Monday, August 21, 2006

mydonek continued

I'm outside now. There must have been a million shoes in there. Nazis kept everything. People lived here in the barracks. They are so dark and so small and probably so cold. I am now looking at the beds. Each "bed" held about 15 people. They would talk to eachother at night and dream of food. Their mother's cooking. I love my mother's cooking. We just sang the Hatikvah inside the barracks. I never missed Israel so much. I am now sitting next to a huge dome and under it are ashes of people killed in harvestfest. I've never cried so much in my life. We all cried. I just left the worst place I have ever been in my life.
We went straight to the Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin. Rabbi Meyer Shapira established the idea of Daf yomi. He was a very young man and came up with the idea to build this yeshiva. He created it with a dorm and a kitchen. He had to go from place to place to collect money.
If you wanted to be part of this yeshiva you needed to know shas by heart. Before one would get smicha from him one would have to live with him for a month. If someone came to ask the Rav a question, the person wanting smicha would have to answer. Three years after the yeshiva was finished, he passed away. The nazis came here and took the library outside to burn. The flames burned for 20 hours.
We ate dinner at the other hotel at about 11 and didn't check into ours until about 12.

Friday, August 11, 2006

(I am going to post about my day in Mydonek in parts, it is way too long to do all at once

Today we will be going to Mydonek. Mydonek, the place where unlike yesterday- everything is still intact and visual. I am very scared. My stomach is doing somersaults. I was about to say I don't know if I can handle it but is that fair? How can I say that? I have to stop thinking so selfishly. They didn't have a choice!! I don't have my whole morning on paper because I got very bus sick and even through up in a Polish alley way, take that anti-semites! We are now in the Lublin Ghetto. We are sitting in front of a castle built by King Kajemia in the 14th century. Jews lived at the foot of the castle until the Shoa. Lublin became the center for Jewish Poland. The Vaad Arba Artzot passes laws regarding Jews and they meet twice a year, they were given legal recognition by the king. They passed laws such as woman cannot wear furcoats because it may start anti semitisim. The Chasidic movement began in Lublin. Jews thrived here even with anti-semitism. The catholic university here preached anti-semitism. At the beeginning of the 20th century, the Jews move into the ghetto. The nazis decided to make Lublin the center of their killing operations- operation Reinhart. They turned the whole place into nazi city. They choose it because it is the center of Jewish life. During the war, the castle is used as a prison by the gestapo. 300 craftsman were kept in the castle to make beautiful things for the nazis. They were killed in harvestfest in Mydonek. Where the Jewish community used to be is now a parking lot- beginnings of holocaust denial. We are now standing in front of a Jewish orphanage in which the nazis killed and captured everyone. The Lublin ghetto was the first established and it was the harshest. October 1942, the final liquidation of the ghetto. In July 1944, Lublin is liberated by the Russians. The Jews that are liberated start to pour into Lublin. From here, they are taken to Israel, they are given a gun and fought for their country. They built it.
It took us about 5 minutes to get from the main town to Mydonek. We were driving along looking at houses and all of a sudden the houses stopped and the concentration camp started. People lived on the outskirts, it is unbelievable!
I am about to enter hell.
This was originally set up to be a labor camp for the Russian POWs and later for the Jews. In 1942 it was turned into a death camp. After Warsaw uprising, Helena Birnbaum and her family were sent to Lublin. They were met by the SS and forced to walk by foot. She got here holding on to her mother tight. She sees people in uniforms moving huge boulders, she says people are working, that means they are living. It gave her hope. Her only worry is- how will her mother do the hard work? She figures she will help. The SS man seperates men from women. Her brother says "don't lean on mommy, go with my wife." Helena and Hela walk together arm and arm, and marched down a mountain. She gets to a white house where the commander of the camp lives and has parties every night. We will now take Helena's path. She gets to the gas chamber and screams for her mother (she doesn't know she has already been taken in) Hela turns to her and says "From now on, I am your mother." They were taken into the building they think they will die. But, this building was both a shower and a gas chamber, they both came out alive. Helena survived.
