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.
Treblinka – Extermination camp
Majdanek – Concentration, labor, and death camp
Auschwitz – Concentration camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau – Concentration and extermination camp
Zbylitowska Góra – Children’s mass grave
Kazimierz – Jewish district of Krakow
Chlmno – Extermination camp
Radegast Station – Lodz ghetto
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