MOTL Youth Blog 2018
Memories & reflections from the 2018 youth delegation
Today was the last day of an experience that will be impossible to forget. This adventure we embarked on seems almost surreal. Returning to "normality" will I guess be a challenge within itself.
The last day started with a very early wakeup. We departed on a trip to the Gush Katif Centre, where we learnt about the forceful removal of our very own people. A place where an economy once flourished and Jews lived in harmony with their Arab counterparts. Yet once again, as constantly repeated in history, forced removal took place. Jews were removed and Shuls destroyed. Imagine the anguished parents confused beyond comprehension and their children scared beyond belief, caught in this perpetual tragedy. What I learnt is that anti-semetism is even more intensified and rife than ever before. Remember that this only happened around 20 years ago!!
For the rest of the afternoon, we relaxed and enjoyed our last moments with our new friends, whom we will never forget. An unbreakable bond between us now exists.
This evening, we gathered at Ana Bnei Dan. There we ate supper, then later congregated in a final discussion, to express our personal stories relating to the journey and experiences that we were soon to leave behind.
This is my story:
The Holocaust is something that can never be forgiven. We cannot simply excuse the oppressors for the unforgivable actions in which they willingly partook. Anybody that hasn’t been to the camps, won't truly understand the intensity of our experience. A book cannot describe it, pictures don't do justice to the atrocities. One can listen to a survivor telling his/her story, however one can never fully comprehend the pain that they have been through. No presentation adequately allows one to comprehend the disaster. We, as a group, now share an experience that will be impossible to forget. Previously I never felt an incredibly strong connection to Hashem. Yes, I've always been a very proud Jew and thought that to be enough, however now I comprehend the power of Hashem. Our adventure over the past 2 short weeks, gave us an amazing experience that we shared together as a group, however each and every one of us equally went on our own personal spiritual journey that will remain with us forever. I'm certain that the lessons that we have learnt and the experiences that we have shared, will positively influence the decisions that we make in the future . Words cannot adequately describe what I’m feeling, and I'm certain that the rest of the group feels very much the same way.
One of the most important lesson that I have taken away, is that with darkness comes light and with every tunnel comes an opening. This is undoubtedly Eretz Yisrael!!. Hashem I believe, had a hand in encouraging all of us to come on this trip for a reason. It is now clear that we better understand what it means to be Jewish, what Judaism is and our connections to it. Our inseparable group would never have met, which is a blessing in itself and we would not have the same comprehension of our Zionism and Jewish identity. When we return home to our loved ones, it won't be easy for us to relay what we have seen and done. It will take us time to process where we have been and then to digest it and be able to share it with you in a way that hopefully you can understand
Thank you to everyone who made this trip, something that I will never forget. This experience leaves me with millions of memories some happy and some sad. I probably now have more unanswered questions than before, however this journey of learning doesn't simply end, it is just put on pause, until the next time that we're blessed to be able to continue it.
Waking up to the sight of the Sea of Galilee is something one cannot describe. The fresh smell in the air is inexplicable. It felt especially great since we had been awake since 7am .
Off to the Hate Industry Museum . Shortly after we arrived , we were all standing in complete silence , while the siren rang for the whole of Israel to remember the fallen soldiers . The sound reverberated through our ears and throughout our entire bodies . What an amazing experience to be in Israel during Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut . The museum was well set out and various things caught my eye immediately . The images gave me a different feeling , as we were standing in those specific places just a week before . Our tour guide included many quotes relating to the Holocaust throughout the tour , which really impacted my views about certain situations and the way in which we should go about doing things in a positive manner . One that really touched me was , “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil , but by those who watch them without doing anything .” - Albert Einstein .
Jerusalem, here we come ! Once we had arrived at the hotel and all got ready for the party ahead of us , we left for Ben Yehuda Street . What an amazing vibe ! People from all over the world were dancing , singing and celebrating in the streets of Jerusalem . The amount of people celebrating all around us gave me goosebumps . What a privilege to be part of this joyous occasion . Happy 70th Birthday , Israel !
A whole different perspective. A whole new story. A side to Israel, unique to all of us.
