MOTL Youth Blog 2017
Memories & reflections from the 2017 youth delegation
We find it quiet hard to write in simple words what we had to witness in those 3 hours at Auschwitz. We started our journey from Warsaw to Krakow which is a mere 5 hours.. the journey to Krakow reminded us as we distantly glanced out the window at the journeys our fellow brothers and sisters took to reach the concentration/labour/death camps by cattle trucks or along the railway roads.. we all look out the window and see the same thing although almost 70 years later buildings have now been established, trees destroyed but the same distinct forests rest amongst the roads that millions of Jews to took to their final destination. During our tour of Auschwitz one of a few things stood out for us was unity, When humans are placed in difficult situations the common human reaction is to isolate and drift away, but unlike most religions, Jews unite despite the hate of the religion, the traumatic treatment they received for their identity, but the love for the religion was brought into even the gas chambers where Magen Davids were scratched into the walls in their final seconds..
1 300 000
These numbers may seem odd to you but 46 is the number of camps that were created in Auschwitz..
46 camps lay amongst the town of Krakow, how can anyone grapple with the thought that 46 camps just in one area, existed freely.
1.3 million is the number of lives taken, innocent lives taken because of their identity at just this camp and 19, 19 hours...these are the seconds millions of Jews had to stand on a winter night in the role call area of Aushwitz one, in their thin clothing and weak legs they stood for a 19 hour role call ..
Entering the camp we felt as if we were entering a movie set this may seem terrible to say but it's the head phones, tour guides, foreigners and fast food vending machines which took away the feeling of death and despair outside the gates but as soon as we passed the Arbeit Macht Frei Sign we knew we had entered a place full of pure evil. The museum itself is the original camp, although the renovations took place only in the inside of the buildings which have been altered for visitors, a fresh coat of paint on the walls, some new tiles have been laid and historic artifacts have been placed behind glass, the different rooms we entered each had its own emotional rollercoaster, we were able to read a book filled with everyone's names that had been recorded in the holocaust, walked in the foot steps of millions of prisoners and entered rooms which left us gutted. The rooms which "exposed" the corpses should never been spoken about again and the stories we were told have become life lessons which can be taken into account for the rest of ones life.
Today as we remember everyone in the holocaust, we remember that 6 million is not a number, it's not just a number we say we going to remember, it's individuals, each person has there own story from the man at Aushwitz who let the soldiers kill him because the man they actually wanted had a wife and kids, or the little boy who sold cigarettes on the bench and had his baby sister die in his hands, each story represents a struggle not just the struggle against the Nazi Regime or the struggle against the evilest of the 1940s but the struggle against humanity. We say never again but do we actually understand what words we are saying.
We are saying NEVER shall we let anyone disrespect, hurt, kill, or discriminate again.
In this lifetime, according to basic societal norms, we have a responsibility to acquire as much knowledge as we have access to, and in turn, use what we've learned to improve the quality of our lives, that of our community and, as much as possible, our whole planet.
The potential of a well-educated youth should never be undermined and the value of a worldly, experienced youth should never be underestimated. Knowledge is power. However, experience is the system that is fueled by knowledge, but allows for actual application of the 'potential'.
It is rare to have a single experience that can alter one's life. It sounds surreal to even brand 2 weeks out of 16 years as 'more uplifting' or 'more enlightening" than any other. So not only am I going to claim that this is the case, but additionally, I'm going to explain why:
8 of the many things that a 16 year old Jew from South Africa learnt from March of the Living: A condensed version of a 2 week life altering experience
1.) The importance of unity: As observed from the success stories from the dark period of our history- there is strength in numbers. This is true for our ancestors AND us. There are very few ways of finding comfort after standing in a concentration camp apart from the support of people that share the experience.
2.) GRATITUDE- Materialism vs what matters: Prioritizing what actually counts, as opposed to things attached to a numerical value or of a superficial nature. After hearing the description of the conditions of Jews forced into cattle cars, that bred illness, starved people of nourishment and their humanity- it's hard to complain about slow wifi or a dead cellphone.
3.) Exposure to and ignition of interest in a diverse mix of religious and cultural groups: Whilst our own belief system and culture was explored, so too were that of Arabic culture, Polish livelihood, Bedouin living, Islamic traditions and even branches of Judaism whose origins differ from that of our own. If we want to boast an inclusive, non-discriminative future, it is imperative to gain understanding of and decode all stereotypes of people who are the same and different to us and to establish that we are all part of one human race.
4.) Exploration, embracing and expression of our personal practice of judaism: Everyday we wake up in a home and go to a school and walk in a street amongst people with a common heritage and religion, but different streams of practice and belief. To have the opportunity to learn from other people's perspectives and opinions as well as being given a platform to establish individual choice is one that is not only comforting and safe, but NECESSARY.
5.) Starting a conversation- This refers not only to being able to interact and initiate a relationship with people who are new faces, but more so the ability to engage in discussions with likeminded as well as completely different people, on a global scale ,about global issues. After all, we are contributors to the future of our world, and we should establish a unified force of engagement.
