As our group collectively had our first good night’s sleep in over a week, we were prepared for the unbelievable Motzei Shabbat Poland experience. As we all sang our hearts out during a beautiful Shalos Shiddus in Lodz, each of us was emotionally uplifted and ready to take on what laid ahead.
Our first stop on our meaningful all-nighter was Radagast. Radagast is a train station where Jews were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz, Chelmeno, and other camps. We all walked together into one of the few accessible cattle cars in the world. Rav Eli Marcus, a rabbinic scholar invited by Rabbi Sufrin to enhance our experiences through his inspiring and powerful stories, noted that our group of under 30 people had already began filling up the cattle car. I was in disbelief when Rav Marcus stated that 120 people were squished into these small cattle cars. These Jews were left standing for hours, days, or even weeks on end. With a deep understanding for the suffering of these Jews, we all sang with a lot more intensity and emotion as Rabbi Sufrin taught us the origin of the tune of Ani Maamin that was created on a cattle car similar to the one we were standing in.
After about an hour of driving, we arrived in the town of Kolushki which was seemingly in the middle of nowhere. As we exited the bus into an open field, we walked towards the forest. In the middle of the forest, we approached a tombstone. Rav Marcus told us the story of how the tombstone was for a grave of six children captured and murdered by the Nazis. The story of these slaughtered children was only discovered recently as a Polish farmer who witnessed the murder went to share the story with the Jews in the city of Lodz. This stop put into perspective the amount of unknown stories that Jews experienced during the Holocaust. It was a very powerful moment for me as we said Tehillim for the innocent Jewish children.
Next, we went to the Piotrokov cemetery where we visited the grave of R’ Chaim Dovid Doctor (a.k.a Dr. Bernhardt) R’ Marcus told us the story of how he was a successful doctor, who treated the King of Prussia, who then became a Baal Teshuva and eventually became one of the greatest Rebbes in Poland. I was inspired by this special connection, because I realized that everyone has the opportunity to connect to their Judaism in their unique way.
Cold and tired at, many people were reluctant to get off at our last stop, as we went to visit the grave of a great Tzaddik. After uplifting singing, Rabbi Schreiber gave a truly astounding speech that inspired everyone. He encouraged us to all take on a small task to improve our lives, and together we can all achieve something beautiful. This stop gave me a strong sense of Achdut and Ahavat Yisroel. The people standing next to me were no longer just classmates, but we were now brothers.
As we head to the airport, I looked around and saw that no one came out the same way he came in. My connection to my faith has never been stronger as I look forward to the future to accomplish as much as I can. The hard work of our Rebbeim truly paid off. This will be a trip I can never forget, and would never want to forget. This trip was truly transformational.
Thank you to Rabbi Sufrin and Rabbi Schreiber for this incredible experience.