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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2, Birkenau

We arrived in Krakow, very glad to have a nice break from Israel. We love Israel, but it was nice to get a vacation. When we arrived at our hotel, we were amazed to see such great customer service, nothing really expected in most places in Israel, especially if your Hebrew isn't so great! We took a taxi to the city center of Krakow and walked around for about 2 hours. It really is a beautiful city and in such contrast to what we saw today. We went to bed kind of early, as we wanted to be rested to prepare ourselves for today.

PJ and I jumped into the bus to pick up other passengers for the English led tour. Once we boarded our coach, we headed to Auschwitz. I am not really sure what I expected. I don't really know if one can really expect anything. I am sure everyone who goes to a concentration camp, especially a Death camp, has their expectations proven wrong. First of all, Auschwitz is made up of two parts, Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz 2, or Birkenau. Auschwitz 1 was originally a type of Polish army base. When Germany took over Poland, Auschwitz 1 was turned into a prisoner camp, primarily for Poles, especially those who were loyal Poles. The Germans were afraid they might cause an uproar. It's amazing how scared of everyone else the Germans were.

Eventually, because the Polish prisons were completely overcrowded, Auschwitz 1 became a prison camp for many, many people, including Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, etc. This "camp" became a place to bring people and eventually kill them. What I saw in this place was horrifying. The complete lack of human respect was overwhelming. People were tortured, embarassed, and killed. What did these "soldiers" think? Didn't they realize it was wrong to treat other humans in such a way? Our tour guide was very descriptive, and the pictures I wasn't allowed to take will remain in my mind forever. I walked in and OUT of Auschwitz 1.

What I saw and experienced in Auschwitz 1 in no way prepared me for Auschwitz 2, Birkenau. This was where the Jews were sent. While Auschwitz was a labor camp (or that's what the Germans called it), Birkenau was a death or extermination camp. People were brought here to die. Those who were lucky enough to be chosen to work were only allowed to live because they served the German Reich a purpose. And, they would eventually be slaughtered as well. Now I have read many books about the Holocaust (called HaShoah in Hebrew). I have seen many movies about HaShoah. But to stand in a living barrack and see where these people lived and "bathed" was awful. I wanted to scream...and I was very angry that this could happen.

But, as my friend PJ pointed out, the most important thing I experienced today was the ability to walk out. I walked out with my head held high in a tribute to those millions of Jews and others who died. I left. While I am returning tomorrow with Batya, I expect to experience something incredibly different. I can't have expectations..we shall see.

May we never forget these souls, those who died just because of who they were.

Oseh shalom bim'romav hu ya'aseh shalom
He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace,

aleinu v'al kol Yis'ra'eil v'im'ru
upon us and upon all Israel.

Amen

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