I am about to go inside a gas chamber. The first room the hair was removed. The second room was the shower room, gas came out of the shower heads, there should be traces of it. Holocaust deniers claim that since there is no green there was no gas but it is in the other rooms. The first shower is only water, it opens the pours to kill faster. The second room has zyclon b The third room has carbon monoxide. I just noticed that there are windows in the shower. Windows, for people to look through and watch!!! I see the green on the ceiling. I even see people's scratch marks on the wall as they held on taking their last breath. I'm crying. I just passed the last room. I am outside again breathing air. I am lucky to be able to do that. Thank G-d. I can just imagine a little girl, gripping onto the wall as her last breaths are taken from her. I am almost speechless. The sun is shining right now, I still cannot believe I am sitting here. I still cannot believe the windows. The nazis who are supposed to be humans watched as a little baby fell from her mother's arms while they all gasped for breath. I cannot believe it, I want to go home.
I am looking around now and I cannot imagine walking around here and what it must have been like to live in constant fear. All of a sudden I really miss my family. I want to hug them so tight and never let go. My mother is claustraphobic just like me and my sister and I have asthma. The little girl who scratched the wall never got to see her family again. The houses in the town are, like I said, very close. People live not far from where these people are being gassed. I just cannot believe it. After they were murdered, the bodies were taken to the other side of the camp to be burned. The daily routine here: 5am-6am Revellie, cleaning of barracks, roll call, formation of work brigade
6am-6pm work, lunch, work
9pm supper, roll call, free time
9pm-5am lights out
Right now I am starting at a showcase entitled "toys taken from children." There are dolls, and books. This makes me cry a lot. The next showcase has private possesions- a watch, glasses, toothbrushes, razors. On the wall are pictures of people and under their picture is their name, profession and when they died. There is no number. These are people and they were treated like dogs! On another wall are pictures of Nazis, their name and rank. These are supposed to be people.
I have to sit down. There is a case of hair. Next to it they show all the things they made out of the hair. I am going to be sick. I keep on walking. "urns of humans ashes," container of zyklon b, pictures. Tons of pictures. They took pictures. corpses. Tons of corpses. I still cannot stop thinking about the hair. The germans used everything!
I really miss my family. I don't know why I keep writing this but the thought keeps popping into my head. There are so many things whirling through my head right now but yet, I am speechless.
A room filled with shoes. Every single kind of shoe imagineable. A little shoe. A shoe of a child. An innocent little child. I cannot stop crying. Another one, a worn out mary jane. That did it. I got to the end. I have never cried so many tears. I am going to be sick.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Elior and I asked for our wake up call for 6. At 7:45 I got up to go to the bathroom. From now on, I guess we cannot rely on wakeup calls. We made record time though. 35 minutes to get dressed, bring our luggage down to the bus, eat, and make our lunch. We are going to Treblinka today. I am not completely sure what I am going to see there but whatever it is, I know I am not ready. I am on a bus right now on my way to Treblinka. On a bus, with comfortable seats. We have a lot of food, and we even have a bathroom. My parents, brothers and sister are safetly tucked away in their American beds right now, and last of all, I know where I am going. The driver just told us that we are going "Biazstock" which means East. The Jews on the trains were told the same thing. They had such false hope. It is truly unfathomable to me what they were going through. Before we go to Treblinka we are going to Tykocin, a shul. As we walked into the shul, they told us to close our eyes. Maybe to better the impact of the beauty. This shul is 400 years old. This was not a Chasidic town. The people in this town were very wealthy. This town was very famous for the taletot they made. The walls of the shul are very thick, it is built almost like a fort and was very often used as one. All over the walls of the shul are tefilot. Not everyone had a siddur so this is how they would daven. This shul, in a way is Hitler's dream come true. He wanted to make museums to dead Jews. People that lived here were killed by Hitler and now people pay to come here. We now are walking through the Rynek, the Jewish marketplace. Everything here is exactly how it was, I feel like I am walking through time. Life was good here until 1941. In June, the Russians pulled out of Tykozen and the polish take over. Himmler says the Geneva laws will no longer apply and prisoners will no longer get any respect. He wants to get rid of all the Jews at the same time. He set up the Eisanzgruin where they went through towns and slaughtered Jews. They would come into town and shoot every Jew they saw. They would line them up make them dig their own grave, strip them, shoot them and make their polish neighbor bury them. When they began the Final Solution they came to this marketplace and gathered all the Jews. One line would be women, children and sick and the other line men. They lined them up according to height. They made them sing Hatikva and put them into trucks and drove them into the forest. In the pits dug by their Polish neighbors, they are shot. Some managed to escape, but the next day are caught by Polish neighbors and are given to Germans. We are walking through the forest where they were killed.

