Poland

It’s taken me a while to actually sit down and write this post and I know it’s been a long time since I actually posted (8 months… oops). Between school last fall, to graduation in December, starting a new full-time job and now preparing for our move to Japan, things have been pretty busy around here.

I was in Poland for 8 days, from December 18th-26th. I went with an organization called JAM (Jewish Awareness Movement) from UCLA and another program called Olami from Georgia State and University of Georgia. There were 48 students on the trip along with 2 rabbis and a tour guide we met once we arrived in Poland. Our 8 days were spent traveling around the country to 5 concentration camps, Jewish cemeteries, old synagogues, Jewish ghettos, and celebrating Shabbat and the first 2 nights of Hanukkah.

I’m still processing various parts of the trip. The whole experience was incredibly powerful and it’s still hard for me to believe that I was physically standing in the places that these horrifying atrocities occurred more than 70 years ago.

Below are photos of my time in Poland. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to see these places and my experience will be something I will never forget.

 

Map of the stops on the trip

 

Treblinka – Extermination camp


Each stone represents a community that was wiped out

 

Tykocin – Small town and synagogue

 

Majdanek – Concentration, labor, and death camp

One of the bath houses
Standing in one of the gas chambers

Thousands of pairs of shoes
Crematorium
View of the city of Lublin

 

Auschwitz – Concentration camp

Empty canisters of Zyklon-B, the poison used to kill people in the gas chambers
Thousands of pairs of glasses

 

Auschwitz-Birkenau – Concentration and extermination camp

The toilets

Remains of the gas chambers

 

Tarnow

 

Zbylitowska Góra – Children’s mass grave

 

Kazimierz – Jewish district of Krakow

 

Schindler’s Factory

 

Chlmno – Extermination camp

 

Radegast Station – Lodz ghetto

Train cars used to transport Jews from the ghetto to concentration camps

 

The group in front of our hotel in Warsaw

There were two very powerful moments on this trip that will always stick with me. The first moment was when I walked out of Auschwitz, under the infamous sign, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, meaning “work sets you free”. Jews were never meant to walk out of this camp. Not only did I choose to go to Auschwitz, but I had the chance to leave whenever I wanted.

The second moment was when we were at the synagogue in the city of Krakow, celebrating the first night of Hanukkah. There were over 150 people at the temple that night and we were all singing and dancing out in the courtyard after lighting the menorah. That night, there was the most people at this synagogue at one time celebrating Hanukkah together since before the Holocaust.

I was hesitant at first to go on this trip. I knew it was going to be emotionally draining and I had seen pictures of these places, so I felt like I didn’t really need to be there in person. Physically being at these sites will never compare to a photo and I can’t even put into words how it felt. Most of the time it was bitter cold with rain and snow, which was extremely appropriate for what we were seeing.

I don’t think I will ever go back these places… one time was probably enough for me. But I will continue to carry on the memory and share the stories of the people who lost their lives. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but this trip showed me how proud I am of my heritage and how much being Jewish means to me. Despite the horrors that occurred during the Holocaust and how hard the Nazis tried to wipe out the entire Jewish population, we are still here and thriving today.

Am Yisrael Chai

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2 Comment

  1. Susan Brunelle says: Reply

    Emma, thank you for sharing your incredible journey.

  2. Pearl Ann Schwartz says: Reply

    It takes a strong person to have made the trip you made and a strong person to “revisit” the experience by putting it into words. You’ll never again see a movie about the Holocaust, read a book about it, or hear any mention without thinking back on your trip. Coincidentally, being there in such bad weather gave you more of a feeling of what it must have been like for those in the camps than you would have gotten in warm, sunny weather. Your wonderful Hanukkah experience showed you that, in fact, we Jews have survived. I’ve often said, “There, but tot the grace of G-d go I.” Any of us, living in Europe in those days, might have been victims.

    As usual, your excellent pictures added a lot to your commentary. I’m so proud of you!

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