I didn’t really know what to expect from Poland. I was unsure of how I’d feel entering a concentration camp and I found it hard to comprehend what had taken place. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t crying whilst standing in a cattle cart or even in a mass grave. I was more in shock and disbelief. Shabbat, although near the end of the trip, changed everything for me. This is the point at which the entire group came together; this was the point at which I felt inspired.
On Friday night Rabbi Hirsch gave a speech titled: ‘Where was G-d during the holocaust’. His answer: he doesn’t know. However, he stressed that although the reason may be unknown, there is always a reason for everything. The main message I took from his was that people find unknown strength during times of suffering or hardship, strength that often leads to positive outcomes. This message is summed up beautifully in a poem written by an anonymous poet: ‘I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve. I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome. I received nothing I wanted and I received everything I needed’. Although the persecution of over 7 million Jews destroyed the Jewish nation in a way that will never be forgotten, it also resulted in not only the land of Israel, but also something that will unite the Jewish people forever.
After visiting a museum and listening to the personal stories that everyone in the group had to share, I thought back to the crematorium we had been to the previous day and I couldn’t believe how real everything seemed to be. At this point in the trip many people cried for the first time. It was not when we were in the gas chambers, or when we were standing in the camps that people felt overwhelmed with emotion, but rather after hearing stories that made the horrors of what we had seen appear so real.
The last place in Auschwitz that we visited was the Latrines. This was the place that I felt the most connected to. We heard that for many, this was the only place that people from different ends of the camp could meet. We heard a story about two sisters who would meet in the Latrines every Friday night to celebrate Shabbat together in the only way that they could. They would sing Jewish songs together and everyone else would join in. At this point the rest of the group started singing Jewish songs and I felt overwhelmed with emotion. It made me think of my sister, the rest of my family and every person that had been involved in the holocaust.
This very moment in the trip made me realise how lucky I was to be able to walk out of this prison with family, friends, school and a home to return to. It was also obvious at that point that if I was standing in that exact place 70 years ago I may never have walked back out. I’m not entirely sure what one message I will take back with me, and I can’t isolate one moment to be the most inspiring. Nevertheless, I know that I will not feel guilty about being happy and laughing, even when visiting Poland, as the ultimate way to show the Nazi’s they’ve failed is to live life to its fullest, for all those who never really lived at all.