Getting Britons on Holocaust march

Scott Saunders and Avram Grant at a previous March of the Living

Scott Saunders and Avram Grant at a previous March of the Living

Businessman Scott Saunders was living in Tokyo in 1992 when he went to an event that changed his life.

It was a memorial service at the local Jewish community centre for the wartime Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who issued visas to help thousands of Jews escape the Holocaust.

Mr Saunders, who describes himself as "Anglo-Jewish to the core", began to read more about the Holocaust. By 1995 he was living in Hong Kong, where he chaired the synagogue.

It hosted an exhibition and speakers from the Sydney Jewish Museum, which put him in touch with a host of survivors from the Australian Jewish community.

In 2005 he led a group of 10 adults from Hong Kong on the March of the Living, which annually brings thousands of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, to Poland to mark Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

He found the march "inspirational. It had educational content and the possibility of meeting survivors and listening to their experiences on the ground. It really was something extraordinary."

Mr Saunders has continued to lead the Hong Kong delegation - and now back in the UK, he is determined to make March of the Living a serious event for Anglo-Jewry.

To date there has been only a peripheral UK Jewish presence, led by Manchester philanthropist Joshua Rowe, who has taken a school-age group for a one-day visit.

This year, Mr Saunders took a small pilot group with the intention of making 2011 the full launch for March of the Living UK, with the Union of Jewish Students as the main partner.

Assisting the UK delegation, which leaves for its five-day visit immediately after Passover on April 27, is West Ham's manager Avram Grant, a mainstay of the Israel group for many years.

Grant, whose father was a Holocaust survivor, regularly speaks at the March of the Living ceremony in Birkenau. "He is really helping us," Mr Saunders said.

"He is going to speak to the UK delegates and we hope very much that he will join our delegation in Poland.

"No organisation yet knows how to deal with the inevitability of no survivors. But March of the Living gives our young people the opportunity to meet those that are left and learn the facts. It should be a natural rite of passage, and absolutely what we should be doing over the next five years."

One participant from this year, Joseph Machta, said: "The march changes you. It was one of those reminders to love being alive, to be proud to be Jewish. I think about it every day."

Those who sign up for the trip will travel to several concentration camp sites in Poland and make an emotional three-kilometre march between Auschwitz and Birkenau, where a memorial ceremony is held in front of the crematoria.

Mr Saunders expects to take at least two busloads and possibly three from the UK, joining 10,000 participants from more than 40 countries.

    Last updated: 3:02pm, November 18 2010