Emotions were all over the place today. As always, a sick feeling sat in my stomach.
Our first stop this early morning wasLublin. Yuval, our educator, continued to educate me in realms I haven’t discovered. He taught us how the Nazi’s formed. It had always baffled me how a whole nation had come together to destroy a whole group of people, and today it was explained that the Nazi party and its members were psychologically abused by the system, with their moral compass being flipped 360 degrees. They changed the meaning of murder to salvation and in doing so they filtered their grotesque ideologies into their surroundings, leaving behind discomfort, fear and worst of all, a massacre.
Their education gave them the tools to destroy lives and believe it was the right thing. Their economy grew with the new jobs and strong men around them.
What got to me, was that they started this all by killing off their very own people. Hitler created a world where it showed his followers that mentally ill, physically ill and just generally ill people were ‘draining their economy’ and sooner or later, disabled and impaired people were being killed off. This was until various people picked up on the horror of this; and with that, enough of the society stood up and fought against it. This makes me extremely angry. It’s so twisted that this wasn’t allowed to take place, but the systematic mass murder of all the Jews was ok to live next to.
The power the Nazi’s had over people was so tremendous that I can’t help think that they could have so easily used their power for good and not evil, or at least this shows me that there was an opportunity for someone else to enforce things in the same way only with opposing ideologies. Why didn’t this happen? Fear is not a good enough answer for me. I like to think that if I were there I’d rather die trying to do the right thing than live turning a blind eye. Isn’t that on the same level, or in some ways, even worse?
Do we in our youth movements empower our chanichim to stand up and fight for our beliefs? We do in such events as Veida and Bogrim Seminar, but I believe we could do much more.
We went then after to a concentration camp, ‘Majdanek’. It was horrifying to see the whole camp from the view above as we walked in. The rows of barracks and tall watch towers all looked like a flamboyant movie set. It was hard to imagine it filled with thousands of skeletal bodies, forced to work until death.
One strange and horrible thing to see, was how close the town and the village were to the camp. All these members of society idly stood by and allowed this to take place in their back garden. The prisoners would walk into town and back to the camp. The fact that they came face to face with locals of the community EVERY DAY and they did NOTHING make me feel physically ill. Learning that the village consumed these people into their lives as they walked into town and into their everyday lives frightened me, knowing they could be such a significant by-stander. How could they live with themselves knowing what was happening? I’m sure there were people who tried, but clearly not enough. They claimed they didn’t know what was happening when the war was over, I claim they are evil to say such a thing when they saw these uniforms being forced to run into the town with dogs and whips chasing them the whole way there.
The commander of the camp lived inside it, amongst the walking dead, not alone might I add, but with his wife and two children, a big fancy white house with a full view of the daily torture going on outside the window, past the lawn. He brought his children up teaching them to kill, teaching them that they’re better than everyone else, teaching them that the way to get what they want is to destroy the things they don’t like. Terrifying. His wife would even use the dead bodies she lived upon to make lamps and other such accessories. Horrifying.
It makes me think of all those other family’s whose ideals were based on the Nazi’s fascist point of view. Those children will have grown up with fathers who are murders and with a moral sense only worth holding on to in the jungle. How will they ever get through life holding on to those ideals? It makes me realise how many different people were affected by this tragedy.
Having Mala Helfgott, a fascinating holocaust survivor, with us throughout our experiences was truly inspiring. She again told tales of her personal times in the barracks. She told us how it was hard to keep her little cousin of five safe but she managed to do it, she knew she had no choice. She explained that it would be six people to one bed which to us seemed ludicrous as it would be hard to fit two of us on the uncomfortable wooden planks. She told us how people would fight for the blankets as soon as someone else said goodbye to the world. She told us that everyone was just, dropping like flies. Just what the Germans wanted.
We saw the crematorium and gas chamber, and to finish it off we saw a large pile of ash belonging to those who suffered horrifically during the time of the war. Looking into this humongous pile sent shivers down my spine. I couldn’t imagine all the lives lost, all the love lost, all the fear that must have been within all these bodies before their frightful end. I felt so lucky to stand there, I felt it was my duty to tell the whole world to come and see this, and to never forget.
We had a small tekes as the three youth movements, FZY, BBYO and Habonim. We said a few words and sang Hatikva. It was a strange feeling, standing so close to all this death and singing a song of hope. I hope they heard us singing for them, I hope they have a way of knowing they are not forgotten – now or ever.
Solemnly we made our way back on the coach to go to Krakow. As it was a five hour drive, we watched Schindler’s List on the way. It helped me to restore a little faith in humanity once again. The way he was able to see the truth underneath the smiles of his fellow Nazi’s. The way he didn’t succumb to this terror. The way he went out of his way to save as many Jews as he was able. The way he broke down sure that he could have saved so many more.
Imagine, just for a moment, if there were ten more, twenty more, thirty more people like Schindler? Think how many more thousands of Jews would be here today? There are 6,000 more alone from the Jews he saved himself.
I felt happy, angry, sad, overwhelmed, let down, but most of all what has stayed with me is this feeling of pride. I’m so proud that we’re able to walk in and out of these places unlike the millions of bodies there before us. I’m proud that a lot of us in this world won’t let the holocaust lie and we will continue to commemorate these hero’s for as long as we can until of course we teach our children to teach their children and so on and so forth. I am so aware that we’re the last generation to hear directly from these brave and wonderful survivors, we need to not only take the opportunities to hear them tell their stories but we should create them. I know I will.