Holocaust Memorial Day, April 8 2013, was marked at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by an international turnout of some 11,000 people for the March of the Living – and one of the most moving and memorable speeches in the event’s 25-year history.
The 3km march from the gate of Auschwitz, near Kraków, to the end of the Birkenau railway line, the final steps of some six million Jews at the hands of the Nazis, brought together people of all faiths from all corners of the globe.
The speakers included Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and Holocaust survivor, who told of the bravery of a six-year-old boy shot in the head by a Nazi soldier. The Chief-of-Staff of Israel’s defence forces, Lieutenant General Benjamin Gantz, whose mother survived incarceration at Bergen-Belsen, said that everyone at the ceremony was ‘part of the victory of light, morality and Israel’ in the face of death.
Former United States Ambassador for Austria Ronald S Lauder told the young people at the ceremony: “You are our hope, you are our future… you can do great things.”
There was also a video message from a video message from Shimon Peres, President of the State of Israel. Mr Peres said the whole nation marched with the participants, and urged: “Lower your heads in their memory, raise your heads for the State of Israel.”
But it was the modest son of a Hungarian Jew who refused to give up his faith in the face of certain death whose story most moved those at the ceremony.
Hugo Lowy, a Hungarian Jew, was beaten to death by guards at Birkenau because he refused to abandon his Tallit (prayer shawl) and Tefillin (phylacteries).
Mr Lowy’s son, Frank, was 13 at the time. He told how, at the age of 82, he still missed his father. He spoke of the importance of ‘honouring one’s mother and father’, in life and in death, and of the role that Hugo’s actions must have played in helping his fellow inmates to face their own ends with pride.
Fighting back his own tears, Mr Lowy said: ““The Tallit and Tefillin were part of him, part of his personal relationship with God, and he was ready to die for them. And he did… he did so in front of others who knew what was in his little bag, and who tried to stop him from protecting it. In front of all of his people, he fought for his faith with a spiritual courage I never knew he had.”
Mr Lowy’s speech resonated across the globe. Eli Rubenstein, organiser of the Birkenau ceremony and national director for March of the Living Canada, acknowledged the importance and power of all contributions to the ceremony.
He added: “Frank Lowy’s remarks were the most moving I have ever heard. You could tell how much every word of his speech meant to him, how deeply and sincerely he wanted to honour the memory of his dear father Hugo, how he missed his father every day of his life, and how important it was for the young people to honour their own parents during their lifetimes, and to learn from Hugo’s example of dedication and faith.
“In future March of the Living programmes, we will ensure that every March of the Living student learns the story of Hugo Lowy – about his last act of spiritual resistance – and how over 60 years later, his son ensures that the memory of his sacrifice, and the memory of so many other acts of spiritual resistance during the Holocaust – will never be forgotten.”
Moishe Ronen, vice-president, of the World Jewish Congress, wrote on behalf of Ambassador Lauder and himself: “We were both particularly moved personally by Frank Lowy’s address. His remarks about his father, missing him every day, the importance of honouring parents and the Kiddush Hashem he is making in the dedication to education in his father’s courageous legacy is amazing.”
Mike Hollander, Jewish educator and tour guide in Modi’in, Israel, added: “After participating in 11 Marches of the Living, the highlight this year for me was hearing Frank Lowy’s story. His touching testimony gave a personal touch. As a father myself, hearing a great grandfather, grandfather and parent speak to thousands of people about his not knowing his father was a very powerful moment. It allowed those listening to once again realise how the Shoah [Holocaust] was six million individual stories, lives, and tragedies.”
Professor David Machlis, vice-chairman of International March of the living, wrote: “The story of Hugo Lowy as told by Frank Lowy regarding the heroic acts of his father will always be carried with me and will impact my behaviour forever.”
Picture: Frank Lowy and Lieutenant General Benjamin Gantz (courtesy Yossi Zeliger)