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Poland Trip 2022 Wednesday: Lublin-Zamosc

By: Aliza Billet

We started today with shachris in the beautiful shul in Wladowa, a place where Jews have prayed since the late 1700s. Over breakfast, Rav Brown introduced today’s theme —resistance— by telling us about Yitzchak Katzenelson, a Jewish poet and author whose poetry helped spark the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. One of the people about whom he wrote, the Rebbe of Radzyn, also resisted the Nazis in the ghetto by refusing to help them in any way. He even turned down a place in the Judenrat —the Jewish police force— even though that position would have greatly improved his quality of ghetto life.

We continued down the path of Holocaust resistance to the Sobibor death camp, the location of the greatest uprising by Jews in death camps against the Nazis. Motivated by revenge and the need to shine light on the situation there, the Jews in Sobibor didn’t care if they live or died. They just needed to deliver a little bit of hellish vengeance on the Nazis and make sure the world learned their stories. Because they knew anyone left behind would be tortured and killed, the entire camp banded together to kill the Nazis in charge and escape. In the end, 50-70 of the 300 escapees survived the war. Although that is a small percentage, it is because of those heroes that we now know what happened in Sobibor. Such is the power of resistance.

From Sobibor we continued to Majdanek, described by many survivors as the worst of all the concentration camps. Words cannot describe the experience of going inside actual gas chambers, nor the feeling of leaving them, knowing that so many Jews never got that chance. We just passed silently through. We recognized that in Majdanek, resistance was (not so) simply getting through each day. The Nazis wanted the Jews dead, so the act of continuing to live, especially under such horrific and inhumane circumstances, was resistance by itself.
The starkest difference between Majdanek and the other sites we visited is that Majdanek still stands, while the other camps and ghettos have only memorials remaining in their place. Walking through Majdanek and seeing the living conditions and crematoria adds a layer of tangibility to the atrocities that occurred there. This is the reason we come to Poland. Our resistance is to not forget.

After Majdanek we took a step back from the Holocaust and visited the Lublin cemetery. Students gave short presentations on the Chozeh of Lublin —legendary chassidic leader— and the Maharshal —contemporary of the Rama and mentor of many great 16th century rabbe’im. We then had dinner at Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin and davened mincha in the beit midrash, a side room of which had been turned into a playroom for Ukrainian refugee children. Some arrived while we were there, and we gifted them backpacks of toys we brought from Israel. Those children lost everything leaving their homes behind, so we gave them something they could call their own. The smiles of excitement on their faces as they rifled through their new bags are not something we will forget. As Noa wrote on day one, and as I see even clearer now, these acts of camaraderie between Jews are our modern version of resistance.

Finally, we closed off the night in a big circle on the floor, sharing thoughts, feelings, and reflections on the day, and starting conversations that will definitely continue throughout the rest of the trip. We then drove to Zamosc, and settled in for the night.