Participants of the March of the Living exit a gate in the former Nazi camp Auschwitz in Poland, May 2, 2019. (Courtesy of the International March of the Living via JTA)

The worldwide spread of the coronavirus postpones the March of the Living for the first time since its founding.

Organizers of the March of the Living announced on March 8 that the annual global Holocaust education program in Poland has been postponed due to the worldwide spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The commemoration was originally set to take place on April 21 at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland. A rescheduled date has yet to be announced.

“After consulting with the relevant health bodies and officials, it is with a heavy heart that we are forced to announce the postponement of this year’s March of the Living in Poland,” Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, March of the Living World Chair, said in a statement.

“Our primary concern is the health of the many participants and the Holocaust survivors who would be joining them. Given that this is an international event involving 110 delegations from around the world, we have a responsibility to take precautionary measures in accordance with the guidelines given by authorities in various countries,” Rosenman added.

The March of the Living began in 1988 and this postponement marks the first interruption of the annual event since its founding, according to the organization’s statement.

In response to the postponement, the organization is launching a campaign, “Never Means Never,” in order to continue their education about the history of the Holocaust and encourage youth from around the world to combat anti-Semitism and racism.

March of the Living President Phyllis Greenberg Heideman said in a statement, “This by no means implies that we will be deterred from our mission and responsibility to remember the past, pay tribute to those who perished or honor those who survived. We will remain committed to educating the next generation and combating antisemitism, even as we look forward to our next March in Poland.”

According to their statement, more than 300,000 participants from 52 countries have walked the 3.2-kilometer march along the railroad tracks from Auschwitz to Birkenau to date. The annual march is paired with a follow-up event in Jerusalem.

As of March 9, the senior class from Frankel Jewish Academy (FJA) are still planning on traveling to Israel and Poland for their scheduled trip on May 18. That trip is unrelated to the March of the Living. However, FJA is “keeping an eye on the situation nationally and internationally and will listen to the advice of the Centers for Disease Control as well as the Department of Education,” read the statement.

Hillel Day School also has a trip to Israel scheduled for their eighth graders on April 20. School officials said they are planning to keep their scheduled trip and are continuing to monitor the situation and will update parents if the situation changes.

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit could not be reached for comment regarding canceling or postponing any of their upcoming missions or trips to Israel.

Read More: Metro Detroit Jewish Schools Actively Prepare for Coronavirus

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