When touring Israel, one can often expect to attain an understanding of the country at face value. An understanding of the history and the culture, mostly through tours and visiting sites. Today had an entirely different narrative, meeting and bonding with the students of Misgav. After a few awkward ice breakers, we quickly found we had far more similarities than differences. While our lifestyles have some distinctive differences, such as our means of transport for example - with the Israelis making use of hitchhiking and biking, with us - relying solely on the lifts of our tireless parents and Uber. Our similarities within the music we listen to and the tv shows we watch, giving us a simple basis for friendship. The talk on behalf of the bereaved parents, allowed us to put a face to the tragedy that is the Israel’s fallen soldiers. It was truly moving to understand that someone who grew up an ordinary kid, died a hero for his country.
Upon the arrival of the Arab students, deeper discussions revolving around living conditions, political opinions and the conflict quickly arose. Surprisingly, the Israeli students came across as having a far more left point of view than the Arab student - who argued the validity & necessity of a Jewish state whilst the Israeli’s arguing the validity of the conflict and aggression of the Palestinians. Both sides, however, identified as Zionists.
Learning about the Druze community and attending the Yom Hazikaron ceremony helped us to personally connect with the varying connections people have to this diverse country. Overall, today has given me a far deeper and more personal understanding than any book or tour ever could.
I am sitting here in a bus of silence. After just leaving Majdanek, I do not know how to feel. I feel enraged that people were so easily able to completely abandon their humanity like the SS guards and even some prisoners. It was so crazy to learn that the camps were like a completely different universe as all basic human logic did not apply.
Firstly we observed one of the SS houses and discussed various officers at the camp. There were two female officers that would beat prisoners to death everyday. They would pick a prisoner at random and the one would stomp them to death while the other would beat them to death with a stick. Another male guard would chain a prisoner to his motorbike and drive around until the prisoner would be reduced to nothing. At Majdanek a quarter of the deaths were caused by pure staff violence, the reason for this was that the Male and Female guards wanted to impress each other. This disgusts me to my core as the brutal killing of innocent people was simply a game among colleagues.
We then saw the processing rooms were people were turned into prisoners. We heard a story of a girl named Helena who’s mother was separated from her at the camp. This made us realise the unpredictability of prisoners lives at the camp, families were separated in mere seconds and we were able to take away the lesson of appreciating our own loved ones. Next we saw the gas chambers and understood the pure torture and pain behind those thousands of deaths.
The next barrack truly affected the group. In the barrack were cages and cages of shoes. When one thinks of shoes one thinks of protection of ones feet or even the concept of stepping forward. But for most of us looking at the large mass of shoes in front of us, we thought of the number of individuals who perished in Holocaust. These people were from all different backgrounds, all different walks of life and each had their own stories and paths that they were unable to walk. We were reminded that shoes are the most personal item of clothing that one owns, they take the shapes of ones feet and are unique to every person. They are a symbol of the individuality of each member that perished.
The next barrack we heard stories of life at the camp from a prisoners perspective. We heard about Abe, who on one of his earlier days in the camp along with a more senior prisoner had to pick weeds out of the ground between the barbed wire fences. While they were doing so a frog jumped out. Now the logical response is to recoil because it came out of nowhere and was a strange animal. Abe recoiled but as he did so her realised that what had jumped out could be his food. In the split second that Abe recoiled the other prisoner had already eaten the frog. This puts into perspective how conditioned prisoners became in the, “camp universe”. They were so used to abnormal life that things that seem barbaric and disgusting to us was their harsh reality.
Although we heard more dreadful stories about the lack of humanity we then heard about a prisoner who called all his fellow prisoners out of their Barrack to come look at the beautiful sunset. It is crazy to think that in such an awful place, that people were able to still find beauty while constantly suffering.
We then were reminded that in fact the camp is not like a different universe, it is a place on earth where human people with families, emotions, their own set of morals. People who made the choice to commit such vial acts.
Following the Barracks we walked to the Crematorium and heard of the biggest massacre in World War II, called ‘the Harvest Festival’. After many Jewish uprisings under the Nazi regime, the SS wanted to kill as many Jews as they could and carried out a mass shooting of 42,000 Jews in one night.
Our next stop left people without words, unable to comprehend what they were witnessing. We saw the crematorium and then a memorial with the remaining human ash from the camp. This enforced the reality of the final death and destruction of millions of people. At the memorial the group said Kaddish and commemorated those who were lost.
