March of the Living is returning this year after being dormant because of the pandemic. Nathan Campbell, 21, was one of the past participants from Edmonton and still carries with him the memories and impact of the trip.
He wanted to go on the program to experience firsthand what his maternal grandparents and great grandparents went through in Lithuania. In 2018, he registered to be part of the coast-to-coast delegation, which included students from Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. Prior to the trip, he attended weekly meetings at the Jewish Federation of Edmonton to learn the background of the Holocaust.
The first week was spent in Poland, and included visits to cities and villages that were once vibrant centres of Jewish life, including Warsaw, Krakow, and Lublin. They also visited concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and Treblinka. The teens walked the three kilometres from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in honour of those who survived and in memory of those who perished.
“The experience in Poland was a little more solemn. It was more learning and seeing firsthand what happened to the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis. It was hard to experience. When you see all the shoes lined up in the museum, it really makes it seem real more than learning from a textbook,” says Nathan.
He had been to Israel before but the trip to this country was different through March of the Living. “After going to Poland and then going to Israel, it’s something I never experienced before. You go through these hard, sad times in Poland with your friends. Then you go to Israel, and you feel in a completely different way. It was a flip around where you are celebrating that we are all here together and this is what we have been through,” says Nathan.
The march to the old city in Israel was surreal and gave him a connection to the past and the present. “You have thousands of Jewish teens and participants walking together and singing in Israel, all unified,” he says.
Nathan encourages others to experience March of the Living if they can and says it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. “It gave me a connection to my Jewish heritage and my homeland. It gave me a new outlook on life in the sense of anything can happen and it’s important to be proud of who you are. Don’t let others get in the way of standing up for who you are. It made me more confident in expressing my Jewish identity.”
Since going on the trip, he was involved in BBYO and now with Hillel.
This year’s March of the Living trip is taking place from April 16 to 30 with four Edmonton students. The students will be in Poland for Yom HaShoah and in Israel for Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. They are already participating in pre-trip education sessions. Eliyanna Forbes is the chaperone for Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and the Jewish Federation of Edmonton is partially subsidizing the trip with further support from the Russ Joseph z”l Memorial Fund.