Yesterday morning we visited the Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin. Before the yeshiva was established, the world of Torah learning was restricted and poverty-stricken. The founder of the yeshiva, Rav Meir Shapira wanted to change the face of learning. He created this yeshiva which was extremely selective, making it's applicants study over 200 pages of Gemara as part of an entrance exam. For nine years this illustrious institution was a focal point of Jewish learning in Eastern Europe.
We then made our way to Majdanek Concentration Camp where we walked through the places where selection took place, the showers, the disinfecting chambers, the gas chambers, the barracks where inmates slept, and the crematoria. From this experience we learned how the Jews were dehumanized, stripped of their identity, and humiliated. We saw, first hand, the cruelty with which they were treated. It was spiritually inspiring to pray shema in the same place where thousands said their last shema before walking into the gas chambers. This shows us that no matter how harsh the conditions were, the Jews never gave up their Jewish identity. We entered the crematoria building, into the room where the dead bodies were searched for valuables. Not only did the Jews have to be invaded and treated inhumanly while they were alive, but dead as well. We realized how, in a place like this, beauty and appearance was massacred. The Jews were stripped of every bit of dignity and modesty.
In Izbiza we learned about the impacts of the Holocaust on Jewish identity. We learned about Father Gregory Pavlovski who was born Jewish but was raised as a Christian, eventually becoming a priest. In an attempt to reconcile his identities he consulted with the pope who suggested that he continue practicing as a priest, but in Israel. He lives today in Jaffe.
Thereafter we visited the old shul of Krasnik, which today stands in ruins. We saw the walls of the shul with remnants of old paintings depicting holidays and tefilot. We breathed some life into the shul with a meaningful tefillat minha.
Lastly, we paid tribute to the children of Tarnow, who were brutally murdered in the forest in Zbilatowska Gora. It was an emotional, yet inspiring day.