The March of the Living is an educational initiative where people from all over the world learn
about the tragedy of the Holocaust during World War II. One of the largest marches is
organized on the grounds of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
When the Nazis were losing the war, prisoners were relocated from all concentration camps.
They marched into the depths of the Third Reich to, firstly, constitute cheap labor there, and
secondly, the Americans and Soviets who liberated the camps did not discover the scale of
the crimes committed.
The old and the sick stayed in the camps. The remaining prisoners: hungry, wounded, in ill-
fitting clothes, travelled far away to become prisoners again, but in a different country. The
conditions were extremely hard. The death marches took place in the fall and winter, and the
prisoners, exhausted by backbreaking work in the camp, had to walk twenty to thirty
kilometers a day.
The largest death march was the march from Auschwitz to Wodzisław Śląski. The road is
nearly sixty-three kilometers. On the route alone, about 600 bodies of prisoners who died of
cold or exhaustion were counted. In addition, of course, former prisoners were murdered by
To commemorate this tragedy, but also to commemorate the whole horror of the Holocaust,
the Marches of Life initiative was established in 1988. Initially, they were held every two
years, but now they happen every year.
Their main goal is to make Jewish youth aware of what happened in Europe during World
War II, but the focus is on the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. The initiators of the March of the
Living were the Israelis, Awraham Hirszson, and Dr. Szemu’el Rosenman. Thousands of
students from schools in China, Hungary, Australia, and New Zealand, South and North
America take part in the marches. Standing at the gate with the signature „Arbeit macht frei”,
they set off towards the International Monument to the Victims of the Camp to Brzezinka.
The entire march is approximately three kilometers. At that time, apart from the
aforementioned monument, the participants of the march pass by the barracks and
crematoria. The whole event begins with a special song and then continues in silence. For
several years, in addition to the march, meetings with surviving witnesses to history have
been organized, i.e., with former prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp. This is how
the meeting with Elie Wiesel, a camp survivor, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature,
took place. During the visit related to the March, participants also visit other places closely
related to the history of the Holocaust in Poland, for example, the grounds of the Jewish
Ghetto in Warsaw.
The event is also attended by heads of state – presidents of Poland and Israel, as well as
representatives of governments of other countries. The annual event takes place on Israel’s
Holocaust Remembrance Day. This movable holiday falls on the 27th day of Nisan, which is
April or May depending on the year. Meetings, or rather marches, in addition to their obvious
historical and educational value, are also aimed at promoting equality and tolerance.