We are almost at Treblinka. My stomach is absolutely churning. We are here. There is absolutely nothing here, it is hard to imagine what was here. It began as Treblinka I. The Commandants and SS lived here with the "Golden Jews" (selected Jews chosen to live to serve them) The SS had a wonderful life here. They had parties every night. On the edge of the place where they were burning Jews they were celebrating life. The first commander, Edrich appoints Stanghold to run Treblinka. He turns Treblinka into a killing factory. Stranghold would wear white gloves. He watched the killing but would never touch a Jew. After the war, he hid in Brazil. When he was captured he was asked why he had to torture, he said that by dehumanizing them it was easier to kill them. No names, no faces...just like a heard of sheep. The trains on the way here had people piled up to the ceiling without water, and without a bathroom. There was a bucket. The train smelled horrible. People were dying of thirst. There were live people laying on top of the dead. When the doors of the train opened, people were so happy to be outside. The clock at the station said 2:00, it always did. There was a large sign to greet them that said "You are at a transit camp, from here you will go to a labor camp. You must present your clothes, everyone must bathe before continuing the journey, give in all your belongings for a receipt and it will be redeemed later." They would see a building that looked like a hospital. It was really a facade. There were really pits there. Sick people were sent there and they were really shot and killed. The rest were sent from an undressing room through a tube with flowers around it that they had to run through. We are now going to take that route. The men and women undressed seperately. There were hooks to hang clothes up. They were decieved up until the last possible second. The barbers would cut their hair and make them think they were getting a nice haircut. After, they would run through the tube, they were whipped to make them run faster which caused them to be out of breath (out of breath made the gas absorb quicker) There were 13 gas chambers that were crowded and squished. Mothers are holding their babies and the doors are slammed shut. Within 20-25 minutes, everyone in the chamber was dead. There was no record keeping in treblinka, no one was kept alive. Afterwards everything was hidden. In August of 1943, the prisoners decided to rise up, until that point there was a high suicide rate. When they decided to revolt, they suddenly had a reason to live. The Gold Jews had access to ammunitions and they got the ukrainian prisoners to cooperate. The nazis decided to take a swim in the river. While this was happening the Jews dumped kerosene all over and set the whole place on fire and ran into the woods. 500 made it into the woods. The ss find some and killed a couple of 100. Others were killed in the forest. Their outbreak inspired other camps to break out. Nazis dug up dead bodies and burned them and spread ashes over the forest. They plowed over everything..."nothing happened here.."
November 3, 1943, Germans had had enough. They decided to finish the polish Jews off. Operation Harvest Festival- they gathered and shot 43,000 Jews in one day. Yanish Kortchek is the only person that has a stone here with his name. He was born in 1878 in Warsaw as Henry Goldshmit. He was a pediatrician and dedicated work to children. In 1912, he was the head of the Jewish orphanage in warsaw. He had no personal life, no family. He thought children should be treated as people within themselves. Within his orphanage he tried to restore faith in the world. When the anti-semitism got worse, his financial help began to dwindle. He had to raise money on his own. He went to Israel in 1934 to get money. As the war went on it became harder. Him and his head nurse began to prepare children for a hike in nature. He told them to be ready. He told them to be proud and not to cry. The Germans want to embaress them. When the SS surround the ghetto, 192 children were brought to umshlagplatz. Polish Jews tried to smuggle him out but he insisted on staying with the children until the end.
I am no sitting here alone among the memorial stones. It is very hard for me to picture what went on here. The Germans did a very good job in hiding what went on. If I didn't know it, I would never know anyone was killed here. Scary...
The way they walked us through it and told us stories made me able to picture it a little better. I can't believe that I am sitting in a spot right now where many people were killed. We take everything for granted every day. I went to the bathroom on the bus on our way here- twice. I get claustraphobic, I never would have survived the train ride alone! What if I was there? I could have been! My life can (chas veshalom) easily turn from what they had to what they became. Atleast they did not know. The false hope the Germans gave them prolonged the feeling of dying for as long as possible. There are so many trees around me. Trees that are only fertile because of the asahes that were thrown there. This thought makes me sick. If I didn't know I'd say "wow, what a beautiful landscape. The trees are so green." Little would I know it's all with thanks to my ancestors and what could have been potential friends' ancestors.
After our alone time we had a tekes. I along with others read. I read a poem:
There is a sea of stones here, placed over shattered dead earth, rough edged and ripped from tehir places, each one a symbol of a town, a city, and those stolen from it. More died here each day then there are people I will ever know. How could this help? How could this massacre of the innocent have done anyone any good? As my body wanders through the maze, the very stones cause me to stumble, like desperate, withered, hands, clawing at me, dragging me down, not out of malice, but because they are so cold, so lonely, so empty.
After we all read we sang two songs. The singing brought tears to my eyes. I felt like all the voices singing were one voice. Afterwards we had a moment of silence and kaddish.
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at the gur beis medrish, where Rabbi gave a dvar torah. We ate dinner at about 10:30 and then listened to Lady Emily speak. She told us of the trial that is going on in England right now. David Irving against Deborah Lipstadt. Irving is a holocause denier. Lipstadt is a Jewish Historian and wrote bad things about him. He is now suing her for libel. In order to win the case, she must prove that the holocaust actually happened. Tommorow they will reach a verdict. It is really scary that the verdict can totally change Jewish history forever.
Tommorow we will go to Mydonek.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

