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In cooperation with TOS Ministries, the Elaia Christian Congregations, the Gusen Commemoration Commitee and leaders of various other churches and movements, Christians for Israel - Austria is organizing a first “March of Life” in Austria, scheduled for April 6th 2014. Contemporary witnesses, Holocaust survivors and their descendants will also be participating in the “March of Life”, which is intended not only to be an act of commemoration and reconciliation, but also to voice a loud and clear “Never Again!” against the rising modern Anti- Semitism of our time and to express solidarity with Israel.
Since 2007 “Marches of Life” have been taking place throughout Europe. Within seven years, a small undertaking, beginning with a group of people walking from Tübingen to Dachau in order to seek reconciliation, has grown into a big movement with tens of thousands of participants in not less than eighty cities and twelve countries. “Marches of Life” are held in key places of the Holocaust in Europe. Thus former routes of deportation and death marches are transformed into symbolic routes for “Marches of Life”. The primary concern of these marches is to honour the victims of the Holocaust in public, and to publicly remember those who had also been publicly deported to their deaths. In the spirit of reconciliation, the “March of Life” in Austria is being organised in close collaboration between Jewish communities and many different Christian churches, congregations and denominations.
Lest we forget
The message of the march is reconciliation as well as the restoration and healing of relationships between the descendants of the perpetrators and those of the victims, and to help participants to come to terms with their own past. The march should also be a clear warning never to forget. Being ready to face and to be shaken by our own family history, is as crucial as publicly declaring our friendship and solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people. “Only when we are ready to transform our positive attitude towards Israel into an active commitment, which we literally carry onto the street, only then will we be able to break through the “veil of silence” in a time where rising anti-Semitism is again burdening our cities and nations”, says Jobst Bittner, the initiator of the international march movement. “The public declaration of solidarity and plea for forgiveness, stemming from a heartfelt repentance, has become a very impressive and life changing experience for the descendants of the perpetrators, as well as for the survivors and their families”, he added.
The „March of Life“ in Austria starts on Sunday, April 6, 2014, at the former concentration camp Mauthausen. The route goes through Gusen I and Gusen II to St. Georgen (“Bergkristall” mine). On Saturday April 5, 2014, at 6 PM a special evening and dinner with survivors and their descendants will take place in the community hall in St. Georgen. On Saturday afternoon at 3.30 PM the multiple award - winning film “Six million and One” will be shown by David Fisher, who is a well – known cinematograph in Israel and son of a survivor from Gusen.
Between 1939 and 1945, at least 71,000 people from about 27 nations were imprisoned in the Gusen camps. At least 35,800 of them died. In 2014 we commemorate 70 years of Gusen II, where many of the prisoners were Jews. Their death rate was 98 percent. The burden of the history of this region cannot be carried solely by the inhabitants of Mauthausen, Gusen and St. Georgen, as it is part of the history of the whole Austrian nation. Together we want to remember this dark era of Austrian history, honour the victims and survivors and create awareness against modern anti-Semitism.
Background – Why a march for life in Austria?
Although most Austrians are well aware of and have dealt with greater parts of the history of National Socialism in their country, there is again a “silent majority” in Austria today, which does not oppose the spirit of our time. A majority that keeps quiet or looks the other way, whenever anti-Semitism (often disguised as Anti-Zionism or Anti-Judaism) surfaces. In order to achieve a spiritual breakthrough and real transformation in our cities and in our nation, we have to break this silence. The next two years are seen as a time of special grace in which we will have the opportunity to organize marches of reconciliation and commemorative meetings, giving us the possibility to meet, honor and learn from survivors of the Shoah. Most of the contemporary witnesses are very old already, and the time to invite them is running out. United, we want to raise our voice against racism and anti-Semitism and stand in solidarity with the Jewish people and Israel.
In 2014 we will commemorate 70 years since Gusen II, a former concentration camp four and a half kilometers away from Mauthausen, was put into operation. As many Jews were imprisoned in Gusen II, it was called “das Judenlager” by the local population. This concentration camp stayed relatively unknown in Austria and stands as a symbol for our silence.
Chairwoman C4I Austria