We began our day with davening in the Zamosc Synagogue, which used to be a very lively Sephardi shul. We then traveled to Belzec, a death camp where over 650,000 Jews were brutally murdered. Nothing remains from the camp; everything was destroyed after the war. In its place is a stone memorial to commemorate the tragedy that occurred there. The entire campsite was on a hill and is covered in various size stones. It has a path cutting through the middle, with walls that slowly get higher and feel like they’re closing in on you as you walk through it. It was extremely powerful to follow this path together, wearing our Israeli flags and listening to “גם כי אלך גיא צלמות”- “even when I walk in the valley of death.” We also heard from Tzviah Shvat, one of our chaperones, who told us the powerful story of her father and his family who escaped from Belzec. Inside the Belzec museum, Rav Brown spoke to us about evil and the different ways it presented itself through various characters during the war.
Afterwards, we traveled to Yosefov where we learned about Nazi mentality and several social psychology experiments that attempted to understand the Nazi’s actions. Next, we went to the forest to visit the mass graves where all of the inhabitants of Yosefov were cruelly shot. We stood with our arms around each other, united, singing אחינו. This song reminds us that even in the face of tragedy, we are still standing together today as proud Jews.
From there we traveled to Lezansk, where we visited the grave of the Rabbi Elimelech, one of the founding fathers of chasidut in Poland. Before he died, he expressed that he wanted people to visit his grade בשמחה- in happiness. After a heavy day focused on tragedy and atrocities, this was just what we needed to raise our spirits. We sang and danced around Rabbi Elimelech’s grave hand in hand, smiles on all of our faces. We ended the day on a more serious note when we visited Markowa, where there is a memorial dedicated to the Olma family, a Christian family of nine who were killed during the war because they harbored Jews in their home. It is extremely important to take the time to remember these righteous gentiles who sacrificed their safety for the Jewish people. We also made a quick stop in Tarnow where Cayla Muschel shared her family’s story as we stood around the remains of the towns synagogue that had been burned by the Nazis.
Today taught us how we can’t be bystanders in the face of evil- a true hero is one that stands up for morality even if it makes them the sole objector.