So I decided to type up my diary from poland. I also decided to skip over the Prague part of the trip, perhaps I will type it up later. We did visit beautiful shuls and kevarim there as well as the ghetto that was there but I am not sure if people will find it as interesting as the rest of the trip. Just a note: I am making no edits, This is how I wrote at 18 years old.
So off to Poland..

I am sitting on the bus now waiting to leave. I am definitely not looking forward to this 12 hour ride at all. (we traveled from Prague to Poland after Shabbos, it was a 12 hour ride through the night) I took a dramamine about 10 minutes ago so that combined with my exaustion should be kicking in real soon. Shabbos was beautiful. Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat was Carlebach and absolutely amazing. Same goes for Shabbos day. After lunch we took a walk over Charles Bridge. We walked for 8 miles, wonderful on my feet! The singing and lunch/dinner and shalushudis was amazing.

Well, I almost made it. I never knew the meaning of a bad night sleep until now. Sleeping on a bus is not ideal. I slept in 1-2 hour intervals. I'd wake up either because my neck was in pain or because I desperately needed the bathroom. I have no idea how many hours I actually slept but whatever it was it defintely was not sufficient. We just stopped all of the busses in a parking lot by the hotel (in Poland) to Daven and eat. While we were davening 3 Polish guys from a higher floor in the hotel were screaming out in Polish and blasting music. I do not understand Polish so I do not know what they were saying. Maybe I was experiencing Anti-Semitism, maybe I was just expecting to experience Anti-semitism and they weren't doing anything at all.
We are in Warsaw now. We passed the Nozyk Synagogue. It is the only shul in Warsaw that still remains. We are now in the middle of what used to be small ghetto. After 1942, it was obliterated and was no longer Jewish. There is a church here and the reason for this is because according to Hitler, a Jew is someone that has one Jewish grandparent. A lot of people like this, still practiced Christianity. The Nazis told the Jews that they were moving into a Jewish Quarter, a special area just for Jews. They said it would be better for them. They didn't know it was a closed ghetto. There were only 230 calories per person per day. There were 450,000 people in little ghetto. There were people living in the streets and dying. The Germans then decided to increase the rations because they wanted to use these people for slave labor. 80 percent of the food in the ghetto was smuggled in by children under 12 who did not have to wear arm bands. They snuck out and stole food. Many were caught and killed. In the summer of 1942 300,000 Jews were sent from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka. Afterwards the remaining Jews began to plan the uprising.
We are now walking to the Jewish cemetary. The people that are buried here are the lucky ones that were able to be buried in a Jewish Cemetery, not like many other Jews. Many Gedolai Hador are buried here. The cemetery is on street called Ocapova which means moat. At the beginning of the war, the Jews were allowed to bury bodies here. After a while, the Nazis no longer allowed single graves. Jews would sneak into the cemetery and meet non- Jews from adjacent cemeteries to smuggle goods.
Back to the Ghetto- The Jews had to construct walls and it had to be built within existing houses. They were commanded to board up windows facing the outside of the ghetto. If they stuck their head out, they would be shot. Any buildings that were beautiful were left out of the ghetto. Slota street is the southern most part of the small ghetto. It was the wealthy part. The northern part was more chasidic. There are 22 gates. At every gate was a Jewish, Polish and German policeman. The bricks on slota street are able to slide out and little boys sneak out to get food. A mother watches her son go and on his way back, she sees him shot. But, they are still starving so she must send another son. The 8 year old children are heroes in the ghetto. Sometimes Poles would risk their lives and throw bread over the fence. Adam Cnrnyakot writes in his diary that a kid under 12 who doesn't have to wear an arm band says "soon I will be old enough to wear an arm band." It's all they knew, it's the only way they grew up. The Jewish Police collaborated with the Nazis. They were desperate to save their lives. At first their job was just to help keep order but in 1942, their jobs changed. They had to kidnap Jewish people and bring them to umshlagplatz to transport them to Treblinka. If they did this their families would be saved. In Yom Kippur of 1942 was the last transport to Treblinka, they were all police. In the middle of the ghetto is a monument. What does it mean that the city of Warsaw put up a monument in the middle of the ghetto to honor lost Jews? It means they mourn their dead Jews but on the other hand they are not so sorry. It was a love/hate relationship. In order for peasants to do business with the polish elite, they had to go through a Jew. Local bars were all owned by