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Confronting Auschwitz and Birkenau

Hope is a vital part of visiting the death camps in Europe.
Auschwitz and Birkenau

Auschwitz and Birkenau

There was a shift in the paradigm of my life after my experience at Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the largest concentration and extermination camps operating during the Holocaust.

The cold, hard facts of the Holocaust are well known, but it is only once you hear a survivor tell you their personal story that it truly strikes you how they now appreciate their lives in a way that not many of us do today; some attribute their survival to God, some to faith, to love, to family, to luck.

We are the most likely the last generation to be able to hear these stories from the survivors of the Holocaust and be able to ask them questions. That is a huge privilege. A privilege which I was able to take part with the ‘Lessons From Auschwitz’ program with the Holocaust Educational Trust.

We had been warned by our team leaders that there was no right or wrong way to feel about the experience, but prior to the trip to Poland in November 2012, some may have had some prior idea as to how they would react – for me, it was numbing, absolutely numbing. Expectations were of misery and sadness; the lessons taught were vital for us as “Holocaust Ambassadors,” but also to absorb and reflect upon as human beings.

In both Auschwitz and Birkenau, the atmosphere was very sombre and we all said little as we walked through the camps, supposedly out of respect, or out of sadness, or shock; there was an almost alien sense of peace, as if the silence that had settled over the camps was still somehow alive, as if the sounds heard all those years ago were still echoing within the brick walls. I’ve never experienced an environment so heavy with sorrow, and it frightened me – it’s almost a warning to us as the new generation about to inherit responsibility of the earth, as it could be seen as a display of the consequences of power being given to the wrong hands.

Such was the melancholy atmosphere. The cold was extraordinary; by the time we had reached the Birkenau camp, the sun had almost set and the bitter cold was starting to seep in through our clothing. We tightened our coats and took the long, mournful walk alongside the train tracks leading into the camp. I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the place; rows and rows of identical empty warehouses. The camp was monstrous and almost mechanical; it had no signs of life, of civilization, just building after empty building. It was difficult to imagine how many men had crossed paths here, young, old, wealthy, poor, doctors, lawyers, laborers, all being given the saddest of all fates.

One of the most startling moments, for me, was one of the very first things we came across; the now iconic “Arbeit Macht Frei” wire sign, which directly translates to “labor makes you free,” referring to the physical labor that the sufferers in the camp were to believe would liberate them. But for the majority of prisoners in the camps, their only liberation was death, many of them dying brutally. One could only imagine the faces of the prisoners who saw this sign and understood their likely fates, or the many young children who could not even imagine what lay ahead.

We learned that very young children were almost always sentenced to death, along with their mothers, to prevent the new generation of Jews from surviving, which was awful to hear; I could not imagine a future so awful in which that could happen, or a man so soulless, who might have even has his own children, that he would give or execute such an order. This impression of this total lack of empathy or compassion on the Nazis’ part was horrifying, because it is hard to understand the circumstances in which this would be considered acceptable. Even now, it is obvious to see that we have moved forward in terms of acceptance of other faiths and races and we must preserve this tolerance in our society, but also promote it all over the world.

It is too late for the victims of the Holocaust, and one of the slightly uplifting things about the visit was the Oshpitztin visit, a graveyard for Jews, which clearly demonstrated to me that there was some respect for the Jews, and I was happy that someone had deemed them worthy to be given the blessing of a gravestone, of a resting place where their loved ones could come to mourn them. As we all know, there were far more victims of the Holocaust that could not be given the privilege of a burial, or a grave, but it gave me hope that even in a situation where so many acted so wrongly, there will be others who will do what is right.

Hope is a vital part of this experience; you must see the worst of consequences to understand the possibility of a recurrence of another situation such as this, and in turn, predict how much better the world could be without such threats. This project was not just about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau; it was about understanding the world and learning the lessons that must be passed on to all of us to prevent us making the same mistakes as our predecessors.

We ended our trip with a ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust, and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced; we heard stories and songs to wish the victims well in their afterlife, wherever they may be. In Jewish tradition, candles are left in memory of the dead, so to conclude the ceremony, we each left a candle on the ground in memory of the prisoners. Seeing the light of all of those candles glowing together, as one, was incredibly moving – it was beautiful. It was alive.

The whole experience taught me so many lessons, especially to appreciate the gift of life; a fragile thing which we could lose it at any time. No one can know for sure what the future holds, and after having this experience, some of us were left with the sense that there can be no God, no justice, if this could happen. After the program, I simply believe that all we can do is keep our faith strong not only in our chosen Gods, but in humanity as a whole, as it is only us who can prevent such acts from occurring by reflecting on the past, learning from the mistakes we have made and teaching our children to do the same.

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7 Responses to “Confronting Auschwitz and Birkenau”

  1. John Whitbread says:

    The value of human life is beyond any imagination of humanity to calculate. What I have learned only recently are the ways in which those who were forced to live in these death camps resisted and rejected the horror and the hatred whenever they possibley could, by celebrating life in defiance of evil and death. They met, they loved, they married, they made instruments and they played music, had plays and even had concerts. They danced and laughed in the face of the most vile persecution. In the midst of the most unimaginable suffering, terror, torment and heartache. They declared to the world that love is stronger than death. The God of Israel is the God of life. Micha mocha Adonai! God bless Israel and the Jewish people.

  2. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

    Sent: Sun, Jan 27, 2013 2:02 pm.
    Subject: UN Remembers Holocaust Victims – 2013.

