Thousands of participants from around the world joined the “March of Nations” event in Jerusalem this past Tuesday to celebrate Israel’s 75th year of independence.
The event was organized by March of Life, an initiative founded by Jobst and Charlotte Bittner and the evangelical TOS Ministries from Tübingen, Germany. The southwestern German university town served as the training ground for the Einsatzgruppen, the SS death squads that murdered 700,000 Jews, primarily by shooting, during the Holocaust.
Joined by the descendants of German Wehrmacht soldiers and members of the SS and police force, March of Life have organized memorial and reconciliation marches at Holocaust sites all over Europe. Founded in 2007, March of Life has spread to more than 20 nations and 500 cities around the world.
“As descendants of Nazi perpetrators it is not enough to say ‘never again,’ March of Life founder Pastor Jobst Bittner told JNS in an interview from Germany earlier this year. “We have to be responsible to do something and are calling on people to speak out against antisemitism and to stand with Israel.”
Bittner, whose father was an officer in the Wehrmacht’s Afrika Corps during the Second World War, has been honored by Israel for his staunch support for the Jewish state. He calls the founding of Israel one of the greatest miracles of our time.
Officially welcoming the “March of Nations” event to Jerusalem earlier this year, Israeli President Isaac Herzog gave his endorsement.
“I commend your courage in engaging with dark and difficult family histories, and your insistence on directing the call of your collective conscience to advocating on behalf of Israel and Jewish communities everywhere. I look forward to the upcoming March of the Nations, which coincides with the international date of Israel’s 75th anniversary. Your presence demonstrates unwavering moral support for our nation-state and its people, and the State of Israel welcomes you with open arms,” he said.
Tuesday’s event drew well over a thousand participants from around the world who marched from Sacher Park to Safra Square in front of Jerusalem City Hall. They were addressed by a variety of speakers, including Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Jewish Agency President Doron Almog, Ahmed al-Mansoori, founder of the first Holocaust museum in Dubai, and March of Life founder Bittner.
“It is something special for us to be Jerusalem in this crucial time. Our motto of the March of Life is: ‘Israel you are not alone,’ and we pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We expect many participants and are thankful to stand alongside Israel,” said Bittner.
The march was led by Odessa-born Holocaust survivor Arie Itamar, who arrived in Israel on the Exodus as a seven-year-old, and the theme was “Mi Shoah le Tkuma—from the Holocaust to New Life.”
Participant Carolin Klein was proud to be among the marchers.
“I am here with the March of Nations because I love Israel, and we come from many nations to really stand with Israel, especially at times of attacks. I am from Germany, and about 40 percent of the young people do not know what Auschwitz was, so I want to talk about what happened in the Second World War. Mostly all families were part of the Nazi regime during that time. I found out many of my forefathers were Nazis, too, and I want to make a clear statement that with my generation we really want to stand with Israel. We love Israel and we will speak up against antisemitism when we see it.”
Additional marches took place on Wednesday in various cities across Israel including Metula, Tiberias, Zichron Yaakov, Netanya, Ashkelon, Beersheva and Merhavim. Participants had the opportunity to meet with Holocaust survivors, students and soldiers.