In direct contrast to Treblinka, Majdanek had been left exactly as it was – so much so that it is said that it can be up and running in two hours. What really shocked me is that there are people who live next door to the camp. Their backyards are directly against the fence. I don’t understand how they live that way. We went into the gas chamber there as well and had a chance to see the depths of the deception the Germans used. The sign on the gas chamber read bath and disinfection. From the outside there was absolutely no indication of what really happened inside. As we left the chamber we met a survivor who was there with another group. At first, I was surprised to find a survivor at a concentration camp, but once I heard him speak I understood what he was doing there. He wanted so badly to share his story with us – one of the most important things for him now is to speak about what he went through. He told us how he survived the war and immediately went to Israel to join the army. Someone asked him what it was that got him through the war. Without taking a second to think, he said it was the emunah and bitachon in Hashem his parents had instilled in him. He explained that without it he would not have survived the war and would definitely not be a religious Jew today.
The most shocking thing we saw was the pile of ashes. Pile isn’t really the correct word to use. A better way to describe it would be a huge hill. Even now my stomach tightens just remembering. After the initial shock of seeing the ashes of so many kedoshim wears off, the anger sets in. Not only did the Nazis kill these poor people in the least humane way possible, but they couldn’t even give them a proper burial. They simply threw their ashes in a pile. Standing near the ashes one of our rabbeim spoke about korbanot and Akeidat Yitzchak. He said that’s what the kedoshim were, like Yitzchak on the akeidah.
As I stood by the ashes I thought once again about the number six million and how each person was an individual with a life before the war. This brought me back to everything we saw on our trip having to do with pre-war Poland. Before the war Poland was filled with a rich and vibrant Jewish life. We saw the beautifully ornate shuls that had once been filled with men coming to daven and learn. As a survivor said, they had it right – their homes were plain and simple. All their money was given to making the shuls beautiful. The walls were covered in tefillot, pesukim and gorgeously painted scenes from Tanach. The building of Yeshivas Chochmei Lublin, a powerhouse of Torah learning, is tremendous and beautiful. It gives you a small glimpse of what it must have been like in its heyday. We went to the building in Cracow where Sara Schenirer started the Bais Yaakov movement. Seeing as we were a large group of girls who owe our Jewish education to the strength of this woman, it was a very moving experience. Whenever we came to a shul or yeshiva we sang and it seemed as if the walks themselves came to life.
Another part of visiting Poland was going to the kvoros of the tzaddikim who had lived there. Through visiting those old broken cemeteries, some in the middle of nowhere, we saw just how great the wealth of Torah and mitzvos there once was there. Wherever we went there was some sort of remnant of the community where the tzaddik or tzaddikim buried there had lived.
At one point in Treblinka, I noticed a few twinkles of light near the monument marking were the gas chamber stood. As I moved closer I saw that it was tea lights lit in the shape of the letters ches and yud – chai. Right next to it was a monument I hadn’t noticed before. All it said was “Never Again” in a number of languages. Together, they make a very strong statement. The Jewish people are still standing and our very existence shows that Hitler didn’t succeed. But that fact that we are still alive means more than that. It means that we have to carry on what the “never again” stands for. It is our responsibility to pass on to the next generation what the survivors and those who did not survive experienced. It is our responsibility to make sure that the “never again’ is fulfilled.