    Our, the Jews, message to the world: The hands of time trends to cloud the world' memory. It is our responsibility to rescue the history and lessons of the Holocaust just as the men and women that we honor on this Holocaust Memorial Day rescued the victims.

    UN Remembers Holocaust Victims.

  3. . I recently bowed out of the interfaith Holocaust service, because it was a custom to include Hatikvah at the end, but now some Christian groups object as they support the Palestinians and the Muslim Imams would either sit or leave during the Hatikvah. Perhaps interfaith Holocaust programs no longer make sense, at least to me. I do not need the stress of seeing disrespect being afforded to Israel and nor do I wish to compromise by leaving Hatikvah out. The interfaith Holocaust memorials started as well intentioned way for the Jewish people and other groups to pause and reflect on man's capacity to perpetuate unbelievable cruelty against his fellow and to commiserate as a group and others, with the Jews and hopefully prevent this nightmare from reoccurring. Over the years it was understandably modified to include other victims of genocidal mass killings, though these mass killings were not really analogous, as the Nazis were obsessed at not just killing Jews as a competing group, but Hitler desired to eliminate our creed and it's pervasive influence on humanity, particularly Christian doxy. As a result of Muslim participation and twisted liberalism, this is morphing into a twisted canard where Israel is being blamed for perpetuating ethnic killings against the Palestinians as the Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis. One can understand the Islamo-Nazis belief system with a quote from the Talmud. We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are. RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG, CHILD OF Holocaust survivors and a refugee born in a D.P. camp.

  4. Whenever we hear from the media, like America's Al-Jazeera The Huffington Post or most of mainstream media about Israeli "occupation" or the poor "oppressed 'Palestinian' people". We forget, (mostly encouraged by our politicians and groups like CAIR and the BDS movements and especially American universities), WHY there's a state of Israel in the first damn place. Educate yourself to the truth and who the enemy is. And make no mistake the "enemy" is alive and well.

    The Haj by Leon Uris.
    The Source by James Michener.
    Muslim Mafia by Gaubatz and Sperry.
    Because They Hate by Brigitte Gabriel.
    “Slavery, Terrorism and Islam” and “Holocaust in Rwanda” by Peter Hammond.
    The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America by David Horowitz.
    Ivory Towers On Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America by Martin Kramer.
    The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism by Andrew G. Bostom
    The Legacy of Jihad by Andrew G. Bostom MD
    A Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas F. Madden
    The Book of Jewish Knowledge by Nathan Ausubel.
    Justice Not Vengeance by Simon Wiesenthal.
    The New Moody Atlas of the Bible by Barry J. Beitzel
    The Al Qaeda Reader by Raymond Ibrahim.
    Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law.
    Sahih al-Bukhari (With Sheikh Humaid's article on Jihad and plug by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid).
    The Koran: Pickthall.
    The Quran: Yusuf Ali: Translated by Prof. Syed Vickar Ahmed.
    Holy Qur'an with Commentary: Maulana Muhammad Ali.
    The Second Message of Islam by Mahmoud Mohamed Taha.
    Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives have Penetrated Washington by Paul Sperry.
    American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us by Steven Emerson.
    Stop the Ilamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance by Pamela Geller.
    Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores by Michelle (the hottest woman on the planet) Malkin.

  5. On January 27, 1945 the death camp Auschwitz, where 1,000,000 Jews were exterminated, was liberated by the Allies.

    Remember and Never Forget the Holocaust must be summed in two simple words:

    Support Israel!

    The Jewish nation redemption and vindication will only come through a larger and more powerful Jewish state.

    A safe, impregnable Israel, in its present borders, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, is the only true memorial to the genocide-Holocaust, where one of every three Jews in the world was exterminated.

    All the rest is commentary and bad theatre. rabbi dr. bernhard rosenberg

  6. Inbar Aberman says:

    Thanks so much for publishing this, so shocked to see this here!

  7. Anonymous says:

    The recurring questions which haunts survivors and their children echo through the halls of time. “Why didn’t they fight back? Why did they enter the chambers of death like sheep to the slaughter?” By our standards, such actions as placidly lining up against a wall to be shot or walking silently into the gas chambers or standing nude and obedient at the edge of a ravine filled with blood-covered bodies awaiting one’s own turn to die, defy all understanding. Indeed, anti-Semites would suggest that Jews were different, somehow not quite as brave, not quite as courageous as the average person. Our enemies will even conclude that the Jews were guilty of the crimes they were accused of, and hence with heavy conscience and accepting the punishment for their “crimes,” the Jews quietly submitted to their deserved punishment.

    Nothing could be a greater falsification of the truth. The hopelessness seen in their faces was not a reflection of guilt; rather it was a realization that they had been completely deserted and betrayed by humanity. The light of morality, conscience and brotherhood had been completely extinguished and for them life became a terror-filled abyss. Responsibility for their death clearly lies with the Nazis and their collaborators.

    Warsaw Ghetto uprising lasted as long as France’s resistance against Germany…Until a Jew is convinced that he or she is going to die anyway, armed resistance is suicide and suicide is not a goal. That applies to all Jews, regardless of religious leanings…dying with a weapon in your hand had meaning…The overwhelming majority of the resisting Jews were not trained soldiers, with almost no weapons and very little information, and had no idea what they were doing, yet, what they accomplished is incredible, if you think of the sabotage they carried out and other things, in all respects, not just in military terms.

    מרד

    Not all Jews went "as sheep to slaughter," as they engaged in uprisings and breakouts at camps, death pits and mass murder sites, as well as attacks on the German military. Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

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Auschwitz and Birkenau

Hope is a vital part of visiting the death camps in Europe.

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