MOTL Youth Blog 2018
Memories & reflections from the 2018 youth delegation
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.