On Tuesday, May 15, 2018 a large March of the Nations took place with 6000 participants from Israel and more than 50 nations on occasion of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel. The March ended in the open air arena Sultan’s Pool with a Festival of Life, at which the nations stated their solidarity with Israel and declared their determination to raise their voices against antisemitism in their countries.
The international March of Life movement initiated by Jobst and Charlotte Bittner in Germany had invited Christians from all over the world to Jerusalem on this special date. During the two days prior to the March, there was an international conference with 2000 participants which provided the opportunity for intense personal confrontation with the Holocaust and the role of millennia of Christian anti-Judaism.
At the kick-off event of the March on Tuesday afternoon in Sacher Park, Christians from different nations spoke about the involvement of their countries and families in the Holocaust and the pogroms, declaring their resolve to resist any form of antisemitism and to stand with Israel. Among them were Bärbel Pfeiffer, whose grandfather had helped build the Auschwitz extermination camp as an engineer, and Afshin Shamsianpur, who declared as an Iranian citizen in a video, “We will not allow another Holocaust at the hands of Iran. I stand with Israel and the God of Israel and the Jewish people.”
The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, explained his personal reasons for participating in the March of Nations: “When Jobst Bittner and his wife Charlotte came to my office almost a year ago and presented their project, I was very moved by it. I agreed to take part mainly because I myself am a grandson of Holocaust survivors. We have to make sure that something like this never happens again. And you are wonderful partners for it.” Also the Member of Knesset Yehuda Glick welcomed the March of the Nations with obvious enthusiasm.
The March was preceded by a reception in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, for 100 pastors and leaders of the March of Life movement, hosted by the “Knesset Christian Allies Caucus”. Here, the Members of Knesset Nachman Shai, Yoel Hasson (both Zionist Union), Yehuda Glick (Likud), Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu), Oded Forer and Robert Ilatov (Israel Beiteinu) all expressed their special appreciation for the global voice of March of Life.
Just after 5 pm, the March set out with countless flags of Israel and the nations. Israeli passers-by were visibly moved by the wave of friendship and solidarity that the march carried. Some had tears in their eyes. The Israeli media was very sensitive in reporting that many of the marchers had ancestors in the SA, SS and German Wehrmacht. They recorded the stories of individual march participants in interviews.
At the closing event in the open air arena Sultan’s Pool, 1500 Holocaust survivors attended as guests of honor, who had been invited by the partner organization Helping Hand Coalition – Global Forum. The “Festival of Life” celebrated the miracle of 70 years of Israel with Israeli and international artists. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin thanked the participants in a video message for a “sign of true friendship”. The Israeli Minister for Communication, Ayoob Kara, and Josh Reinstein of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus both spoke about the special significance of the March of the Nations at this time. As a symbol of the Israeli saying “mi shoa le t’kuma – from the Holocaust to new life”, Holocaust survivor Yechiel Aleksander came to the stage with his entire family – children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At more than 90 years old, he still travels all over the world to attend as many Marches of Life as possible – in Germany, Poland, Austria, Israel. He proudly proclaims that he has now been on far more Marches of Life than death marches.
As part of the event, Major-General Doron Almog was presented with the March of the Life Award. This award goes to people who have made a special contribution to the memory of the Holocaust, the reconciliation between the descendants of perpetrators and victims, or the State of Israel. Next to great military success, Doron Almog is founder of the charity ADI, providing for children and adults with severe disabilities at the highest level. He is convinced that the strength of a society has to be measured by how it treats its weakest members.
At the very end, Yechiel Aleksander lit a torch and passed the light to 70 representatives of the young generation from Israel and the nations, who went on a torch run to symbolically carry the light into all the world. Jobst Bittner, founder of the March of Life movement, challenged all participants to follow the motto of the March of the Nations – United to be a Light – and carry the light into the nations, organizing Marches of Life all over the world.
About the March of Life:
The March of Life is an initiative by Jobst and Charlotte Bittner and TOS Ministries from Tübingen, Germany. 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 the beginning of this movement in 2007, marches were held in 20 nations and in more than 350 cities in cooperation with Christians from different churches and denominations, as well as from many Jewish communities. In 2011 and 2015, the March of Life was honored by the Israeli Knesset for its special efforts on behalf of Holocaust survivors. In 2017, the Jewish Community of Halle in Germany awarded the March of Life movement with the Emil-L.-Fackenheim Prize for Tolerance and Understanding.
The message of the March of Life stands for:
Working through the past, giving survivors of the Holocaust a voice.
Healing and restoration between descendants of the victims and perpetrators.
Taking a Stand for Israel and against modern antisemitism.