3 generations make somber, defiant trek from Auschwitz to Birkenau in Poland
By Ben Tinsley
Three generations of Ivette Maoz’s family traveled to Poland in early May to participate in the 28th Annual March of the Living.
Like more than 10,000 others, they were part of a somber, nearly two-mile walk from Auschwitz to Birkenau — the largest Nazi concentration camp complex built during World War II. As many as 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz during World War II.
Maoz — an Adat Chaverim member from Frisco — was joined on the walk by her mother, Holocaust survivor Anneliese Nossbaum, 87, of Philadelphia, and her daughter, Ma’ayan Maoz, 25, of Tempe, Arizona.
Ma’ayan Maoz, a social worker specializing in foster care and adoptions, said she was surprised to learn the March of the Living was more of a celebration of the continued presence of Jewish people who are “alive and well” in the world despite Nazi Germany’s efforts to eradicate them.
“We weren’t dwelling on the sadness of it (during the march),” Maoz said. “We were there to stand strong. We thought it would much more emotional but because there were so many people — so many teenagers from across the globe — it was empowering rather than something to dwell on or be sad about.”
Participants from all over
As many as 14,000 young people and 1,000 adults from 50 countries were there for the march.
Anneliese Nossbaum’s presence at the march attracted media attention. At the time, she had just reached the 71st anniversary of her liberation from the camps. Reporters at the scene in Poland interviewed both her and her family members.
In the beginning, Nossbaum was born and raised a cantor’s daughter in Bonn, Germany.
But she and her family were persecuted because they were Jewish.
Nossbaum was sent to various concentration camps, including Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Theresienstadt.
After Nossbaum was liberated from the Nazi camps, she came to the United States, met her future husband and eventually settled down and had two children with him.
Now, she travels across Pennsylvania speaking to groups about the Holocaust in order to raise awareness, educate and hopefully prevent another such tragedy.
Until recently, Auschwitz was the only camp to which Nossbaum had not returned. She had never anticipated being able to return there, her family said.
And it looked like it might remain that way — at least until January, when the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia invited her to be the guest of honor on this March of the Living trip.
“They had the idea the trip would be enhanced if a Holocaust survivor came along,” Nossbaum said.
An anonymous party paid her expenses for her trip.
In addition to her daughter and granddaughter, Nossbaum was joined by a large group of women representing the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Women’s Philanthropy group.
“This was an unexpected trip,” Ivette Maoz explained. “This group really wanted to educate themselves about the Holocaust.”
Nossbaum ultimately went on the march with a wheelchair because the distance would have been too far for her to walk. Having her daughter and granddaughter on the trip as well made a lot of difference.
“When they asked my mother if she wanted to go, she initially said ‘no’ because she didn’t feel she could physically do it,” Maoz explained. “But she told me if I came along she could do it — and she did it.”
For Anneliese Nossbaum, the march was a time to revisit tumultuous memories.
In 1944, when she was 15, Anneliese Nossbaum was taken by railcar to Auschwitz with her mother, Irmgard Winterberg (who was 41 at the time), and her aunt, Anita Lewinski, 29, a teacher.
As soon as they arrived, her aunt was sent to the gas chamber because of a hip deformity.
“She was sent away immediately,” Anneliese Nossbaum said. “When the physician saw my aunt limping … she was gone. I still remember the look in her eyes. I mourn her to this day.”
In another’s shoes
Nossbaum said it is hard to forget that her granddaughter is around the same age as was her late aunt.
“Ma’ayan is only a few years younger,” she said.
Nossbaum and her mother were separated in Auschwitz. Her mother managed to survive until the Day of Liberation in December 1945 but then succumbed to severe tuberculosis.
After she turned 16, Nossbaum was sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp —and, on May 4, 1945, their gas chambers.
But luck was with her. Bombing by Allied forces in the nearby city caused a shortage of the Zyklon B used by the Nazis in the camps as a killing agent. The gas chambers were never resupplied. Allied Forces freed her on May 5 when they liberated this camp.
Anneliese Nossbaum said memories of her mother and aunt remind her how wonderful it was to have her daughter and granddaughter with her on the march.
“I wanted to utter affirmations of faith in the company of my daughter and granddaughter,” she said.
Since 1988, more than 220,000 marchers from 52 different countries have participated in the March of the Living. Yavneh and BBYO both send local delegations to the event.
Ivette Maoz said the crowd there this year consisted of about 14,000 youths and 1,000 adults.
About 150 of those in attendance at the march were Holocaust survivors, although as time marches on, those numbers continue to dwindle. Max Glauben of Dallas chaperoned the Yavneh delegation for the 10th time in 11 years.
Many of the young people at the march were delighted to meet Anneliese Nossbaum, Ivette Maoz said.
“We ran across some Moroccan Jewish teenagers on the march — they were placed in order ahead of us on the march,” she said. “They had never met a Holocaust survivor before.”
The group of Moroccan youngsters was intrigued by Nossbaum and by another man they met who was also a Holocaust survivor.
“The Moroccan group’s leader said to my mother said these teens had never seen a survivor in the flesh until that day,” Ivette Maoz said. “They were very excited and very moved to have that opportunity.”
Ma’ayan Maoz is an advisor for a local BBYO chapter, a volunteer for the ALS Association, and a wish granter for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She said she has known her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor for a large portion of her life.
“I have heard my grandmother’s personal story through the years but being able to walk through the camp with my family the same way my grandmother walked through with her family was very surreal,” Maoz said. “My grandmother kept repeating through the whole walk she knew ‘Holocaust education is working’ and that reinforces how important it is to make this information available to the different generations.”
Anneliese Nossbaum agreed the trip was very rewarding.
“I’ll never get back there but this satisfies,” she said.