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Sadie Silverstein


By Sadie Silverstein, age 18, February 10, 2011

Today was the most overwhelming day in Poland so far. I am now in a hotel in Krakow, after an exhausting day in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
I have had MANY dreams about the holocaust and I really thought I had grasped the concept. But it doesn't even come close to the emotions I felt in Auschwitz. And I still don't fully understand, and I fear I never will because I was never there.

When we first arrived in Auschwitz, it was much smaller than I thought it would be. But I started tearing up as I walked under the entrance gate. I, myself, felt like a prisoner. And I soon was flogged with immense anger, nausea, depression and fear. I was fine for a while, as I was in the mindset that I was in a museum. But what hit me like a ton of bricks was seeing all the artifacts, knowing that every item belonged to a human being with a story behind them. We saw hair, false limbs, baby clothes, named luggage, spectacles... but the worst were the shoes. It was a hallway of tattered disgusting shoes that surrounded me on either side. It was one of the most disturbing things I had ever seen up until that point. Just thinking that these shoes carried suffering victims for years to their very deaths. And when they could no longer carry on their shoes were removed and passed onto the next victim. The glasses were no less disturbing. All of these glasses were shattered, bent and tangled around each other. I was trying to match up faces that went behind those glasses, but I just couldn't. There were just too many. And that made me so upset because when I think of how many faces I couldn't match up, that's how many people are left forgotten or unknown, with no record of their existence.

What also hit me like a ton of bricks was when I was standing at the execution wall. I just kept thinking how many innocent men, women and children stood at that spot, sandwiched between a wall and a weapon, with no where to go but down.  Just when I thought I was done crying, our tour guide said ever so calmly that she was going to take us to the gas chamber and crematorium. I cussed out loud. And when we got there, I had yet another breakdown. It is incredibly different standing in a gas chamber than at a grave site. The realization that in the gas chamber, countless people stood in the exact spot i was standing and suffered to their deaths. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like for my last sight was to have look into the eyes of my murderer, who was shielded by a gas mask. The same concept goes for the crematorium. And to be one of the only people to make it out of there alive was absolutely surreal.
Afterward, we had some technical difficulties when one of our survivors, David Chentow, tried to tell his tale. So we took a bus to the Birkenau death camp and listened to his story in the remnants of barracks. It was freezing and pouring rain outside. Birkenau was a lot more realistic than Auschwitz. It was more untouched. Listening to David Chentow's story made me feel like I was in no position to complain about the cold and the wet. I was wearing layers upon layer whereas he had to stand in worse weather, naked, for much longer. It made me realize how lucky I am today. I live in a world where Judaism is studied and accepted (well, at least where I live anyway), I have a large family who cares about me and has means to provide for me, I have opportunities and choices. And most of all I have the best friends anyone could ever ask for. What right do I have to complain when I am like royalty to those who suffered? A very good point, however, was brought up today during debriefing by a member of our delegation. He had questioned why we should feel guilty about complaining. If we are incredibly hungry, maybe we are allowed to complain because we have not been through worse. To us, we are suffering. We thankfully have not experienced the Holocaust first hand, but who's to say we are not hungry? It just might not be to the extent that those victims were.

On another note, out group tour guide, Yonatan, made a point of saying how people think that the holocaust was inhuman. But he said that conversely it is probably one of the most human things that can be done. I'm not so sure I fully agree with this statement. On the one hand to say the holocaust was inhuman, in what form shall it be taken in? Animalistic? Maybe... But the cruel intent that makes a man able to take a baby away from its mother and smash its head against a train... one must wonder how this characteristic is NOT inhuman. And if infact it IS human, how in the world did it get there? Is it a genetic trait that he inherited? Where is this man getting the morality (or lack there of) to murder without hesitation? Perhaps after a while you become immune to it, and it becomes a natural instinct; almost like that of an animal.

