This morning, we walked downstairs to the Beit Midrash in Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin, which functioned as the leading yeshiva in Europe from 1930-1939, until the Nazis forcibly shut it down and burned the yeshiva’s beloved and extensive library. Today is the second day of Rosh Chodesh. We davended b’yechidut, to ourselves, until hallel, when we joined together as a group to sing and celebrate together. As we sang the beginning of hallel, another group walked in. The group was two or three times larger than us; a seemingly-Chiluni Israeli group. They sat down in the pews around us and listened to us daven. Our hallel got louder as the large room filled up more. At the end of hallel, we broke out into a different kind of song; we began to sing Am Yisrael Chai. The group of Israelis smiled at a song they recognized and joined us in a large circle. Our singing and dancing filled the room as we switched from song to song, our energy and joy filling the room, all the way up to the high ceilings. It felt as if we were joined in our simcha by the students of Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin from so many decades ago. It was a beautiful start to the day.
From Yeshivat Chochmei Lublin, we drove to the Lublin cemetery, the resting place of gedolim like the Maharshal and the Choze (Seer) of Lublin. After our classmates shared some words on these gedolim, enhanced by Rav Brown and Rav Shvat, we made our way to Mejdanik.
Mejdanik was the first death and concentration camp we visited whose buildings were still intact. While all our visits to death camps are difficult, Mejdanik was particularly poignant. The physicality of the place of such tragedy, the tangibility of the horrors are haunting. We listened to recorded testimony from Mejdanik; one survivor, who had survived through four camps, had attested that Mejdanik was by far the hardest and most hellish to survive in. Ending in the crematorium, after passing a giant mound of ashes, we had a closing tekes, led by Rav Brown. It was a moving and emotional afternoon. It took us three hours to make it through the camp.
After Mejdanik, we loaded onto the bus and headed to Wlodowa a Here we enjoyed the beautiful artwork that the builders of the Shul decorated walls with and davened mincha. Aliza Shapiro led a processing session, and we all shared our thoughts and feelings after our afternoon in Majdanik.