Today was hard. We had discussed how our time at Birkenau and Auschwitz would be challenging for each of us in different ways at different moments. Still, it was so hard. How could human beings treat other human beings with such cruelty? Simply put, there is no answer.
We were overwhelmed by the size of Birkenau. It just went on and on. Despite its devastation, there was beauty. We sat in a quiet spot beneath beautiful trees and shared some thoughts. Again and again, we asked how could this have happened? Why? It made no sense.
Some kids and staff led us through a poignant ceremony at the massive black stone sculpture on the camp’s grounds. We sang The Last Butterfly and Hatikvah. Other tourists stopped to watch and listen, to join us in song. We filled that horrid place with vibrant Jewish life.
After lunch (Polish sandwiches leave much to be desired!), we toured Auschwitz 1 which is now a museum. Our guide told us a story at the reconstructed execution wall that made my tears flow – a family, holding hands, was executed one by one, first the baby in its mother’s arms, then the toddler, followed by the oldest child all who were followed by the mother and lastly the father. I placed myself at that wall and desperately wanted to hold our daughters’ hands right at that moment. I wanted to hug our grandchildren. For me, remainder of the afternoon continued in a saddened blur, almost too much to bear.
Each of our kids responded differently: some cried, some turned inward, some were quiet, all were overwhelmed, all understood it could have been any of us. So many Jews gone forever. We talked about our responses. We supported each other-a shoulder to lean on, a hand to hold.
We are forever changed. Yet we are forever Jews.
by Rosanne Selfon
Chaperone, L’Dor V’Dor 3