6.) The power of choice- after learning about and visualizing scenarios from the Holocaust, whereby soldiers, civilians and bystanders allowed for the discrimination, incrimination and blatant murder of millions- one can't help but question what would have happened differently if people CHOSE to react differently. Yes or no. Left or right. Life or death. We survived. And we get to live to make a choice and the opportunity to make it a good one every, single day.
7.) Acceptance- The Jewish people were not the first or the last group of people to be discriminated against to a humiliating, dehumanizing and fatal extent. There are people living in our world today, even after the atrocities reflected by our history, who don't feel safe on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, sexuality, race, gender, and more. We have to ensure human wrongs become human rights. This is our fight.
- WE have to implement the above-mentioned
- WE have to be good human beings- to people, to places and to our planet
-WE have to preserve our and all nation's rights to freedom
- WE have to question and fight against any human right violations
- WE have to tell their stories
- WE have to always remember, and never forget.
Another stunning morning in Israel began with a tour of the ammunition factory in a kibbutz near Haifa. This factory was the power house behind the production of ammunition between 1945 and 1948 leading up to the War of Independence. Such production was forbidden by the British mandate and this offense could easily get them arrested or even a harsher penalty. This bravery and determination to never give up on fighting for their country made these normal people living on a simple kibbutz into heroes that contributed to the victory in the War of Independence.
We spent our afternoon roaming around the electric atmosphere of the Carmel market. We enjoyed the variety of the stalls alongside the street and overall had a great time. My favourite street was the arts and crafts where people used their creativity to produce magnificent pieces of art, whether in the form of wood work or jewelry.
We prepared for what was destined to be a magical Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel. We davened in harmony and soon after were singing and dancing right in front of what has to be the holiest place on Earth. Even when walking up to the Kotel to pray, I felt as if all of my senses turned on and the spiritual presence felt so divine. We then made our way on a long walk back to the hotel for a great Shabbat dinner.
Poland is a sad city because the people living there every day have to wake up mindful of the past (the ones that acknowledge the past). They carry this heavy burden on their shoulders day by day.
That cold day we visited a mass grave of children, women and men that were shot in the forest by the SS. We saw the holes dug to bury these poor soles.
We walked in the forest and saw the graves. It was tough, but I didn't cry. I couldn't wrap my head around it all. I guess it was too much for my young brain to absorb and process. I just acknowledged their lives that they lost and realized I'm still here and can make a difference . They are dead, there is nothing that can be done, (as harsh as it sounds) but we, who are present must inherit their lives and dreams into our own lives and dreams, and live life to the fullest in their memory because they couldn't and we can.
The scary thing is that, we walked into the forest just like them, except we walked out the forest and returned to our daily privileged lives, and for them- that was the end; they didn't walk again, they stayed.
After witnessing the brutality of concentration camps, the sadness of memorials and the vibrant atmosphere of Warsaw, it was time to experience the beauty and history of Kraków on our last day in Poland.
We started off the day with a visit to the Zbylitowdja Gora, a mass grave where 10 000 Jews and Poles were murdered. There were 3 graves for Jews and 3 graves for Poles. A flurry of emotion rushed through the group as we contemplated the brutality of the Nazi soldiers. There were small flowers growing from the grave and this made me think: 'How can such beautiful and fresh life grow from such a sad place that commemorates a devastating event?'. However I realised that this memorial is not about the life that has been lost, but rather about the fresh, new life that comes to remember it and brings hope for the future.
We travelled to what was once the Jewish quarter of Kraków. We toured through the former ghetto and two shuls, the Beit Hakaneset Harama and the Temple Synagogue. We learned about the story of brave inhabitants of the Kraków ghetto that ran an underground rebellion that put their lives at major risk just so that they could get a meager three lines written about them in the history books. Looking back at their efforts, they definitely achieved their goal.
We then walked to the Galicia Museum for an informative tour about the history of Jews in Galicia and how Galicia was affected before during and after World War 2. To end off our activities for the day we had a discussion with Polish students and heard their perspective on the Holocaust. It was interesting to hear how they approach and think about the atrocities of the Holocaust as European, non-Jewish students that are our age.
We arrived at the airport and lifted our spirits as we departed for Israel, the Jewish homeland.
This brought the Poland leg of the trip to an end. This was a life changing week for the group as along the way we cried, we laughed, we commemorated, we celebrated, we reflected but most importantly we remembered.
What's your favourite colour?
You can tell a lot about a person based on the answer to that question.
I mean, every colour symbolises an emotion right?
Red is Passion
Yellow is Happiness
Green is Growth and Balance
White is Purity and Peace
And Black is darkness and evil...
And it looks damn good with everything
My favourite Colour
Blue is everywhere.
Its in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the clothes we wear, even in the flags we wave
It symbolises calmness, relaxation and freedom.
When you think of war, of death, of the Holocaust what colour do you think of?
Red? Black? White even?
After all, red is the Colour of blood,
Black is the colour of death, and white grants a separation between good and evil, between human and animal
And it's the colours of the Nazi Flag.
