Majdanek Concentration Camp, 2009
It was a week before my 16th birthday, an innocent age. I stepped off the coach to tread on a land stained with tears and my innocence began chipping away.
Everyone around me was silent; the atmosphere was as thick as cement. I remember standing there, staring through the barbed wire to see the vast space that used to cage thousands of innocent men, women and children. I was on the side of freedom, allowed to be Jewish without fear of execution.
One person broke down immediately, seeing the fence was enough to rip their heart to pieces. We started to walk and suddenly we were stood in a chamber of death. Metal showerheads protruded from the ceiling. There were around 30 of us in total and the room felt claustrophobic; it terrified me to think of how many more were crammed inside.
The cries and sobs started to gain volume only to then be drowned out by the screams of Shema Yisrael.
My siddur, being stained by tears, was the only comfort I had. Clutching it to my chest, I had no idea what to say or how to feel. It’s impossible to justify it, improbable to understand.
I walked out of there knowing that decades ago, no one else was able to.
Then came the room of shoes. Long walkways, lined floor to ceiling, were filled with every single style, gender and size of footwear imaginable. Everything was brown, worn away and covered in holes. But hidden within them all was a single red shoe – a ray of colour deep inside a void of sadness.
For some reason this gave me hope; the idea of finding a glimmer of beauty in such horror shows that there can be light in every shadow. At some point, a woman wore those with pride and a smile across her face. Perhaps, on a night out with the person she loved. Who knows? But it helped me to envisage that these people had happiness before all of this destruction.
The final place we brought ourselves to was the Dome of Ashes. The gigantic mound of death in front of us was sickening, combined with the fact that a glance to the right, you can clearly see the village within close proximity. Normal gentiles, maybe some of these people’s neighbours, were carrying on their lives whilst this annihilation was happening so close to home.
Ashes are so light; the largest object can be reduced to a handful of pieces, and yet, here stood a mountain of them. Tens of thousands of people lay here, their bodies in ruins. They didn’t deserve this fate, I’m positive they didn’t anticipate it either.
There are no words to describe my life in that moment. Everything was put into perspective. What we think are big issues, what we deem are massive worries, are nothing compared to what that camp represents.
Every single Jew had their identity taken away; they became a mere number amongst the millions in captivity.
I think of how much happens in my life, then within my family’s lives, within my friend’s lives and so on. But here, laying here, were so many lives that were stopped from being lived. So much potential that wasn’t able to be reached.
The reason? Faith.
Today (January 27), we remember the atrocities that happened in a time where the sun lost its shine and the darkness gained its power.
These people deserve to be remembered because most of them have no one in the world left to mourn them.
May their souls forever rest in peace; may they finally feel the tranquility that was robbed from them on earth.
Holocaust Memorial Day, 2016 – Don’t Stand By.