As many tears as I cried today I would not have changed it for the world. It was a terrifying and wonderful experience, and I am so lucky to have two of my best friends here with me. They stood by my side the entire time, holding my hands, sobbing with me, and helping me get through that monstrocity. And when I was about to leave the camp, the gate slammed shut on me, nearly scaring me to death. I tried to figure out the meaning of this symbolism and I came to the conclusion that although I left the camp in body, my spirit will linger in memory of those who were not fortunate enough to exit. And that it will forever exist in my memory.

April 12th, 2010

Wow, what a drastic change. This morning we had a lovely tour of Krakow Poland, which greatly contrasts the Warsaw ghost town. Krakow was a very lively and traditional place. It was very old fashioned. I was pleased with the amoutn of Jewish life that still exists today. We saw some beautiful synagogues and many "Jewish" restaurants that were not own by Jews.

Today was the purpose of our journey; the actual march of the living. During which we marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau. Bein in Auschwitz two days in a row was very strange and almost bipolar. This place that was cold and rainy and filled with tears was now sunny, bright and filled with smiling faces. About 8-10,000 Jews (at least) from all over the world were integrated as one nation. And so, like this, we marched to our freedom from Auschwitz. I really felt like I was being liberated, and the experience was absolutely phenomenal. As i marched I looked behind me to see an ocean of blue March of the Living jacket wearing supporters.

When we got to Birkenau, an intercom sounded a recording of a list of every human that lost their life in this extermination camp. The list was endless.. almost as endless as the train tracks that led box car after box car into this sickeningly vast death camp. Before our arrival we were each given a wooden paddle on which we could write anything we wanted. One one side I chose to write "Never give in, never regret, never again, never forget", and on the other, a pledge to keep the memory of the holocaust alive. After the actual march we were asked to plant our paddles in some part of the camp. I planted mine smack dab in the middle of the train tracks, right infront of a box car. After this we listened to the most beautiful ceremony. Each and every speech was so powerful and emotional, and I took in every piece of it. However, I was quite annoyed by a certain girl sitting behind me who had the nerve to text someone in the middle of a ceremony. In a death camp. First of all, how does she even get any service out here, and secondly, who does something so disrespectful? Speaking of disrespectful, many people were smoking and laughing after the ceremony had ended. Not to mention all the garbage left behind. Some people have no compassion. Another annoyance is another girl that said she wanted to "check out the gas chamber thingy." Thingy? I just ASSUMED she meant gas chamber, or the remais there of. I feel like you can tell why someone is REALLY on this program solely by the way that they talk.

Upon leaving, I felt very strange. It felt like it only took a matter of minutes to get out of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and the walk to Birkenau. What felt like hours was walking OUT of the Birkenau extermination camp. This leads me to think that the path to freedom is so much longer than the path to liberation. Though  both terms are synonymous, they are very different when we consider the six years of suffering and liberation in the blink of an eye. One day the Jews were prisoners and the next they were liberated. But the scars of the holocaust remain on their skin and even when they wear off, their memories will haunt them forever. In a sense they will never be able to free themselves from the past.

April 14th, 2010

Today I set foot on the most horrendous landscape. A hell on earth, if you will. But some might call it by name, Majdanek. It was quite different than both Auschwitz and Birkenau. Auschwitz, though almost completely intact, was so remodeled that it looked like a museum. Birkenau was so historical and untouched, but most of it had been destroyed. Majdanek, however, was RIGHT in the middle of the spectrum. 

