Today was one of the most powerful days in most of our lives. It was a day in which we all will never forget. Today, we walked in the footsteps of those whose lives were changed for the worst, whose path was altered by a random command by a Nazi official, and whose fate was ultimately forced into the hands of cruelty.
As a group, we first visited the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. This horrendous camp which we all know by name, can only be processed by first-hand experience.
Auschwitz 1, which primarily held individuals whom opposed the Nazi "ideas," changed everyone's perspective on how "bad" the holocaust actually was. As a group we saw:
1. A pile of hair cut off of both men and women before they were put to death in the gas chambers.
a. this pile was off 40,000 people. Take a moment to visualize this unbelievable site.
2. A pile of children's shoes. Children's shoes! What a crime to take a way a life which had so much more to live.
3. Actual photographs of men and women standing in the camp, and being commanded by the SS officers to do whatever they say.
4. A gas chamber, crematorium, and death wall which was "The End" to most jews' stories.
a. These sites were actually visited by the Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army. What a site to see, that can't really be explained in words.
All these things which were just part of the very historic Auschwitz 1, can only truly be interpreted through a visit. That's why this trip has been so special for us all.
After Auschwitz 1, we visited the extermination camp of Birkenau. This absolutely massive camp, 25x the size of Auschwitz, was unbelievable to see.
We all know this camp from the movies, but to see it with our own two eyes as FREE jews was a such an awarding experience. Jews, and other individuals from different ethnicities, were traveling on the rail cars to Birkenau as the lowest of the lows. These men and women, who were limited at 800 calories per day, wooden shoes, and terrible living conditions would have done anything to be free.
For those that still survive and those that unfortunately perished; they all wished that one day they will be remembered and not forgotten, one day the jewish race will thrive again, and one day the world will realize the absolute terror of the holocaust and make sure it NEVER happens again. That's the significance of the March, that's the significance of this trip, and that's the power of coming together as one.
Our group's motto keeps things light at the end of every day: "Olive Garden"- we are family.
A huge pile of glasses collected from the victims
A huge pile of shoes from a small fraction of the victims
Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army
Today was the most impactful day of the trip so far and that was expected. What wasn't expected was my reaction to what I would see at Auschwitz and Birkenau. I could tell you everything we saw but I would not do those camps justice so I will just talk about my experience. We arrived at Auschwitz to see the famous sign which translates to "Hard Work Will Set You Free". The whole time I was waiting for that moment where it would hit me and all the emotions I was feeling would overcome me. What I never thought about was what "it" is. What was supposed to hit me? Was it seeing the enormity of the camp? The belongings of all the Jews? The barracks where they suffered? We walked into two buildings at Auschwitz that showed us belongings, documents, photographs, poison, and much more that I can not really describe to you. I was just waiting for the "it" that would make me cry and change the way I feel forever. All of the sudden, it hit me. I felt the tears roll down my face, I was sad, I was angry, I felt a pain in my stomach. Even though I was feeling this rush of emotions I didn't know why I felt that way, and I still do not know exactly why. But I do know that I walked out of both those camps a free Jew and a changed man.
"Hard work will set you free" at the entrance to Auschwitz
Xyclon B extermination pellets that vaporize into gas used in the gas chambers
Piles of empty Xyclon B gas cans
I should have listened to my dad. I went the whole day with one person in my mind, my grandma. Before the trip, my dad had suggested that I ask my grandma her story from the Holocaust. Stupidly, I said no. Honestly, it did not really matter to me that much whether I knew her story or not. Two things I am grateful for that this trip has given me is maturity and appreciation.
The only thought that ran through my mind all day as I walked through Auschwitz and Birkenau was how much I regretted my stupid decision. I wished I could have had my grandma's story playing through my mind all day as I walked through the camps. I wished I was able to share her story with everyone, while we were in the camp.
After seeing the empty cans of Xyclon B, my throat began to choke up. It is a very different feeling seeing the items and places that murdered our people in person, rather than hearing stories about it. It gave me chills. At that point I no longer wanted to take pictures at Auschwitz. It disgusted me.
Approaching the gas chamber and crematorium, I was very hesitant and scared about going. I had no clue how I would react. As soon as I walked down the stone steps into the cold, dark, and eerie gas chamber, tears dripped down my face. The feeling of being at the place where thousands and thousands of children, women, and men were murdered is indescribable. Explaining how I felt would be futile. You cannot experience or feel what I had without being there.
Today was a life changing experience. I go through everyday at home complaining about how I have to wake up at 6 am, my spanish teacher, and how annoying my parents are. Everyday our people in the Holocaust had to fight for their life, find the strength to go on, and deal with the horrible circumstances the Nazis put them in. It really puts things into perspective. The first thing on my agenda to do when I get home is to talk to my grandma.
Crematorium at Auschwitz
Birkenau train tracks