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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 g

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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