For years I wanted to go to Poland. 'Want' is probably not the most precise word; rather, I felt the need to go, mostly due to my many years of studying the Holocaust, which mainly focused on interviewing survivors, their children and grandchildren, and being involved in joint German-Jewish/Israeli encounters. It didn't feel right to interview so many people, and to learn so much about the Holocaust, without actually going to Poland and seeing Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and Treblinka. Without seeing Warsaw and Krakow and Lodz.
So now I can check Poland off my list.
Or can I?
I barely slept during the 8 days in Poland. The day before our trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, I tossed and turned all night long, thinking 'tomorrow I will be in Auschwitz, Auschwitz, Auschwitz...' The day after I was very wound up and could only think about the upcoming trip to Majdanek. And after Majdanek, I lightly joked with people in our group - " Two down, one (Treblinka) to go"
I am so glad that I went, yet I am so bound up in knots from what we saw and learned during those 8 days. I did the trip the best way that I could - I joined the group of adults on the trip organized by Hameorer - an educational company that belongs to Dror Yisrael - the adult movement of Hanoar haoved v'halomed - a socialist, Zionist movement that believes in democracy, human rights, activism, youth and education, social justice. This adult movement lives in 'educational kibbutzim' - mostly urban kibbutzim - throughout the country - many of them in the Tel Aviv area. My close friend Shoshana, who originally comes from Poland, also joined the group, and it was so important for us to do this together.
My daughter, Noa, who belongs to Dror Yisrael, was one of our two guides on this journey.
And that is the main reason that I joined this particular group, and finally did what I knew I had to do, for so many years.
I wanted to do this trip with my daughter. I wanted her to be my teacher. I wanted to be on a journey that did not drill in the message : 'Because of the Holocaust, we must be militarily strong and fear all others' but rather that stressed again and again 'Because of the Holocaust, we must take care not to be apathetic to the oppression of others and act whenever we see instances of social injustice. We must be aware of what is going on around us, and be critical of social institutions and behaviors that deny human rights, that inflict suffering and humiliation of innocent people.'
Noa and I standing where the Dror Commune in Warsaw was located
The group was wonderful. Many of the participants are parents of childen who belong to Dror Yisrael who do amazing social justice and educational work throughout Israel. Others are 'friends of' and they came with open minds and open hearts. We bonded, we had many deep conversations, learned about one another, and loved our two guides (another Noa was our second guide). We held four joint ceremonies in the three camps and at the end, at the Rapoport Monument that commemorates the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that took place in early 1943.
Noa and Noa at the Janusz Korczak monument in Warsaw
It is hard to know which camp was the 'hardest': Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest killing machine, whose name instills terror, Majdanek, the killing machine that is open for all to see, in the city of Lublin (the camp is surrounded by apartment houses and people ride their bicycles on the path through the camp on their way to the grocery store) or Treblinka, hidden away deep in the forest, about 90 minutes from Warsaw, where nothing remains (the Germans destroyed the camp so as not to leave evidence of the 800,000 + Jews that they murdered there). Is it hardest to see the actual barraks and crematoria, or to have your imagination run wild as the details of the camp are revealed through testimonies and historical finds?
No matter - they are all horrible, horrible testimonies to the evil that people can do to others, in times and places where compassion, caring, and love go missing.
I am now home from Poland and do not need to have this country on my list of places that I must visit.
I am now home from Poland and do not have to wonder what all of these places look like, for I have seen them with my own eyes. I have touched shoes that remain from the murdered victims in Majdanek, touched the stone memorials in Treblinka, and stood inside the gas chamber in Auschwitz One. I have walked the path of the Warsaw ghetto fighters, and stood in the place where over 1000 Jews were burned alive by the Poles in the town of Jedwabne. I do not need to go there again.
I am now home from Poland with the stronger conviction that we must all take responsibility to care for one another, for without one another, we are nothing.
I am now home from Poland, grateful that the Jews have a country, but unhappy at the kind of country we have become.
I am now home from Poland, deeply saddened, once again, by this blackest of black periods in human history, but filled with deep pride of the thousands and thousands of young people who have taken to the streets in Israel to demand and work for a country that is based on social and economic rights for all.
I am now home from Poland. Thank God I am home.