A couple thousand Christians from 44 countries were joined by Israelis — including lawmakers and a group of children with disabilities — in a march through Jerusalem on Tuesday to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Israel’s statehood, show their love for the Jewish people and honor Holocaust survivors.
Israelis have become accustomed to Christians marching in support of their nation, such as the annual Jerusalem March during Sukkot, the feast of Tabernacles. But the March of Nations had a slightly different theme: a bulk of the participants were descendants of Nazis who had participated in slaughtering Jews during the Holocaust.
An initiative founded by descendants of the Nazi Wehrmacht, SS and German police force to remember the Holocaust, the March of Life organization this week held its first event in Jerusalem, a three-day conference in Jerusalem to commemorate the Holocaust, co-organized with Helping Hand Coalition. And in doing so, to redeem history to the extent possible.
“From the Holocaust to new life,” read a large banner carried throughout the march. Knesset Member Yehuda Glick made a big hugging motion toward the banner and the participants as he marched alongside Jobst Bittner, the initiator of the March of Life movement.
Hoisting flags from Israel and their native countries, the marchers festively wound their way through the streets from the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to Mount Zion. The marchers greeted Israelis along the way and handed out flags and other treats to spectators. The colorful parade was accompanied by Israeli music and spontaneous dancing along the route.
The conference, including the March of Nations, culminated in an event, the Festival of Life, which was broadcast on God TV from Sultan’s Pool outside the Old City. One thousand Holocaust survivors were the event’s special guests.
“For the March of Life movement you are the precious treasures,” Bittner said. “I welcome you very warmly and together we want to honor you. Your memory must never be forgotten and it must be passed on from generation to generation.”
Bittner introduced a video presentation of Yechiel Aleksander, a Holocaust survivor who was present with his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Aleksander was forced into a concentration camp as a child. His family died, but Aleksander miraculously survived two death marches and was eventually liberated by American troops. He managed to get to Israel where he joined the pre-state’s defense forces and fought in the War of Independence.
He now actively works to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and has participated in the March of Life.
“I’ve been on two death marches, but I’ve been on five life marches,” he was quoted on the video.
Before the march, one of the participants, standing with her family, explained why it was significant to her.
“My grandfather went to Auschwitz and helped build the concentration camp. He was responsible for putting 16 kilometers of barbed wire into place and he also helped build the gas chambers,” Bärbel Pfeiffer told the crowd. “We are standing here today as a whole family to say that something like this must never happen again. And Israel, we stand by your side and we love you, Israel, and we will be with you.”
Several Israeli leaders welcomed the support including President Reuven Rivlin, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Likud minister Ayoub Kara.