant, I know that you will come back to Canada with a new view of what being Jewish in today’s world means.

The level of antisemitism in today’s world is insidious. Unprecedented since the Shoah, and is based on total ignorance, hatred, and false narratives. That is the scene which will confront you at university, at your jobs and in life generally.

Nate Leipciger receiving an honourary degree at the University of Toronto in 2019. (Credit: Lisa Sakulensky/University of Toronto)

In Israel you will find the truth. You will learn that you must not give in to the falsehood and unjust presentations of Israel in the media and in academia. You will be equipped with knowledge and how to respond and counteract the negative and damaging propaganda and attacks on the Jews and Israel.

March of the Living marks the starting point of education and awareness of what needs to be done to stop, or at least diminish the level of misinformation, blind discrimination, and hatred in our community.

All that remains to be said is that you will have a fantastic experience, make many unforgettable memories, and make many new friends. I wish you a great trip.

Nate Leipciger, born in 1928 in Chorzów, Poland, is a Holocaust educator and author who lives in Toronto.