Dear Six Million Jews,
It has been nearly 75 years that you left us behind. It has been decades since you left the streets of Europe empty. It has been years that children don’t play anymore in the Krakow Jewish Square. It has been nearly one thousand months that the streets of Łódź, the second largest Jewish community of Poland, have been empty. It has been hundreds of millions of seconds of no Torah study in the study halls (Yeshivot) throughout Europe.
Can one imagine what great Jewish leaders, doctors, lawyers, scientists, scholars, and contributing people to society there would have been?
Where have you gone?
Where did you go?
Why did you get taken away from us in such a short period of time?
Why did you have to leave your very own homes?
How did you manage even one day in the concentration camps?
How did you handle the rations in the ghetto?
What was going through your poor minds?
What was happening to all of your synagogues, businesses, and possessions of life?
Majdanek concentration camp
You didn’t even have a chance to say good bye to your father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter. You were forced to leave your home, head to the ghetto, where you were brutally murdered by gas chambers, gun shots, hung, or any method to exterminate your people.
Yet your people are my people…
My journey then begun… As I sat on the airplane heading to Poland, and I was asking myself “I have no idea what I just got into.” Yet I knew there was no way I was going back.
A few months ago, I saw an advertisement of a trip that intrigued my interest called “The Living Legacy Experience.” The trip’s mission was to bring young Jewish professionals from Toronto from all backgrounds of life, to experience the unimaginable darker years of the Holocaust. I contemplated for days, weeks, and even when I was boarding the plane. I felt coming from a deep Sephardic background there was no point to visit Poland especially concentration camps, ghettoes, and anything related to do with such horror of the past. I had nothing to do with this history aside from being a part of the Jewish people.
Auschwitz-Birkenau (Women’s Bunkhouse)
I asked myself “why would I take an eight-hour flight to be emotionally challenged for one week?” Why would I want to get all emotionally disturbed from such a trip? Many questions running through my mind non-stop. Leaving family, business behind and just a clear healthy mindset to set forth for a destination which would disturb my peace of mind. What motivated me was not Schindler’s list movie, nor the past holocaust museums, and not even all the dozens of books that I have read over the years on the Holocaust.
I felt it was my natural duty as a Jew that I have to experience, educate myself and certainly transmit the horrors of the Holocaust to the next generation. I felt an obligation as a “Jew” to take advantage of the opportunity and go with several survivors to Poland to hear their respective stories.
When one follows the general narrative of the Holocaust it is challenging but not as effective as to follow a story of an individual and far more impactful to attach yourself to that particular person’s life. I embarked on the unexpected not knowing where my emotions would take me. I certainly had the best educative and emotional trip of my life which will impact me for the rest of my life.
We went to dozens of locations throughout the country. Such as Łódź, Warsaw, and Krakow Ghetto, to Chelmno which was the first death camp of the Nazi’s Final Solution. Gassings took place in experimental gas vans claiming the lives of over 200,000 Jews.
From the Umschlagplatz monument in Warsaw and singing ‘Am Yisrael Hai’ by the Ghetto Uprising monument. From Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau, Treblinka death camp, Majdanek concentration camp to Tykocin Massacare – all were horribly catastrophic to visit. Yet the experience was so impactful and meaningful in so many different ways.
From Yeshivat Hachmei Lublin, Rabbi Meir Shapiro’s stunning Yeshiva to the grave of R’ Elimelech of Leżajsk which attracts tens of thousands from around the world yearly. The former synagogue in Lancut from 1761 has been stunningly restored with wall decorations from 18th and 19th centuries. Going to the Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rama’s) Synagogue and Kever was going back in time to the 15th century Krakow. There was once vibrant Jewish life pre-World War Two. A normal life and a life that was taken away in a single generation.
Tarnow, Poland, A mass grave for 800 children who were murdered in 1942.
From the town of Tarnów about 25,000 Jews had been murdered by the Germans, and 800 innocent children from infinite age to ten years old were brutally murdered and thrown to a ditch by the Nazis.
Visiting Oscar Schindler’s Factory to having an incredible Kabbalat Shabbat in one of Kraków’s oldest Synagogues was truly remarkable. An unforgettable experience listening to the testimony on Shabbat from one of the Righteous Among the Nations was really something unique. Then concluding Shabbat by singing Havdallah at 1am in a park with over 120 people in the former Krakow Ghetto was a sign that we Jews prevailed, and Hitler didn’t get what he wanted.
Every minute shaped me, and every event will never be forgotten for the rest of my life. As George Samtanya says it best “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
May the lessons of the Holocaust teach the world what evil can do to a people, and may the memories of the 6 million souls be remembered forever, amen.