Jews. There is no way a pole could avoid a Jew. When the Germans came in they figured they can take the Jew’s place but after they were gone things got worse and they realized they needed the Jews. So, the monument shows us that the poles miss the Jewish people even the hate they express shows that. The monument is built on the rubble of the Warsaw ghetto. On the bottom is a piece of black slate found in Sweden it was commissioned by an artist named Rappaport who lived in Warsaw. When he was out looking for the materials for the sculpture he came across this black slate that Hitler had planned on using to make a sculpture of himself at the end of the war. But instead, we have a hafooch, like Purim. The Brass on the sculpture was donated by a family from Ramat Gan. It symbolizes the ghetto uprising . in the middle it looks like someone is breaking out. This symbolizes Mordechai Anolevitch, the leader of the war. On top is his mother, this shows everyone that she had a part. This shows one side of the Jewish bravery during the Holocaust. The bravery not shown in the monument is the other kind. The kind that isn’t fighting. The kind where you teach your children torah and mitzvoth and make a minyan when you are not allowed to. Samuel Sigelbaum smuggled out of Poland and told everyone what was going on but no one believed him. He went to England and burned himself publicly. He wrote a letter saying he cannot live when this is happening to his people and asked that it be published. It was on the cover of the New York Times and still, no one did anything. Mordechai Anolevitch led the ghetto uprising. He convinced kids to lead this and the whole ghetto to go along with it. The young people were the only way to help because the adults were too busy looking for food. Young people smuggled in and out of the ghetto and had news from people that escaped Treblinka. They would receive notes in their pockets saying “Treblinka is dead” The young people began to believe what was going on. In order to have an uprising, they needed to list the opposition in the ghetto and there was a lot of resistance because of fear and they still thought they would survive. They needed help to smuggle in ammunition and other supplies but they needed powerful ammunition. January 1943, Himmler gives the order to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto and take 50,000 remaining Jews to Treblinka. They said they shouldn’t go like sheep to the slaughterhouse and decided to put up a fight. Himmler’s birthday present to Hitler would be on the first night of Pesach, he would liquidate the Warsaw ghetto. The Germans always use our holidays against us. They wanted to break us spiritually. Instead, we used our chag against them. After the Seder, the uprising began, some fought others went deep underground and stored food. The Jews all knew that that would be the last Seder of the Warsaw Ghetto. At 2 am, the Germans surrounded the ghetto. At 4, the fighters took their posts. At 6 am the tanks roll in and the fighting begins. The Germans were in a state of shock. They ran to nearby buildings but they were barricaded. On the first day, 200 Germans were killed and only one Jew. The fighting went on for 4 weeks. It took them 4 weeks to capture Poland but they couldn’t capture the Jews. Mordechai analovitch was hiding in bunkers with his friends. They decided to take their own lives rather than be killed by the Germans. Meanwhile, the Germans are burning down the ghetto to flush out people. They kill some and send others to Treblinka and others to Mydonek. While the ghettos are burning, the Poles are celebrating Easter. 21 fighters managed to escape by sewer pipes. People remained underground. They didn’t know the uprising was over. The umshlagplatz is the place where the Jews were forced to Treblinka, the gathering place. The Nazis told the Jews, we are taking you East on trains. They said that families would stay together, men would work and women and children would cook, they made them want to come. They packed everything and the Nazis would leave them here for days on end waiting for the train. When it finally would come, they couldn’t wait to get on. They were packed, uncomfortable, without bathrooms or food. They see signs pointing East and they believe the Nazis. After a 3 day trip, they arrive at a place with a beautiful train station. One way is East and one way is Warsaw. They tell them to get off and switch trains but first they can take a shower. They were very excited about this. After three days on a tight crowded smelly train, that is the best thing. They marched into the room. The last thing they saw in their lives is a parochet on the doorway that says “zeh hashaar tzadikim yavoh oovoh” After we heard this story, on the spot we all began to sing. Pitchu li shaarei tzedek avoh vam odecha zeh hashaar lahashem tzadikim yavoh oovoh…..
In the middle of the monument is a break with a tree. That tree symbolizes us, it is the tree of life.
Afterwards we went back to the hotel. We were finally in our rooms and finally got to eat at 10:30. After dinner we were finally able to shower and go to sleep. Tommorow, we will go to Treblinka.