Well I think of Blue
BLUE is the colour of the bruises that the Nazis beat into the persecuted
BLUE is the colour of the cold and breathless people trapped in concentration camps
And BLUE is the colour staining the walls in the gas chambers of Majdanek and Aushwitz
BLUE is the Colour of Calamity
Why is BLUE also the colour of Israel?
Why is BLUE the colour of life-giving water?
And why is BLUE the colour
of the March of the Living?
Because BLUE is the colour of time,
BLUE bears witness to and remembers the tragedies of human history.
After all, BLUE is in the sky, calmingly bearing witness to our suffering
It reminds us that no matter where we go, we have our past and future in mind
And that is the real reason
We wear blue.
How can I write about about the 21st of April that we spent in Poland? I don't think there is really an answer because to know what I am writing about - you would need to see it. Now I am not going to tell you about our day from start to finish, and I'm not going to tell you every single fact that we learnt that day. I am going to tell you about the feelings that I felt because this is something you can't learn from Google.
We arrived in Lublin after a 3 hour drive, the city which was known as the Jerusalem of Poland but is now reduced to nothing but memories. The first thing we did was go to the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva which is the first Yeshiva that paid for the students who could not afford it. A place of G-d, learning and hope turned into a warehouse for the Nazis. We sat in the shul of the Yeshiva, the book of G-d looking at us as we learn about the history. We even had the amazing opportunity to learn the Daf Yomi which is the idea that if you study one page of a Talmud a day in 7.5 years you will have finished studying the Talmud. This idea was actually founded in the Yeshiva we were in. I constantly got chills sitting there - learning - just thinking of the hundreds of students that came through these doors to study and the hundreds of students that were led out of the doors to the Ghettos.
After the Yeshiva we drove to Majdanek. From a Yeshiva to a camp. From heaven to hell. From joy to pain. We arrived in the scene and as we were getting of the bus the overall mood changed to fear and curiosity. What would we see? What would we feel? We stopped right by the giant sculpture looming over us as we discussed the history of the camp. Then we started to walk. The sharp wind hitting us from every direction and the ice cold weather makes it impossible to believe that someone could of survived these conditions.
One of the barracks we went into was filled to the brim with shoes, shoes that were ripped of their owner and thrown into a random piles as if they held no history. But these shoes held a giant part of history, history of their owner. These shoes had owners who lived, laughed, loved and maybe even survived this cold place that imitated hell. We walked around a bit more and saw gas chambers that were once filled with people who were scared and weak against their oppressors, we saw the grass that was once walked upon by people who had death follow them yet they tried to keep it at bay as much as possible. The most horrifying thing about that day was the crematoriums. Literal ovens where corpses were shoved in, reducing that person to nothing but a pile of ash. No name and no history. Right next to the crematoriums was a bathtub, a bathtub. Used by the SS officer in charge of Majdanek, his logic was that the fires for the burning of the bodies was hot so he might as well use it for a warm bath. This barbaric man sat in warm water which was heated by the souls that were being burnt. This to me truly shows how soulless these men in uniform really were.
The next place we went was the giant building that kept the ash of the Jews in place before this was built the ash would fly around, and be scattered around yet the Nazis did not give less of a damn. Now it's protected by a giant dome which to me symbolises that the we will protect the past present and future Jews even if they are now just a pile of ash.
Leaving this place that's core value was to cause pain and death to the Jewish nation we traveled back to Warsaw to a synagogue that's core value to maintain the Jewish faith and celebrate Judaism. This shul contained countless of Jews of all nationalities but with the same beliefs. This to me was one of the most beautiful Shabbats I have ever experienced, singing and dancing while the prays that we said lifted to the heavens and I hope showed the Jews that perished in the Shoah that we are praying for them and for it to never ever happen again.
This day was one of the greatest experiences that I had this entire trip so far because it was so contrasting. On one side we saw suffering of the Jewish nation and on the other side we saw the happiness of the Jewish nation. While we were in the shul it seemed like we the Jewish nation were promising that we will always keep the Jewish faith alive.
The day of rest has finally come, Shabbat.
A late sleep and a late start is what everyone needed. We were all immensely tired from our previously busy week, everyone was appreciating the valuable time to sleep in and very excited for the day ahead.
A Shul service in the beautiful Nozyk Synagogue was conducted and was followed by breakfast. The whole group then met in the reception of the hotel and we were briefed by our guide about the Warsaw ghetto. He explained to us that we would tour the last remaining evidence of the Warsaw Ghetto, everything else was flattened with the rest of the city during WWII.
We proceeded to walk outside of our hotel into the cold, where to our surprise we saw a red-brick wall which we had never paid attention to. We were then told that this wall was the remaining pieces to the entrance of the Warsaw ghetto. Everyone was speechless, they understood that the ghetto was right in the middle of the city where the Germans had nothing to hide.
We then walked around a fraction of the ghetto and explored different landmarks. We learned about the bridge which joined the small ghetto and the large ghetto. We sat down in a circle and learned about life in the ghetto, the struggles and difficulties. Our guide showed us many interesting pictures of people with different stories, and a building which was used to to house the Judenrat who were the "Jewish government".