By Rena Kosowsky
This morning, we davened in a shul in Zamosc. The walls were covered in pictures of Jewish families. I couldn’t help but stare. Hearing six million is one thing. It’s unfathomable. But looking at pictures of entire families, schools, communities that were wiped out, is something else entirely.
We then drove to Belzec, a death camp that killed close to one million Jews. There is one known survivor, who managed to escape. The entire area has been turned into a monument that looks like the valley of death. There is an endless amount of ash and black rocks. We walked down the aisle in the middle, as the walls grew taller and taller, almost entrapping us. Within this structure we discussed the importance of names and how they work to preserve memories. We then transitioned to the weight placed on the children of Holocaust survivors, who feel the burden of all their dead family members on their shoulders. Being a representation and replacement for a mother’s beloved brother is not easy.
The inter-generational trauma that was generated by the Holocaust continues to affect us to this day. Though this burden is ever-present, we must remember that the lesson from the Holocaust isn’t to drive ourselves crazy, but rather to live a fulfilled life because we’re able to.
Rav Brown gave a lecture on four notorious Nazis, during which we looked into these men’s pasts, ideologies, and ultimate ends.
Following this, we visited the shul of Yosefa where we had a Q & A session that reviewed and helped digest the information we’ve been processing these last few days.
After this we visited the grave of the Noam Elimelech in Lezansk, where we sang and danced. We went into his Ohel and wrote notes of tefillah.
We visited the Lancut Synagogue where we davened mincha and then had a reflection session. Everybody picked out a quote, either from those laid out on the floor or the ones engraved on the wall, and explained how they connected to us in the context of the Poland trip.
We ended off our day by visiting the graves of righteous gentiles in Markowa. On a trip that has drawn attention to the depths of human cruelty, learning of a family who sacrificed themselves to save Jews was a beautiful reminder of the kindness that existed in so many.