When we first arrived at Majdanek, I literally felt like I was walking on dead bodies and ashes. I couldn't take a single step without thinkin someone either died or was murdered here. It wasn't until we got into the first building, the disinfecting area, that I became sick to my stomach. The smell was more than horrendous. Nauseating, to say the least. It was the smell of wood that had absorbed rain, tears, flesh, blood, sweat, toxins, you name it. And after 65 years the smell stains the wood like black on white. We enterd a small room of showers. This room had such a strong effect on me as I began to see imaginary people. Naked, crowded, and terrified. On the way to Majdanek, Schindler's list was playing on the bus. I woke up to a Nazi yelling at women to strip and walk into the "showers". They were hearded like cattle, countless people into these tiny showers. The door slammed shut behind them and the lights were shut off. The women were screaming, terrified that these might be their last breaths. A cry of relief was heard when water substitued the gas that seeped from the shower heads. It breaks my heart to think of how many people walked through that room thinking it was their last destination, only to find out it was a much worse fate they'd have yet to suffer.

Anyway, as we made our way from barrack to barrack, Majdanek became more similar to a museum. There were many exhibits. But I broke down when I saw children's dolls. The most prized posession of a little girl, ripped from her hands. I can't even imagine how horrible that must have been. Even now I have dolls in my room collecting dust and I refuse to discard of them, simply because of their sentimental value.

What was also incredibly disturbing was the glass case of prisoner suits, one of which was exactly my size. Looking at my reflection in the glass case, I saw myself as a prisoner in Majdanek. This moment, in my eyes, is the true definition of fear.

Then we got to the barracks that were filled with tattered shoes. This was much worse than the glass cases of shoes in Auschwitz. This barrack was FILLED with cases of shoes that were open barred. You could not only see them, but feel them. I broke down. I could taste the dust. On my way out of that barrack my arm grazed one of the cases of shoes and I could feel the shoes touch my arm. That was immensely scary and disturbing. It felt like a dead person was reaching out to grab me.

As bad as this barrack was, the next one was so bad I couldn't even walk through the entire thing. It was pitch black. But in the middle of the barrack were countless candles, each lit in the centre of a ball of barbed wire. Ominous on it's own, definitely. But voices of people telling their stories overlapped one another until it was just a jumbled mess of cries. It was too overwhelming to bear.

Next came the gas chambers and crematorium. The gas chamber at Majdanek was different than the ones at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Instead of using the Zyclon B pellet method, motors were turned on and the exhaust pipe was fed through the chamber walls suffocating the victims with carbon monoxide. After they had dropped to the cement floor, they were dragged into another room; the crematorium. From where we were standing, the glow of memorial tea lights gave off the illusion of running, burning, lit ovens. Anyone who didn't have chills at that point were either dead or fearless. Not a single dry eye entered or left that crematorium.

When I thought we were done that madness, we made our way to the top of what I thought was a ceremonial monument. As I climbed the stairs I saw a railing that encircled a pit. It was a HUGE pit of dirt, glass and worst of all, ashes. Human ashes that had been collected from the crematorium. So many people, and I thought that the near 10,000 on the march was a huge number. But the incredible reality that that number of people could easily be wiped out in at least 12 hours was horrific. And the reality that this mass killing was done at least twice a day for six whole satanic years. It's horrendous.

After we ended that dreadful tour, we proceeded with our delegation's memorial ceremony. I played my guitar while the pieces were read, and my own poem was read at Majdanek by one of my best friends, Jana Sklover, and a greatly appreciated member of our delegation, Josh Donen. It was a beautiful ceremony. One that I will never forget. Everyone was beginning to cry as we sang "Mad World" by Gary Jules. As well as Hallelujah by Rufus Wainwright, even though it was underpracticed. We didn't know the lyrics because we had just decided to sing it last minute. But it didn't matter because the other delegations began to sing with us harmoniously as one. It was an amazing turn out. I could not have asked for a  better way to end my journey through Poland. No one can even begin to understand how much it meant to me to be able to have my poem that I wrote be read in front of 150 people at Majdanek. As well, it was just as meaningful for me to be able to play my own guitar, with which I have such a special bond with. Everyone came together and sand our hearts out, and it was just an incredible, moving experience.

This concludes my chosen journal entries. I feel like these ones are the most meaningful pieces out of all of my journal entries.

Thank you


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