Our Pilgrimage to Poland: Part 2

by Alexandra P., NFTY-EIE Spring 2014 Student

This past week EIE flew from Israel to Warsaw Poland. In Poland we traveled around to different cities to get a better understanding of what Jewish life was like in Poland before World War 2 and what took place during World War 2. We had the opportunity to visit three concentration camps, as well as Ghetto walls, and experiencing Jewish life in Poland today. Read Part 1 here.

Wednesday March 26, 2014

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Auschwitz Birkaneau

Today was a more relaxing, chill day.  After breakfast we loaded the buses and went to an old castle that looked like it was out of a movie set. We went to the old town square where we had free time. All of EIE met up again and learned about what the Jewish life in Krakow used to be like. We went into different style temples. Then we went to the JCC of Krakow to learn about the Jewish community in Poland today. There are about 500 members! This JCC was started up by Prince Charles who wanted to bring the Jewish life in Poland back.

Following the JCC visit the whole group did the walk from what used to be Jewish community to the ghetto and train station where the people waited to be transferred. Today there is an art piece with a bunch of different sized chairs. People in my class were upset that people in the community today were sitting on the chair. This reminded me of our discussion from earlier in the week – when is it okay for the community to move on? I really don’t think there is ever a time to move on but eventually things do and someone will always be unhappy with the result.

Our finale stop of the day was to Schindler’s factory. We saw the original gate and in the windows are photos of all the workers. We did not go inside the factory because today it has been turned into a museum not focusing on Schindler himself but more on the history of WW2.  We sat outside the factory and David Solomon told us a story about a woman who was able to smuggle children out and have Polish families adopt them. After the war she was able to save over 2000 children and if the parents were still alive, reunited the families.

Thursday March 27, 2014

We got on the buses by 7:30 and headed to Auschwitz Birkaneau. When we arrived the first thing I noticed was how the train tracks went right through the gate and divided the camp in half going all the way to the very end. The place is huge. WAY bigger than Maidanek.

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Row of smashed down buildings with only the chimneys left standing

We first went into the washrooms, a place where everyone wants privacy. It is holes carved into the cement blocks lined up in rows. I could only imagine the smell. We then walked for 10 minutes passing row upon row of smashed down buildings with only the chimneys left standing.  What really bothered me was how the Nazis tried to destroy everything by smashing down the buildings but we cannot have back what they destroyed of ours.  We reached a pond with a gravestone saying “in these water lays the ashes of the lives lost”. We had been given a yartseit candle and I decide to light my candles there.

We then learned about the Zunder commander who were Jews chosen to live separately from other the Jews. They had the job of taking out the dead bodies from the gas chambers, burning them and putting the ashes into the water. Every four months these people were killed and a new group was brought in because the Nazi could not risk these people telling other people what was actually going on. We learned about one group of Zunder commanders who bombed one of the gas chambers and by doing this they saved 2000 people a day. Of all the stories I heard this week this one in particular really stuck into my mind because these people who already had nothing and had seen things in life that can never be erased risked their lives to save others.

In the last room were photographs of people. These were photos that families packed in their suitcases and the Nazis took from them. Seeing all the photos lined up put faces to the huge number of 6,000,000.  The number is no longer just a number to me. They were all people with family’s, friends, playing with toys, dancing. The photo below really caught my eye. I know in such hard times it’s always good to laugh and that what this photo made me do. I will bring their smiling faces with me home to Israel!

We were then given time to write our thoughts down and rest taking in everything we just saw. Some people in my group were laying down to write. A Polish security guard came over to us yelling at us to get up because we are not at a beach. I jumped out of my skin. I got very uncomfortable. I don’t like the fact that you can hear the train from inside the camp. We had a small service again reciting the mourners kadish and singing Hatikvah. I loved how throughout this week people who brought  Israeli flags wrapped themselves in it like a blanket. I have never felt so proud to be Jewish!

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Photos that families packed in their suitcases

This was a very long and hard day. After lunch we went to Auschwitz One. This camp has been turned into a museum therefore we did not get lead around by our teachers but by a tour guide. This camp did not have the same styles as the others. It felt more like a university campus. I felt because it has been turned into a museum it has lost the message and its meaning. All the interior of the buildings have been redone and painted. One of the buildings has displays of shoes, glasses, pots and pans and brushes. The room that appealed to me the most was a room with drawings from kids. These drawing were found and recreated on this wall by an artist. At the beginning the drawings are happy and as you walked along the room the shadows of guns, a dark feeling went through all the photos. That room will always stay with me because kids are the best stories tellers.

After a very long day we loaded the buses and went to a temple. At the temple we had services and a real sense of community was in the air. This Poland trip has bought us all so close together. We all sang and danced to Jewish music and it was a song session I will never forget. After dinner we headed for the airport and by midnight we were up in the air!

Back in Israel

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This week in Poland the number 6,000,000 became more then just a statistic, this week I learned the power of hate.  I truly believe Poland is a trip that every Jewish person needs to take in their life time. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to go to Poland at such a young age with this group of people. Nothing will ever be able to prepare you for what you will see or experience. I had a very different reaction than what I thought. This week I felt like my emotion went numb in order to have my brain retain all the information I learned. A majority of what I learned this week I did not understand, and I bet I will never understand. I am grateful to have been able to go at the age of 17 so that I can continue to understand and make sense of this over my life. Many people have asked me “what I learned in Poland?” or “how did what I saw affect me?” and thoughts are not questions that you just can answer. Not now and not in the future. Our job is not to understand how this terrible event occurred or how it made us feel because the fact is it happened. Our job is to educate. This trip is not the end of my studies on this topic because there is always more information to take in. I am so ready to go home! Home=Israel (wow that’s so cool to say). I have never understood why people have such a strong connection to Israel until this moment. People go to Israel for a week and say they love it, but to truly understand what makes a country strive you need to live there/here and be there at its darkest moments. To say I live in Israel, I am going HOME to Israel, well that’s just a feeling you can’t express. I experienced a lot of hate this week. I witnessed what was thought to be the end of the Jewish community the Jewish religion as a whole. But to come out on the other side and land in Israel proving that the Jewish People are stronger then ever! When the plane landed in Israel I think I was the loudest one cheering!

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