Reflections on day 4 by Sammy Schoen & Mickey Piekarski
By: Sammy Schoen (Jr.)
Our first stop of the day was at the JCC of Krakow. We had the privilege to hear from Emanual Elbinger a holocaust survivor. He is an 84 year old Jew who spoke about his experiences with the Jewish community before the war, and how his family hid Jews during the war. He was a fluent Yiddish speaker and went to cheder as a child. He even shared some Yiddish songs with us.
As we walked along the train tracks into Auschwitz II-Birkenau, I suddenly noticed as we arrived into the camp that murder was done in an organized and precise manner. This camp was a literal factory in which the product was mass produced death. There was a whole system and protocol in which the Nazis went about. The men who ran the camp were “Medical Doctors” with PHD’s. How can they be considered doctors if they weren’t responsible for healing anyone? In fact these men resorted to the exact opposite and brought death and torture to the victims of Birkenau, so how is such a title fitting? The sky was dark and grey as rain fell from it. There was a large storm cloud which rested over Birkenau. I thought of it as an anti-ananei hakavod, which rested over the polar opposite of the Beit Hamikdash in the form of Birkenau. We davened an emotional mincha in front of the destroyed gas chambers and crematoria. This time our teffilot ascended to shamayim as opposed to the smoke. We were then allowed time to walk around and witness the living conditions and barracks in Birkenau. Some of us walked into a children’s barrack, which had rows upon rows of 2 level wooden trays with a 3rd stone level at the bottom, because I don’t think anyone would dare consider these beds. Each level contained 6-8 children who were packed together with no room. Blankets were a blessing min hashamaim to anyone. These barracks were not well insulated, so the temperature was unbearable. Disease including typhus was widespread among the camps. When people are packed together in a foul environment including these barracks, disease would spread easily. As we walked out of Birkenau, we began to recite the song “vehishe’amda La’avotainu,” which states that certain nations will try to destroy us and Hashem will always come through for us in the end and save us from their savage hands.
Auschwitz I looked different on the outside, but shared many of the same horrors as Birkenau. My brother Zachary who had been on the same trip 2 years past always said that it had the look of a “college campus.” This place did not begin as a concentration camp, rather a Polish military base containing mostly barracks. When the Nazi’s occupied Poland, the Base was converted into a Prison for political prisoners and prisoners of war, and from a prison into hell. Gas chambers and creamatoria were erected next to the camp. We walked into a room, which contained the hair of the victims, which was cut by the sondercommandos after they were killed in the gas chambers. I couldn’t believe they kept actual hair from the victims, na sight that can only be described as chilling. We then made our way down to the cellblock. Each cell contained it’s own sadistic form of torture death included, a starvation cell, and standing cell where the victims died of exhaustion. How can one make someone suffer these unlivable environments? We then made our way to the gas chambers and crematoria, which were still standing. As I walked into the gas chamber, I had realized that this room was unique in a horrific way. This room was a room where the most death occurred in history.
During Rosh hashana and Yom Kippur we recite “berosh Hashanah yechateivon ubeyom tzom kippur yichateimun.” This teffilah asks the question of who will die or who will survive in a given year. The teffilah goes into further details on how people can possibly die, or survive and lists many different paths which people may take. As I was walking through the Aushwitz camps, my mind flashbacked to this tefilah recited on the high holidays because of the various ways to perish in this dark place.
By: Mickey Piekarski (Sr.)
Waking up at 6:00 AM on November 19th was not easy, first because of the early hour and because we all knew that most of us were about to experience Auschwitz for the first time.
We began our day with an early Shacharit at the beautiful Isaac synagogue in Krakow led by senior Jesse Hyman. Right before the Torah reading Rabbi Sufrin got up and began bidding off Psicha and the Aliyot for hours of learning. After Shacharit we were treated to breakfast at Restaracja (restaurant in Polish) Kosher Delight! This breakfast was not just your regular Polish breakfast of eggs and cereal; rather the students were treated to yummy french toast, which they eagerly devoured.
After breakfast we all walked to the Krakow JCC to hear the story of a survivor, he was a Jewish Polish man who survived the the war by hiding in the houses of other Poles. He ended off his incredible story by singing a couple Yiddish songs from his youth with a wide smile on his face. On the way back to the bus we stopped to watch Rabbi Schreiber have an impromptu dancing session with a couple Israeli Chassidim who happened to be in Krakow. We boarded the bus and got ready for the long drive from Krakow to Auschwitz.
When the bus finally pulled up to the camp we all silently got off and walked in together. Jesse Hyman gave the powerful story of how his grandmother survived Auschwitz at the same spot where she descended from the train. We then walked to the remains of the gas chambers and the crematorium, where Rabbi Sufrin delivered inspiring Chizuk. After, we all had an hour to freely roam the camp accompanied only by the constant pattering of the rain.
After this we were given a tour of Auschwitz I, ending off in the almost fully intact gas chambers and crematorium. Many kids pointed out the scratches along the walls of the gas chambers, but what caught my eye were the three small words Am Yisrael Chai someone carved into the wall.
The last stop of the day was at a bunker where a Jewish family hid for the entirety of the war without being discovered. It was made up of two small rooms where 17 people had to sit, often in total darkness, only a small drip of condensation for running water.
With sleep tugging at our eyelids we arrived at our hotel in Lodz for dinner, a debriefing, and davening Maariv. I think I can speak for us all when I say none of us will ever forget this day.