5:45am and the alarm goes off, it's time for our third day in Poland. Once on the bus we head to a horrendous place--Belżec. The floor covered in ice, and wind piercing our skin we look out at what is left, nothing... However what occurred here is everything but nothing. There were 500-600,000 Jews that perished here with only two known survivors Chaim Hershman who was killed by the Polish in 1946 and Rudolph Reder who gave testimony.
From there we went to Lezajsk to visit the Ohel of the great Rabbi Elimelech (founder of Chassidim). We had a tish, a L'Chaim and a dvar Torah all in the zchut of this great Rebbe.
Then the mood of the night turned very drastically as we entered the city of Zbilatovska Góra. Hidden deep in the Forrest lay the bodies of 800 children. Innocent children were killed individually by smashing their heads in by the evil ones (ימח שמם). We were then told a story about Simchat Torah and the children's Aliya. Proceeding this we were given time to walk the Forrest where these horrid events occurred--this was when we got our letter that our parents had written for us. Everyone broke down as we made a personal connection to the children who had their lives stolen from them. We then heard a very moving tekes (ceremony) dedicated to the innocent 800 children. The night concluded with lighting a Yizkor candle and singing V'zahkeini.
Yesterday was a packed day. We started the day off by going to the remnant of the Warsaw ghetto wall. The segment is not very large and is located in a courtyard, surrounded by many apartment buildings, some of which were around when the ghetto was standing. We then walked the "Ghetto's Heroe's Path". The path is lined with memorials for people of the ghetto. The first large memorial we went to was Mila 18. Mila 18 was the last command post of the Great Warsaw Ghetto Revolt. The memorial is built on the ruins of Mila 18 and starteds at the right of the ruble. The next stop on the trail was the Samuel Zygleborn Memorial. Zygleborn was a member the the bunt movement and was a member of the pre war Polish government. When he heard of the situation in Poland he killed himself in the hopes it would make the world do something about the horrors of Poland. His memorial is siloets of people with what looks like fire or trees behind them. Then our next stop on the trail was the Rapport Memorial. The memorial has two sides, one side shows people with their heads down holding each other as they walk. In the center is a Moses figure holding a Torah. The other side shows people with their heads held high, they are muscled and stand tall, in their hands are ammunition. The memorial is dedicated to the people of the Warsaw ghetto.
We then went to Mjdanek. The camp has two many buildings still standing, though many buildings were rebuildt. We saw the building that contains both the showers and the gas chamber. Both horrific rooms of terror. There are still blue stains on the walls of the gas chamber. There was a little room attatched to the two gas chambers. This room has a little window and valves, it was the control room, the room of the murderer. We walked from there through the barracks. We saw a barrack filled with shoes. Shoes of men women and children. From there we walked up to a domed building that had a sign carved into it that read "let our fate be a warning to you." this structure housed the ashes of those killed in the camp. We saw the crematorium but could not go into it because they were doing work on it.
After we went to the camp we went to the Lublin Yeshiva where we had soup, learned and danced. The building was beautiful but sadly empty. It's amazing how the building survived the war.
From there we went to the Izbitz cemetary. The cemetary is up a hill behind a house. It looked like a forest with a hut in it. The Ohel, the hut structure, was a kever of a Chasidic Rav. No other headstones were left standing save for one, the grave of a person who is still liiving. He is a holocaust survivor who was raised Christian and wanted to be burried next to his family who have been murdered and burried in the mass gaves there.
We've had a jam packed firsjt day as we toured around the Warsaw area.we arrived early in the morning and quickly layered up. Then we drove to the Jewish Warsaw Cemetery and paid our respects to leaders of Jewish culture from Rabbis such as the Natziv and Rabbi Soleveitchik to the founders of yiddish theater, literature and art. Then with the snow melting on our faces we boarded the bus again and headed to Umshglapatz, the place where the Warsaw Jews were herded before being shipped off to Treblinka. At Umshglapatz we spoke about the significance of the spot and sang songs commemorating the people who passed through there. Then we made the same trek as those Jews, our ancestors, made to Treblinka. When we arrived there darkness was quickly encroaching.We first went into the museum to discuss what happened there. Then in almost complete darkness we trudged through the snow to the symbolic train tracks, walking the same path as over 850,000 Jews walked to their deaths.Arriving at the place where the gas chambers once stood we stopped and in the complete blackness and together tried to fully wrap our minds around where we were. Girls told stories about the victims, led us in song and spoke about the meaning of where we were and how to take the meaning of it with us. Then we said a prayer in memory of the victims and walked silently out of the camp.
Our next stop was Janucz Korczak's Jewish orphanage, a reminder that even in grave times one always has the potential to show greatness. Then we went to a delicious kosher restaurant called Rambam where we met leaders of the Warsaw Jewish community today. They spoke to us about their lives and answered many questions we had.
Its only been one day but already we'd all like to thank our parents for this amazing opportunity. Especially you Mr. and Mrs. Blustein.
To our dear parents. It is Sunday and we have reached the end of this long journey. On thursday we visited Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau. It was an extremely emotionally draining day. We spent two hours walking through the Auschwitz camp. Our tour guide Peter did a good job portraying the horror. We walked through different buildings, some used as prison cells, others as storage rooms and gas chambers. We saw a crematorium where bodies were burnt in a matter of twenty minutes. These people were sick, they had competitions on whose crematorium could burn bodies faster. We passed hospitals where women's bodies were tested on and mutilated. It was a very heavy sight. Next we drove to Auschwitz Birkenau which was no better. This camp was massive. It takes twenty five minutes to walk from one end to another. Here thousands and thousands of people were killed each day. Next to most gas chambers are huge ponds where Nazis would throw remaining ashes into the water. We were at the camp for five hours and still did not see the whole thing. We walked along the railroad tracks that shipped jews from all over europe to this horrible death camp. There are rooms full of glasses, tallit, luggage and hair from these poor jews. To see these thousands and thousands of objects all heaped together really hits you hard. A lot of the bunkers and gas chambers were burnt down but much of the sight still remains as horrible as ever. We found bones in the soil, little remnants of our people to show that this truly did happen. Actual DNA still lays in the earth! I can't imagine how anyone can deny the holocaust. We found many other things buried in the earth too. I found a tweezer stuck in the ground and couldn't help but wander what kind of woman did this once belong to. Who was she and what was her fate? That was a very tiring day for everyone. On Friday we went to an old train station that functioned during the Holocaust. We sat in a cattle car, this time able to breathe and stretch out our legs. We sang and discussed our feelings about what we have seen and how we now feel a strong need to make a difference in the world. The jews survived for a reason and we must make the most of the time we have in this world. Next we went to Lodz for shabbat and had a wonderful friday night dinner with our polish friends Yankel, his wife Ettel and a Polish boy Dovid. Lodz is a very antisemetic area and we felt this on Saturday when we walked around the town. We learnt about the now tiny jewish community left in Lodz, it is sad that they could not even get enough men for a ma'ariv minyan on Saturday night. Our Polish friends however stay for a reason, they try to keep the community alive and inspire whoever they can. Now it is sunday and we are visiting our last sites before we fly back is israel. We are all very excited to be heading back to a place where we can proudly be Jews. It has been an incredibly inspiring trip for us all. We thank you all for letting us go on this journey.
Over and out-
Yours truly, Gabby Samad