March of the Living: The West 2013 travel blog

The only bummer with blogging while traveling is the not-so-reliable internet connections. Pictures are taking an awful long time to upload, so we will try again tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are some very, very fabulous entries from our teens. Enjoy!

Love from Poland,

The West

Today we visited the Jewish Heritage Museum. It was really interesting! The museum is located in the middle of the Warsaw Ghetto Square. It’s crazy that the location of the museum would have been in the ghetto just seventy years ago. The museum is still under some construction; they still haven’t yet finished the main exhibit on the Holocaust. Interestingly enough, that exhibit is the only one not paid for by Polish Government. It was paid for through private donors to ensure that people wouldn’t think that the Polish were telling the museum how to tell the story of the Holocaust. The museum has a large focus on telling the story of the Holocaust exactly as it is. Each room of the museum represents a different time period of the Jews in Poland from the 12th century onward. They have records of Jews living in Poland for a thousand years. It’s pretty incredible how Jews thrived here before the war. The museum will be completely finished in about 10 months. President Obama is expected to be there when it is completed which is so awesome! I think its so important to have a museum like this in Poland because everyone needs to remember what happened. Everyone, Jews and Poles alike, need to be informed and educated about not only the Holocaust but also about how the Jews thrived in Poland prior to the war. I’m looking forward to hearing about the great things this museum will do.

Also, I would like to reflect about my experience at the Lupochova forest. First some background information on the forest. So in August of 1942 (I think) the Nazi’s made the Jews of Tykochin march through the fields and into the forest to be shot into mass graves. In the forest there are three large pits. These pits are mass graves. However, the bodies are no longer there. When we arrived at the forest we walked silently to the pits. It was such an eerie feeling. It was snowing and the silence of it all really got me going. I was emotional before we had even gotten to the pit. Once we arrived my emotions were immediately heightened. We (the west and mid-atlantic regions) stood around the perimeter of the pits and then we lit six candles for the six million killed during the Holocaust. Rabbi Gutman (from Mid-Atlantic) then told us stories about the people who were killed in the forest. After the stories we all said Kaddish together. At this point I was crying. So many lives were lost and for no reason at all. I just do not understand. Although, I don’t think it is something that I will ever understand. I was glad to be surrounded by incredible people to help me through it.

Michaela Davenport

Although the sun was out when we woke up this morning in Warsaw, it was certainly not sunny when we arrived to Auschwitz – literally or figuratively. Honestly, had it not been for the barbed wire surrounding the camp, or the famous gate “welcoming” us into the camp, Auschwitz almost seemed like a college campus. For the most part, it was relatively “pretty” – nice brick buildings that were all laid out symmetrically and orderly. However, from the very beginning there was elements of the camp that made it clear that this was definitely not a college campus. One of these elements was the gate that says Arbeit Macht Frei, or work will set you free. These gates made me very emotional and gave me the chills; many people entered these gates, and never had the privilege to walk out. Once inside each of the individual blocks, we were able to see many possessions by the prisoners at Auschwitz I; this included hair (which was cut off after they were gassed), glasses, tallit, hairbrushes, prosthetic legs, shoe polish, cooking ware, suitcases, and the worst for me, shoes. There were thousands of shoes in this exhibit, and I really attempted to step into a few people’s shoes – what were they’re lives like in Auschwitz? What was their story? Were they like some of the ones we heard from members in our group, or were they less fortunate and sent straight to the gas chambers? I was appalled by the fact that there were so many possessions left behind.

The most emotional of the tour for me and for the majority of our group was when we entered the gas chamber at Auschwitz. Although this gas chamber and crematorium is much smaller than Birkenau, it was still eerie to be standing where thousands of Jews had died fairly recently. However, it was only when we began singing a song that cries began to ring out. We all shared a moment in silence after moving from the gas chamber to the crematorium. After returning outside, we linked arms and stood in a circle and recited the Hatikvah. It was incredibly emotional; I shared many hugs with tears streaking down my face.

While I was walking out, I was so blessed to be walking out of the camp, out of the barbed wire, and back onto our tour bus, and was so thankful to have this incredible opportunity to visit. During the Holocaust, there was no option to leave, and their only option was usually death – they just got to choose how they wanted to die. I don’t think I would be able to make these choice-less choices, as I would never be able to make a decision in the first place (because there is not a right one). I walked out of Auschwitz holding one of my closest friend’s hands. Not only was this comforting, but I realized how proud I was to be a Jew and how I am so lucky that I am touring this place, and not living in this place. I admire people like Dora, the survivor that came along with us, because she was able to live in camps such as Auschwitz for months and years, and was able to survive. I think at the March of the Living Main Event tomorrow, I will truly be able to celebrate the Jewish survival – and revival – in Poland, Israel, the United States, and all around the world.

Paige Miller

Wow, there are a lot of KFC’s here..

Well here I am, shivering in the freezing weather of Warsaw but the experience so far has been so incredible there are no words to describe how I have been feeling while I have been through this trip. When I arrived in Poland there was quite the blizzard outside but I knew I was going to be ready for the uncommon weather that has been going on especially in the spring season. A Polish man behind me on the plane told me how rare this weather was because it never usually snows in April but he asked me what the whole group was about. I told him it was a Jewish youth group experiencing Auschwitz in person and learning about what has happened in the Holocaust by touring different places around Warsaw. What I have seen so far has hit me tremendously especially the Lupachova Forest because what I have heard about that place is heart breaking and very disturbing to bear over.

This is the only place I shed a tear at and some of the stories that happened there gave me shivers down my spine. I can just imagine how terrifying it would be that about 2000 Jews walked to there deaths while the heartless S.S guards shot them one by one for absolutely no reason at all. I lit one of the six candles to commemorate the Jewish people who died in the burial grounds in the middle of the woods and I really felt the vibe when we all sang and prayed while my whole group held each others arms as showed our sympathy to one another. I have so many more stories to go but I just got to Krakow, I have written plenty in my journal and I am so excited to share my thoughts, opinions and other things I have learned while I was there.

Yonatan Schnee

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