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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Heritage Trip to Poland 2016/5776: Day 3

Reflecting by the train tracks in Birkenau
Today was the third day of our Heritage trip to Poland. We started off the day with an extremely sad, yet inspirational walk through Birkenau. We walked in silence for the majority of the four hours that we were there. We did this to give respect to those who perished during the Holocaust and because we were just speechless at the sight of such brutality. As we walked down the train tracks we followed in the footsteps of those who were selected to die. We saw the ruins of crematoria, gas chambers, and personal belongings that were taken away from the Jews.
Standing in front of the ruins of crematoria building III
learning about the victims who were killed there
As we marched through we all felt a strong sense of loss, which only strengthened our pride and appreciation for our Jewish identities. We then took the path of life, only to realize that what they called "living" was very different from the definition we use today. We saw how the Jews who were forcibly changed into their prison uniforms, were given a number and were stripped of their valuables and of their hair. We were horrified by the inhumane and unsanitary conditions that these Jews lived in. We realized that while the Germans attempted to dehumanize the Jews, they lost their own humanity in the process. Students shared their connection to the places we saw through both their familial ties and/or mere spiritual connection. We were certainly able to walk out of a place where Jews were treated so miserably, still feeling so proud of our Jewish identity.
Abraham Goldman telling the story of his great grandfather's experience in Auschwitz
We then traveled to the Krakow ghetto where we saw the remnants of the ghetto wall. We also saw a pharmacy within the ghetto run by a polish man who took it upon himself to help the Jews during these tough times. We then visited the ancient Alte Shul and heard about the legend behind its founding. Later we traveled to the old Krakow cemetery to visit two of the greatest rabbis graves, the Rema and the Tosfot Yom Tov. We then went to the beautiful Tempel Shul where we all sang Havdalah together. Havdalah represents the differentiation between Shabbat and the regular days and we wanted to differentiate between our experience here in the concentration camps and our lives back in New York, between the light of our lives and the darkness of the war period.
Group photo in Alte Shul in Krakow
We then ended off the day with a delicious dinner at Miedowa and returned to the hotel where we sat together and reflected on what we felt and experienced these past few days. Everyone shared inspirational and meaningful moments that have impacted them throughout the trip and changed their views on life, which was extremely special and deeply important. ~Rachel Nussbaum