My Journey in Poland
Thoughts and reflections as one person travels to Poland, revisiting the history of our people.
... So we landed in Warsaw and went straight to Lodz. Pre-war, it was home to so many Jews. The place used to be alive, throngs of Jews, only to leave almost nothing there anymore. We went to the Lodz Cemetery- all those who died in the ghetto from starvation but were still awarded a Jewish burial. This taught me where I'm going to end up. The Bnei Yisroel are compared to 'dust and ashes'. That's how the body ends; we spend so much time caring about our bodies, perhaps these Yidden did too, but at the end of the day, all that remains is the name that they have created for themselves. A good name is only going to remain in THIS world though, Hashem just cares about your achievements. What will be written on my gravestone? What would I WANT written on my gravestone? With what deeds am I going to stand before Hashem with?
Next, in the dark of night we went to Sobibor death camp. This was one of the places I cried the most. I have a vivid imagination (which has it's down side, as you all know) and standing at a place where 300,000 people died in the most horrific ways possible made me break down. Coming from what I've seen, a world where the human body is idolized and desirable, to then hear how the woman and children were stripped naked in the snow and shot by the Nazis... In the photos we saw of piles and piles of bodies... I'm used to every curve of the body being specifically positioned to bring maximum enjoyment to the watcher... you think that Nazi's positioned the dead bodies - piles of flesh and bone?! This whole concept really hit home. We lit candles for the Neshamos and walked through the forest soaked with human blood.
The next stop was in Majdanek concentration camps. It was so difficult- the extent of human degradation and horror that characterized the daily experience in the camp showed me the depth of depravity to which it is possible to sink. You think you have it bad? Sometimes I feel like my world is crumbling. But I promise you it's nothing compared to what they went through. There are no words. We walked for about 3 minutes between two isles of shoes. Every pair belonged to a human that was not there anymore. It was unreal. The loss of potential. Then the most harrowing part was when we went to go stand in a gas chamber... the ultimate chorban of our people. Standing opposite the very ovens used to dispose of our family members- a korban like no other given before. As we came out, we stood by a pile of human ash. 7 TONS OF HUMAN ASH. You could actually see pieces of bone. It was too much.
The town of Tarnow was scattered with signs reminding me of the Jewish community that is no longer there. I learnt about the horrendous treatment of the Jews, made to kneel for two days straight in the town square in the summer of '42, as part of the liquidation of the ghetto.
Another one of the saddest things was the children's pits at Zbilotowska Gora, where 800 children were buried alive, dying of suffocation. If the depth of evil to which humans can fall hadn't been clear, they were now.
Auschwitz. I need not say anymore. Touring through the barracks, I learned about the loss of identity, the dehumanizing, and seeing the piles and piles of artifacts taught me that as I Jew, I have to pack my bag differently. Seeing the reams of hair hurt me so much.
Lastly was Birkenau, sitting beside crematoriums, having followed the paths of my brothers and sisters to their untimely death...
Somewhere on the trip I wrote this poem:
The Rabbi clutching the Torah doing all he could,
His tears fall down but his eyes point heavenward
Broken in bones and crushed in spirit
The atrocities befallen show no limit.
Children are clinging to their mothers in hope
Hoping that together they'll cope.
The stronger among them gather to start
United by the man who seeks to tear them apart.
They fight with vengeance and desperation
The Torah is behind their continued inspiration
'Shema Yisroel' the Rabbi shouts
Shots are fired as the soldiers cry out.
Hitler, now who lives to tell the tale?
Your actions have truly tipped the scale.
Hitler, you're going to hate what we're gonna become
Because Hashem Echad - Hashem is One.