Marching through the past: Senior reflects on journey from Auschwitz to Israel


Senior Gavri Schreiber spent five days in Poland during April visiting WWII camps.

“The weather was disgusting. Everything was gray – the sky, the dull buildings. Barbed wire fences lasted for miles and miles,” senior Gavri Schreiber said.

Gavri sits in the library media center, recalling his visits to various concentration camps in Poland. He just returned from the March of the Living, a two-week program about the Holocaust. Although the first part of the trip was spent visiting WWII concentration and extermination camps, Gavri stresses that these were more than just “tours;” they were experiences.

“‘Tour’ is a misplaced word. The difference between the two is that when you walk into a gas chamber, you can feel what happened in there. You’re not just touring it, you’re living it,” Gavri said.

The first four days consisted of visiting the camps. On April 7, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Gavri marched 3 kilometers from Auschwitz to Birkenau with 10,000 other participants beside him.

Going on the march was especially important to Gavri because his great-grandfather died at Sobibor, an extermination camp that was liquidated by the Nazis in 1943.

“I’ve always felt that what happened in the ’30s and ’40s still defines the modern Jewish world. To be a Jew today, what I understand about the past has to be relevant to me and not just something from a textbook,” Gavri said.

“My grandfather, Jacob, was killed in Sobibor, and my mother was a hidden child. This experience becomes part of our spiritual DNA and confronting it is important to figuring out his self-identity,” Jacob Schreiber, Gavri’s father, said.

Gavri spent the last week of the trip in Israel, visiting sites like Masada and the Dead Sea. What he found to have the biggest impact, however, was Yom Ha’atzmaut, the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which is customarily celebrated after a day of mourning for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism.

“Everyone was singing and dancing and cheering with complete strangers. People who spoke different languages were dancing arm in arm to familiar Jewish songs. It was inspirational,” Gavri said.

“[Israel] is the largest Jewish community in the world that represents our destiny as a people. It is the refuge for Jews persecuted in other countries, the gathering place where Jews from 150 countries build our future within the Jewish calendar and culture,” Jacob said.

Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem was exciting for Gavri, but he acknowledges that the moment was bittersweet.

“It gives celebration a different feeling when you’re acutely aware of what’s been sacrificed to have that moment. You feel joy, but at the same time you feel an overwhelming responsibility to your heritage,” Gavri said.

Now that he is back home, Gavri plans to implement what he learned into his everyday life. He encourages anyone interested in the March of the Living program not to hesitate to learn more about it.

“It’s hard to convey the emotions I felt and the experiences I had, but I definitely recommend for others to have these experiences too. I know that from now on I will evaluate my actions based on what I learned these last two weeks,” Gavri said.

“[My wife and I]always say, ‘you never let schools get in the way of your child’s education.’ Tell me, where do you think [Gavri] would learn more in two weeks: the Warsaw Ghetto and Masada or a classroom in Johnson County?” Jacob said.