New Yorker Carri Dolce is blogging about her second The March of the Living trip for Jspace as a way to share her experience and pay homage to both those that perished in the Holocaust and those that survived. Read the rest of her blog entries here.
We stared today with a more in-depth tour of Kazimierz.
We started our walking tour in front of an old shul, inscribed with the saying "setting time for Torah study," which indicated that this a place where talmud was taught.
From there we headed Elior’s former home. One, the March of the Living participant’s family occupied the whole building. Elior shared his grandfather's story with us in front of his former home—what an incredible way to honor someone's life!
His grandfather had left Poland with a group of early Zionists to Israel. When arrived he was asked what his occupation was and he told the British he was an artist—they stamped his passport painter. For the next three years the only painting he did was whitewashing. He saved up enough money and sent a telegram to his family telling them that he had made a huge fortune and that he needed help spending the money, and encouraged them to come to Israel. He knew that this would be the only way to get them over. When they arrived they saw that he had money only enough to send for them. This is how he saved his family.
From here we walked from the Kazimierz area over the river and into the Krakow ghetto. We saw the building that served as the hospital, a Zionist youth meeting place, and the wall. We talked about what, as a doctor, you would do if you had more sick people than medicine to treat them with.
We learned about Ulica Jozefinska 13, the Zionist youth group location, where a revolt was planned. Members of the ghetto blew up the cafe that SS would frequent, killing five.
We also analyzed a section of the ghetto wall, questioning its aesthetic and meaning. It’s a well-constructed wall, unlike the wall in Warsaw. It's more pleasing to the eye, and has a double meaning because of its shape: is it reflective of the shape of gravestones, or is it the shape of the 10 commandment tablets? At this location Pinchas sang us a Yiddish song that was often sung in the ghettos.
From here we took the walk that the Jews would have taken from the ghetto to Oskar Schindler's famous factory. The factory is now a museum. We had one marcher whose grandfather was not an Oskar Jew, but he did pass through the factory.
Here we talked about what makes a person a Righteous Among the Nations. There are 13,000 who now claim this honor. The 3 criteria are: they did not accept money, they risked their own life, and they saved a life.
We headed to the Umschlagplatz, the place were the Jews were sent to various camps and factories. Here we saw the pharmacy that was the heart of the ghetto, it was here that things were smuggled and information exchanged. As the only non-Jew in the ghetto, the man who ran the pharmacy was a witness to terrible things that happened. Currently the Umschlaplatz has a memorial that is just black chairs set up all around the square.
From here we got on the bus and headed back to Auschwitz for the March of the Living, the reason we are all here. When we got off the bus in Auschwitz, we immediately fell in with the 1,100 other marchers from around the world, from South Africa to the US and everything in between.
While I was waiting for the march to start, I met a Scottish man named Ross. He was there as an artist, sketching and painting images of the camp. He didn't know that this event was taking place until last Tuesday. We chatted a bit about his experience so far. He told me that he met a nun who said that most days the camps are depressing, but these few days there is a very positive and lively energy coming from these camps.
While I was standing there a little boy from the Czech Republic came up to me and asked to trade. I gave him my hat that said Canada-Poland-Israel and he gave me a pin with the Czech Republic flag. He ran back to his friends with his new hat!
It was finally time. As a group, we marched out of Auschwitz, a thing that many never got the chance to, and a little over a mile to Birkenau. Once we entered the camp, a recording of names was read. The last name that was being repeated when I walked through was Berkowitz, from Czechoslovakia. My best friend's maiden name is Berkowitz. This brought the experience to a new level.
This camp is very big and although many of the barracks were destroyed, those in the women's camp still stand. Only the chimneys of bunt barracks remain, next to the rubble from the destroyed crematorium and the famous train tracks.
Once in the camp we followed the steps of a transport from Hungary that had been photographed. We stood where they were selected on the ramp, where Dr. Mendelay told who went to the left or right, to life or death. This was where people saw their families for the last time.
We saw the inside of a bunker, where people would sleep four or five to a platform, no bathrooms just a row of holes. We joined the ceremony completing the March of the Living, with speakers, a candle lighting, honoring the liberators, finishing with the “Hatikva.”
After the ceremony we went to stand near the ruins of the crematorium. We took a long hard look at the steps, the last place that Holocaust victims were humans. We went over the terrible process of their death. Here people shared stories and we said Kaddish in honor to those that died, both the nameless and the known.
Our next stop was the area where the victims’ items where sorted and stored. We were also able to walk through the building known as the sauna. This is where men and women were processed, stripped of their clothing, which was then disinfected, shaved everywhere, showered in extreme temperatures, and then given the ill-fitting striped pajamas.
Our last stop on the way out was at the pond where all of ashes of the dead were dumped. It's hard to believe that the ashes of all of those murdered fit in that small pond.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and a very powerful debriefing.
Tomorrow we head to Plaszow, the camp from “Schindler's List.”
.ORG-Connection: The March of the Living is an international, educational program that brings Jews and non-Jews alike from all over the world to Poland on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau, the largest concentration camp complex built during World War II, and then to Israel to observe Yom HaZikaron, Israel Memorial Day, and Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day.
Previous March of the Living Entries: