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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Following the path from Auschwitz to Birkenau

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Dan Kanter at Auschwitz

Dan Kanter, musical director and guitar player for Justin Bieber, made an emotional visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau during Bieber's current 2013 European Believe Tour stop in Poland on March 25.

The trip was organized by the March of the Living, an international educational institution dedicated to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust and to combating prejudice, intolerance and hate. In Canada, it is sponsored by Jewish Federations of Canda-UIA.

“I just walked from Auschwitz to Birkenau – it’s been very intense and emotional today,” the acclaimed guitarist said after visiting the world’s largest and most notorious former death camp, where over one million innocent men, women and children, the vast majority Jews, were gassed to death during the Nazi Holocaust.

Kanter was accompanied by David Wajntraub and Lukasz Dlugolecki, both of whom have their own personal connection to the Holocaust. Kanter and Wajntraub walked the three-kilometre distance separating Auschwitz and Birkenau, following the same path March of the Living students from around the world tread upon each year.

Lukasz Dlugolecki, a film student at the Polish National Film School, shared the story of his great-uncle, Witold Pilecki, who volunteered for the Polish resistance, agreeing to get imprisoned at Auschwitz in order to gather intelligence. He was the author of the Witold Report, the first intelligence report on Auschwitz, which allowed the Polish government-in-exile to persuade the Allies that the Holocaust was in fact taking place. He survived World War II only to be executed by the Communists after the war.

“It was very meaningful for me to look at my uncle’s photo in one of the rooms of the museum. It always gets me thinking about what it means to know how to act when the situation is getting extreme. There is, of course, a feeling of being proud of my ancestor, but on the other hand, it leaves me always with concern about myself and my own backbone, my own moral courage, and what I would do under similar circumstances,” Dlugolecki said.

“It was a pleasure to meet Dan – he is a highly modest and thoughtful person. His interest in coming to Auschwitz, as I told him, was very admirable – to use an opportunity to visit a place, which is connected to world history, Jewish heritage, but most important, is a monument which asks universal questions about humanity.”

David Wajntraub, who currently lives in Israel but guides March of the Living groups in both Poland and Israel, has deep roots in Poland. His grandfather served in the Polish army before World War II, and his father was jailed by the Polish communists for his Zionist beliefs and then exiled from Poland in 1968. Many of his family members perished in the Holocaust, but their exact fate is unknown.

“A few days ago, I met Dan Kanter, an amazing Jewish man from Canada touring Poland with Justin Bieber. He was adamant about going to Auschwitz – and it was evident by talking to members of the crew, which counted 160 people, that Daniel had let everyone know about his will,” Wajntraub said.

“We arrived to Auschwitz and went through the museum, and then we went on a two-man March of the Living to Birkenau, linking our arms together, on the same route thousands of youth will follow in two weeks time, and the same route Daniel’s wife, Yael, took when she was a participant in the March of the Living.

“As we neared the gate of the infamous former death camp, we observed, ‘We are entering Birkenau because we want to, and we will leave whenever we want to.’

“As we crossed the gate, we embraced in a long hug,” Wajntraub said.  

“I feel honoured that I was able to accompany Daniel on this pilgrimage. It is a trip that I believe every man, woman and child should make once in a lifetime.”

“In the car on our way home, I told Daniel that I was very impressed that a major star like him doesn’t forget who he is and where he came from.”

Laura Bennie, national chair of March of the Living Canada, which organized the visit, praised Kanter for taking the time out of his busy touring schedule to make the trip.

“It must have been a very long day for Dan, getting up at 5 a.m., and travelling for seven hours by car from Lodz to Auschwitz, and then doing a full concert with Justin Bieber that same night. We are heartened he had such a meaningful experience visiting this most sombre of places, where the echoes and ghosts and lessons of history are ever present.”

Kanter also had a special message for the March of the Living students who would be coming to Poland in early April and marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day to commemorate the millions murdered in the Holocaust: “I wish you all a meaningful March of the Living trip and I also wish you a great trip to Israel, one of my favourite countries in the whole world. I have many incredible memories there, including meeting my wife, Yael, there on Birthright, and a very special show that we played with Justin in Tel Aviv in 2010.

“I hope you all have a memorable experience,” he said.

Eli Rubenstein is national director of March of the Living Canada.

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