After the horrific things we just witnessed, the group all comforting each other walked on to the bus in pure silence. There has been nothing spoken on the bus for two hours. Everyone is processing what we have just seen.
As I sit here writing this I realise how important it is that we are here, how important it is that every year, thousands of people from all around come to these places to bear witness to the monstrosities that occurred so we can never forget what happened here.
After two hours of rest and hours getting ready, our Friday night was a completely different uplifting tone.
Firstly we went to the beautiful Palace of Culture and Science for a Friday night service. I wouldn’t consider it much of a service as two songs in, the delegations broke into dancing and Jewish songs. We interacted with countries such as Sweden, USA and Canada. The South African group stole the show with our constant spirit and the singing of ‘Shosholoza’ at the end.
We then all walked back to the hotel for our shabbos meal. Our meal soon erupted into a full on “ruach session” which left most of our group voiceless.
The spirit of this shabbos reminds us all of the reason we are here - to celebrate and unify with Jews from all around the world.
Today marks a day of rememberance, a day of sadness. Today is Yom Hashoah. On this day each year we commemorate the loss of all those who perished in the Holocast. Being in Poland right now really enhances and intensifies the meaning of this day. Today we will be doing the March Of the Living in congregation with Jews from all over the world. Young and old, short and tall, different languages and completely different worlds yet we all have one thing in common and it binds us together as one on this powerful day. We are all Jews walking for the purpose of those who can’t, for those who were destroyed by the atrocities of the war.
Our day began by traveling to RAMA cemetery, this journey consisted of traveling through the old ghetto of Krakow. There is now a memorial in the main square of what used to be the ghetto. This memorial consists of 60 empty chairs, the idea of empty chairs symbolizes an important message of a missing person. There were an average of 60 000 Jews that were lost in the city of Krakow. An empty chair conveys emotions of sadness and discomfort.
At the Krakow cemetery we're were told the story of Yosale. An immensely wealthy man who lived in the city. During the years of his life he was asked multiple times to share his wealth with the poor or organizations but he always refused. The people of the city could never understand why a man would be so cruel. They would hiss and throw stones at him. When Yosale passed away a man found himself at the doorstep of the town Rabbis house. "I have no money Rabbi, please can you help me" says the man. The Rabbi was puzzled as he thought the man had had a job for his whole life, what had happened now? The man explained that he was dependant on the money that was placed at his door step every Thursday. This continued to happen multiple times a day. It was established that Yosale the man who was disrespected to ultimate extremes was in fact supporting many families who in Krakow. The Rabbi then decided he wanted to be buried next to Yosale's grave. From this story I learnt that perception and understanding is vital and important. We judge as humans, we judge in less than a second just as the Nazis did in concentration camps when deciding the life of humans. As Jews we must do all we can do counter act all the atrocities performed during the Holocaust. We must learn to look deeper into situations, understand people and realize we never have the full view in any situation.
We then traveled to Aushwitz 1 for the annual March of The Living. When driving into the car park the number of the buses were even able to shock us all. Walking through to our starting position for the March we crossed paths with Jews from all over the world. The bustling excitement truly contradicted the emotions we felt as a group yesterday in the same place. The March began and we chose to start in silence. Walking out the gates of Aushwitz we began to sing. We sang songs of praise to God, freedom and unity. My connection grew closer with those who marched as the war ended, I felt as if we were one. My connection with the group also grew as we have learnt together, cried together and openly shared everything we feel with each other. United we marched from Aushwitz 1 to Aushwitz Birkenau for the one purpose of remembering and uplifting the souls of those who perished. We walked into Birkenau with the masses of Jews around us. For the first time I felt some kind of empathy with the Jews in the Holocaust. Yes we are Jews and are subject to threats constantly in our lives but to feel what the Jews of Birkenau felt walking through those gates not knowing their fate was simply impossible. Today walking through those gates I was overwhelmed with emotions because if today had been 70 odd years earlier that would be the fate of the 14 000 Jews in that camp today.
