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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Heritage Trip to Poland 2015/5775: Day 4

As I stepped off the bus I drew in a deep breath and prepared myself for what's to come. We were about to enter Auschwitz. Over the years I have heard countless stories that have taken place in this very camp. However, I didn't really know what to expect or how I was going to feel. Before we entered, our anxious group stood in a circle outside the camp and a few members from our group shared the survival stories of their relatives, myself included. As the stories were told, slight variations of voices were heard through quivering lips. Once we concluded our stories with unsteady gazes, we stood in two lines on railroad tracks facing the direction of the camp. We walked in standing tall and proud of our past, proving that we, the Jews, remain standing no matter how the Germans tried to exterminate us. 
We marched in on the ground that carried the cattle cars packed with daily victims. As we arrived, we were greeted with a replica of the famous entrance that read "Arbeit Macht Frei"("Work makes you free"). The cruelty of those three words stung my heart. The deception of the words that taunted the Jews, because the Nazi's knew that it didn't matter how hard you worked eventually their body would only amount to mere ashes.
Cattle Car outside Auschwitz
Once inside, we toured through the rooms of barracks in the museum of Auschwitz I. These rooms were filled with piles of individual belongings; large piles that stretched for many feet. We were overwhelmed by shoes, shoe polish, suitcases, glasses and hair. Jews brought these items because they thought that they would have a need to be used. They brought house keys with them. That means they locked their doors and the Jews were expecting to return home. They had no idea what horrors awaited them. Some locks of hair were in braids just like my friends and I wear our hair. It is immensely difficult for me to understand what its like to be stripped of your identity in only a few minutes. To become unrecognizable in an instant. To lose your favorite hairbrush or pair of shoes.

As our tour came to a close we scurried into a room that held a book with all the names of survivors and victims during the war. As I found the last name of my ancestors and the small villages they were from my eyes turned hazy and drenched in sorrow and I had difficulty locating their first names.
Standing strong outside Auschwitz
Our next stop: Birkenau, Auschwitz II. We marched down more tracks going through a play by play of what happened to the Jews as they arrived. We walked down to where the selection took place. The very place that families where torn from each other, separated and never to be seen again. We stood on the round where mothers gave up their children and their greatest fear in life came true, right before their eyes. Where the flick of one hand determined who would go right and who would go left. We continued walking. Our shoes leaving imprints in the muddy ground only to be washed away, just like the lives of millions where attempted to be covered up and concealed, as if their bodies never walked upon the Earth.
Walking on tracks to enter Auschwitz
We approached the changing room where 2000 people once stood at a time undressing, leaving their last remains behind. They were then stuffed into a smaller room that they would come to know as the last room they ever saw. The chamber they took their last breath in.

We went to see the room in which names where exchanged for numbers and strands of identity was removed from the scalps of millions. Rabbi Shiloni then made a special stop to Lager C, bunker 23. Now only rubble remains, but this was the barrack my great grandma spent weeks suffering. I was given another opportunity to share memories of her strength and how she survived Auschwitz with her sisters, caring for one another. My eyes filled with uncontrollable tears once more as the group sang and I lit a candle for her and all my other relatives that struggled through the torture and for those my family lost in the Holocaust. I didn't have to cry alone because more tears where coming from the sky. 
Candle lit by Emma Burekhovich in memory of her relatives lost in the Holocaust
We found closure in the unfathomable day by singing Am Yisrael Chai, because while the Nazis may have succeeded in killing 6 million Jews, they will never succeed in killing our spirits and our legacy. 
~Emma Burekhovich