Apr 23, 2012
|We woke to a rainy and cold morning in Warsaw. After our breakfast we checked out of the hotel and started the drive to Majdanek. We heard from one of our historians, Mark Lazar, about the camp. It’s amazingly intact. We toured the barracks, gas chamber and the crematorium. Monise played a recording of a BBC broadcast from 1945 from Bergen Belsen of the freed prisoners singing Hatikvah in their first religious service in six years. Each child was given a letter from their parents that Monise and Maya had organized before they left Los Angeles. It was a complete and wonderful surprise. Everyone read their letters privately and had time to reflect. It was all so emotional. At the end of our visit, the sun came out; we drove to Lublin for some free time.
We have arrived at the airport, and are awaiting our flight to beautiful, sunny ISRAEL!
• Lublin – The 9th largest city in Poland, Lublin was once a center for Jewish life and culture. Jews settled in Lublin starting in the early 1300’s and continued to live prosperous successful Jewish lives up until Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930’s. Lublin was taken over by the Nazis on September 18, 1939, and as a result of resettling the Jews from surrounding towns, the Jewish population doubled by 1941 to reach 45,000 – including 6,300 refugees from other cities. Once a city bustling with Jewish life, Lublin became a center of mass extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust.
• Majdanek – Mass murder camp in eastern Poland. At first, Majdanek was a labor camp for Poles and a POW camp for Russians but it was eventually turned into a gassing center for Jews during the Second World War. It was liberated by the Red Army in July 1944, but not before 250,000 men, women, and children had been murdered there.
Here are some thoughts:
It is hard to believe that our week in Poland is coming to an end. It is even harder to articulate in words what we have experienced. As surrogate mother to 200 wonderful young adults- I want to let all know how proud you can be of your children. They have listened, they have learned, they have laughed and cried and met new friends- both young and old alike. What unites them all is the collective pledge to remember, to educate and to act. In 6 hours we will travel to Israel to commemorate yom hazikaron and yom ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) invigorated and so appreciative of all that we have. My thank you to the bje march of the living families for their support and encouragement – it means a great deal. I wish you a wonderful week.
With gratitude - Monise
At the beginning of this trip I was ready to learn and experience everything with the survivors. But as the trip went on I found myself in tears over some things that can be so meaningless. Everything had so much power. Watching these survivors going back to where they had to deal with so much hardship and watching them break down, lead me to crying too. The overall experience of this trip has been amazing, and I can’t wait to continue my journey in Israel.
When I first visited the most of the concentrations camps, I wasn’t immediately affected. It was difficult for me to show my tears, but as my experiences at the camps settled on me, my body became more numb each time we visited the different camps. Majdanek was the breaking point for me. My sister Megan told me that Majdanek would be difficult as she had a difficult time there as well. After seeing the gas chambers, barracks, and the crematorium, it all suddenly hit me. I could not believe what I just saw – did this all really happen? It couldn’t have happened! The survivor’s stories and the images validated that this unfortunate moment in history did happen. The letter from my family really got to me and I broke down. I collapsed to the floor crying and hugging my friend for comfort. Because of this trip, I feel more appreciative of everything that I have and if there is one thing that I learned from this one week in Poland it would be: Never forget!
Here I am and I smell the Jews. When you saunter into a ski lodge in Salt Lake City, you relish the oaky aura of stale wood and the smoky crackle of the fire in the hearth. Take that and pervert it. Take all things that please your senses and let them expire, go bad, moldy, demented. These barracks have to have smelled of death before the Jews arrived. But the blood and toil and sweat and bile of the Jews seeped into the wood, between the cracks and on the faces of the boards, and into the nails, and perched themselves in the air above and between and within the barracks and stayed there. There is bile in this air – I smell it. There are Jews, there is Kiddush, there are gemilut chasadim in this air – I smell them. It is as though they sensed that, tomorrow, they would rush down that pebble road and into the cramped room – and that would be the end. So they decided – their stenches, their evidence, their blood, and sweat, and bile, and aura – never to leave. And it all still levitates above the floorboards, and reminds each visitor that this wood is blotted with terror and tradition. And here I am, and I smell the Jews.
At a certain point, everything begins to feel numb—there are no feelings left to feel. But, today, at Majdanek, I felt a rush of intense emotions as I stared teary-eyed at the massive mound of ash under the rotunda. Reading my mother’s letter to me as I cried on the ashes of my people was a beautiful juxtaposition of life and death. Her letter reminded me of how lucky and privileged I am to live such a blessed life. I could not be more grateful to my parents for allowing me this incredible opportunity.
I don’t want to blog about my feelings about the camp Majdanek itself. I don’t want to talk about the musty, nauseating smell that hovers, stagnant in the barracks. I don’t want to talk about the crematorium, with cadavers still indented with the shapes of thousands of bodies. I don’t want to talk about the wind, the biting cold of Majdanek, the fact that I was wearing five layers meant nothing—the cold seeped deep into my skin and soul. Instead, I want to write about something that occurred in the first five minutes of our time at Majdanek: a young Polish mother and her four year old daughter toting a bright pink Hello Kitty tricycle, off to bike down the paved paths of Majdanek. Was it ignorance? Apathy? The vivid hue of the tricycle sent shivers down my spine. Is this trip for naught, is everything I feel for naught, if the world STILL doesn’t care enough, STILL doesn’t know enough?! I vow to make sure that that isn’t true. That the deafening silence of the world does not cripple me, does not paralyze me from acting. The world must not forget. I vow to make “never again” a verb, not merely a slogan.
Today we went to camp Majdanek, a very powerful place. I read the note from my parents and I really felt their presence was there with me. I will never forget again.