We were privileged to hear a survivor today. He stood on stage in his uniform from 70 years ago. His emotional story was incredible and moving to hear. The president of both Poland and Israel addressed the thousands of Jews. This showed me the importance of forgiveness and unity. That it is important not to hold grudges and move forward to do something positive by remembering.
Our bus ride to Warsaw was a long but meaningful one. Today was the first time we made use of the open mic and whoever wanted to, spoke about their feelings or what ever was on their mind. This allowed us all to grow closer together and discuss things that might trouble us instead of keeping them in. I love this system as I believe it is important to hear everyones point of view and see something from a different perspective.
Today was a day of growth, a day of celebration of life. Today was Yom HaShoah.
As I embark on this very intense day ahead of us I am filled with deep confusion and a dark emptiness not knowing what to expect from Aushwitz.
Waking up was difficult knowing that the day ahead would be emotionally draining. Breakfast straight away then hop on the bus ready for the journey. Many thoughts pass and the reality of where we are and where we are going sets in.
As we arrive I am overwhelmed by emotions such as disbelief, fear, sadness and nausea.
Hearing the stories and seeing the sights are mind boggling and incomprehensible.
What was very touching was when people relayed their relatives that had perished in the Holocaust. An emotional and powerful experience for all. The feeling of unity was palpable as we said Kaddish for our fellow Jews. After this a few of the boys felt obligated to put on tefillin and pray to God, even in a place of such horror and atrocity they felt an extreme connection and power towards God.
Moving to the blocks and seeing the starvation, suffocation and standing cells was sickening. It was unfathomable and so much to process at once.
Gas chambers- as I walked in I felt an eerie, deep and physical connection. I could visualise these people being gassed and exterminated. I could almost feel inside their pain and suffering and I could picture the graphic detail of the Jews screaming and scratching the walls in desperation.
A touching story that was told was about the two young adults (male&female) that met in a factory during the war and fell in love. They promised that after the war they would find each other and get married. Unfortunately she was taken to the experimental unit where they sterilised women. As the operation was starting there was an air invasion and the Nazi doctors ran to the bomb shelters leaving the Jewish doctor to finish up the operation. She pleaded for him to save her but instead he proceeded and finished the operation.
When waking up the following day she hissed at the doctor in disgust of what he had done to her. He told her to survive and remember him one day. This was not the only case in which the doctor had saved woman’s lives.
After the war they found each other, she told the man that she could not marry him as she would never be able to have children or start a family. That never stopped him and he was adamant to get married to her no matter the circumstance. The couple married and lived together in a kind families shed and were allowed to use their facilities. Time went on and the woman thought she was ill due to catching some disease. They went to the hospital and in fact she had fallen pregnant.
That Jewish doctor had saved her live and she was able to create a family. They got married and lived peacefully until she fell ill and passed away. Her husband lived another 15 years.
Going from Aushwitz to Aushwitz-Birkenau I am left with empty and overwhelming thoughts. Stepping onto the exact soil that the Jews walked which lead them to their death was a horrifying experience. I felt a sense of disbelief and anger was another emotion that was played in my head throughout, how people could be so sick and inhumane in the way they would treat the Jews. How could god watch the Jews perish, how could he see the suffering and let it go on. He wanted to punish the Jews for something we will never know but our role as young Jews in history is to perpetuate the memory of those who died by carrying on the legacy and hopefully one day have a Jewish family of our own by raising children and inculcating values that will pass on so such a travesty of humanity should never happen again.
The colossal devastation of Aushwitz was unbelievable and it was hard to wrap my head around the fact that this was reality for the Jews, they were not living, they were simply existing and suffering. The miracle of being in the places we were and experiencing what we did in that soil is something that mustn’t be taken for granted. What is a miracle is the fact that there is still an entire Jewish nation that has lived on, and that will carry on the legacy of unity and pride in our nation. The Jews conquered and they survived, when really the sole purpose of the Holocaust was to wipe out and annihilate the entire Jewish nation in Europe. And the fact that today there is still a nation standing strong and proud is something that is incredible and something that should be acknowledged by all.
To conclude: Aushwitz was a very meaningful experience for me and one that I will never forget. It has had a major impact on my spiritual and emotional connection to GOD and it put things into perspective and made me grateful for the life I live today. It made me thankful for being Jewish and for being able to live on and continue the Jewish legacy.
