In Israel this week for Israel’s 75th anniversary of Independence are descendants of Nazi killers participating in Jerusalem’s ‘March of Life’
By David E. Kaplan
“My father was in the SS” can be a hard fact for a child to first hear and then to accept but that was what Hartmut Janssen had to come to terms with and ultimately brave eneough to pass on to his daughters. He did so in 2014 when he he bought them tickets to see ‘Labyrinth of Lies’, a film about the Auschwitz trials that took place in Frankfurt in the 1960s. This provided the opportunity he had been waiting for. He was nervous because he was also dreading what their reaction would be. And so, during the discussion of the movie they had just watched, he revealed the hard truth:
“My father was in the SS.”
He had been terrified his daughters would reject him but instead, they hugged and reassured him that he was not responsible for the sins of his father.
The Nazi past of relatives can understandably be a taboo subject in some German families. But a number of descendants of Nazi criminals are not happy about suppressing the past; they want to explore that intimate dark tunnel wherever it takes them. It is a fateful and a very brave exploration of self, particularly so when they choose to reveal publicly their findings. This they do by participating in the ‘March for Life’.
They need to be commended.
This week, several thousand participants will march in Jerusalem from Sacher Park to Safra Square in front of the City Hall on May 16 at 5 p.m. under the banner:
“Mi Shoah le Tkuma – from the Holocaust to New Life”
They will be participating in the March of the Nations that unites people from all over the world and Israelis from across the country to celebrate Israel’s birthday on the streets of Jerusalem. The occasion this 2023, marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel and is officially welcomed by Israel’s State President, President Isaac Herzog.
(See President’s letter of endocement.)
Many of the international participants from Germany and more than 25 other nations are Christians. They have “worked through the Nazi past of their families, the antisemitic theology of their churches, and the history of Jew-hatred in their cities and communities.”
An example is a young German, Luisa, who reveals:
“A few years ago, I discovered that a great-grandfather of mine served in the Luftwaffe while another great-grandfather served in the SS, being stationed in Poland in 1939. There his unit expelled thousands of Jews from their homes and was involved in the shooting of many of them. Later, he supervised a concentration camp near Belgrade.”
Participants are part of the worldwide March of Life movement, which each year around Yom HaShoah calls people to the streets to raise their voices for remembrance, for reconciliation, for Israel, and against antisemitism.
Speakers at the closing event at 6:30 p.m. in Safra Square will include Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum, Jewish Agency President Doron Almog, founder of the first Shoah Museum in Dubai, Ahmed Al Mansoori (UAE), and ‘March of Life’ founder, Jobst Bittner. The march is led by Odessa-born Holocaust survivor Arie Itamar, who arrived in Israel in 1947 on the Exodus as a seven-year-old.
On May 17, more marches will take place in various cities across Israel. Participants will travel by bus to Metula, Tiberias, Zichron Yaakov, Netanya, Ashkelon, Beer Sheva and Merhavim, where they will have encounter events with Holocaust survivors, students and soldiers. In the afternoon, they will march together through their respective cities.
The organizer is the international March of Life movement, an initiative of Jobst and Charlotte Bittner from Tübingen in Southern Germany that began with a memorial march from the Swabian Alb to Dachau in 2007.
Together with descendants of German Wehrmacht soldiers and members of the SS and police force, they have organized memorial and reconciliation marches at sites of the Holocaust all over Europe. Since this movement began, marches have been held in 20 nations and in more than 400 cities in cooperation with Christians from different churches and denominations, as well as from many Jewish communities.
Although the March of Life in each country has its own name, such as – “March of Remembrance” in the U.S., “Marcha de La Vida” in Latin America, and “Marsz Życia” in Poland – the message remains the same:
- REMEMBERING, working through the past, giving survivors of the Holocaust a voice
- RECONCILIATION, healing and restoration between descendants of the victims and perpetrators and
- TAKING A STAND for Israel and against modern antisemitism
The movement recognises that it was indifference and the silence of the majority that made the Holocaust possible, an indifference that even today, paves the way for antisemitism. They feel the need to act against this indifference and:
“We will not again be silent! ”
Press Event: Members of the press will have the opportunity to speak with leaders of the March of Life movement and meet interviewees on May 16, at 3:30 pm, prior to the March’s kickoff event in Sacher Park.
For further information go to: www.marchoflife.org
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