Midreshet Lindenbaum
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Students

Poland Trip 2018 - Sunday

We arose at four o’clock, and walked through the cobblestoned streets of Kraków to the bus, which brought us to Oswiecim. There, we davened on wooden benches in a synagogue, underneath a rustic chandelier. We took another bus, and then marched along train tracks, and past cattle cars. We read an excerpt from Eli Weisel’s Night about Mrs. Schachter, a middle-aged woman who goes insane after she is separated from her husband and packed onto a cattle car holding her young son’s hand as they are headed to Auschwitz. An eerie mist shrouded the infamous brick entrance into Birkenau, as we listened to the facts and figures about the camp, such as its size and function. We walked down the train tracks to where the separation between men and women, and then selection occured.  We too followed in the footsteps of someone chosen to be gassed, and we listened to accounts of witnesses to the mass murder. By the remnants of the gas chamber, we lit candles and wrote in our journals. From there we went to the site where the sonderkommando revolted, attacked SS guards, and destroyed Crematorium IV. Then we walked to the area someone chosen to work would have been taken, shaved, stripped of all possessions, and finally identified only by a tattoo. In that insidious room where people were treated in such an inhumane way, were images a photographer brought to Auschwitz of his community before the war. The pictures served to present the victims in a venerable light, and gave faces to those murdered. We walked past Canada, the location where all the victims’ possessions were sorted and stored for later use. We then hobbled along  those very train tracks where Eliana’s great grandparents reached their final destination. It is there that we listened to her letter dedicated to her great-grandparents and great-uncle, and which also detailed her grandmother’s story of survival. We also heard about the different subcamps, such as the Hungarian and family camps, and following Rav Brown’s detailed explanations, we went to see the facilities at the camp. The toilets were holes in slabs of concrete and the bunk beds were splintered wood, crooked and misshapen. Afterwards, we went on a guided tour of Auschwitz I where prisoners of war were tormented, punished and killed. There we saw a gas chamber that was still intact, the torture chambers, and the barracks. It was at the Yad Vashem exhibit where we finally confronted the awful truth-- lists upon lists that encompassed a room with people mulling over names of the four million victims who died in this diabolical place. People stood poring over long lost relatives’ names, forgotten family members whose lives were suddenly extinguished without reason. And then Rav Brown told his mother’s story during the Holocaust, and how she maintained a sense of self by caring for others, even though she was surrounded by the inhumane.  Afterwards, we rushed to the airport, relieved that we were returning home to our country, a safe haven for the Jewish people. As we stood on that overlook in Jerusalem, we couldn’t help but reflect on the experience.
 
Eliana Elikan