Arriving back at the hotel feeling exhausted we ate supper and we were then lucky enough to hear the story of a Holocaust survivor while we were joined by the West delegation. She was an inspiration to all and showed us what true courage and bravery is. I felt moved by her actions and her story. Finally we can all rest and wake up ready for another intense day ahead of us tomorrow.
Today was an array of emotions ranging from a wide spectrum of sadness and sorrow to one of resentment and pure anger. Upon arrival at Radegast Train Station, a sense of oblivion awaited us in the sense that nobody knew what we were going to see.
Little did we know that what we saw encapsulated the brutality inflicted upon our brothers and sisters. Train tracks awaiting the transportation of millions of Jews to their fate: death. Not to mention, the hundreds of thousands that perished during the journey to the concentration camps.
It is very rare to experience and feel something so deeply that one cannot conceptualise what they are feeling at that exact moment in time. And this was the case when we went to Chelmno- a place designed to poison Jews with Carbon Monoxide. The general viewpoint was one of utter horror and disbelief in the inhumanity that was carried out onto innocent people who were murdered for being different.
Murdered for challenging the moral conscience of the Nazi's which was the complete opposite of what their ideology encompassed.
The stories that we were told were put into perspective, and visual evidence was brought to the forefront at the Chelmno forest where masses of Jews would be shot and killed on the spot.
Moreover, not only was the atrocity of six million Jews being brutally murdered put into another viewpoint and the true magnitude of loss felt by all, but also the emotions that were felt collectively, as a group today.
From today onwards, it is imperative that we ask ourselves pressing questions and moral dilemmas that people had to face. And not necessarily having to answer them, but internalising those feelings and using such an atrocity to better ourselves and improve our own values and ethics as individuals.
After a long and monotonous journey, we reached Kraków. Where we headed off to the Old Town. This was the perfect period in which we could liberate ourselves from what we had seen earlier and remind ourselves that there was a very small distinction in distance between a normal and functioning society to one of inhumanity, during World War 2 and most importantly, the Holocaust.
All in all, today was an emotionally draining day where we, collectively as a group, managed to deal with it in the best possible manner by using each other as support pillars. I am very grateful for having seen and experienced such a surreal encounter that I was privileged enough to have embarked on with all of you.
Today was our first day of our trip. We started off switching from plane A380 to the plane that would take us to Warsaw. We landed in Warsaw and there was a great atmosphere surrounding us: part excited, part nervous, part scared.
We got spilt into 3 groups and we then got onto the bus that would become our home for the next week. We then drove to a stop station where we ate lunch and got our March Of The Living backpacks and jackets.
We then went on a 2 hour trip to the Łódź cemetery. Here we were showen graves of people with very interesting, sad and brave stories.
For example, Sarah Plager-zasking, who was only 11 when the war started. She and her parents lived in the Łódź ghetto. Because of the sanity problems in the ghetto, her mother fell ill and died. Everyday on the way to school, she would pass her mother’s grave and say a prayer. Her father became ill as well due to malnutrition, hunger and starvation. She went to a doctor who lived next door to her and asked him what she could do. He said you need to get this specific medicine. The problem was that the clinic in the ghetto only gave 25 bottles of this medicine out per day. She was only 12 at the time. In order to buy the medicine, she worked in the factories in the ghettos (this was the reason for the Łódź ghetto) in order to earn money. One morning she woke up at 4:00 am in order to be first in line to get this medicine. We she arrived at the clinic there was 5 people in front of her already. Because she was so small, people would push in front of her. She landed up number 26 in the line. As she tried to walk though the doors, they closed the door on her face. She through a tantrum, screaming and crying. Finally the doctor came out and gave her the medicine. She then went home and gave her father the medicine. This helped her father tremendously however he fell sick again and died. She survived the war. After the war finished, she came back to the place where her father was buried and gave him a proper tombstone.
This story stood out to me as it showed how hard life was in the ghetto and how teenagers our age, had lived completely different lives to us.
We then went to our hotel to check in and shower. We then went out for dinner which was a great way for us to bond and create a sense of strength that we could rely on.
We then came back to the hotel to have a debrief session. This was a day filled with excitement, sadness and laughter.