Greetings again from the darkness. Count me guilty as one of the movie lovers who have silently sworn off Holocaust movies. Actually, I’ve done so many times. Though neither Jewish nor German, revisiting these atrocities drains me of life force and has me questioning the human race … as if there aren’t plenty of current events already justifying such a reaction.
Director Jessica Sanders takes on the annual (since 1988) gathering of Holocaust survivors and Jewish teenagers as they turn what was once known as the March of Death (Auschwitz to Birkenau) into the March of the Living. It’s one of the most inspirational and life affirming presentations one could ask for. Many categorize the annual trek as a form of education, and while true, the label falls a bit a short. It’s also a legacy, a cultural phenomenon, and a reminder that the worst human beings are capable of unthinkable forms of evil, while the best possess a spirit that survives all.
Knowing this is the last generation of teenagers who will hear the stories directly from the concentration camp survivors adds a level of immediacy and poignancy. No history book can capture the soul-bearing pain as a survivor locates the stone at the Treblinka site which bears the family name Ostrowiec – her older sisters were killed there. Even when the teenagers react with such lines as “Dude, this is immense” (while viewing Birkenau), it’s obvious their normally cool façade is impacted by what they are seeing (including the mound of human ashes at Majdanek) and the personal stories being told.
Having the journey and film proceed to Israel reinforces the strength of a people, and leaves us with the film’s ultimate lesson … “not to hate, but to remember”.