As I sit here on the bus reflecting on the powerful events today, I am overwhelmed at the thought of explaining the day’s emotions, because it was truly a journey. Starting off at the Tykocin shul and shtetl this morning, I was overcome with Jewish pride. Dancing around the shul along with all participants, chaperones and survivors, I felt so proud to be in that room. I felt as though we were carrying on the legacy of the 2,100 innocent Tykocin Jews, whose lives were brutally taken from them at the hands of the Nazis. Though the town no longer has a Jewish population, the original shul still stands – the same shul these Jews must have danced in, prayed in, and rejoiced in before the war. To have honoured the 2,100 who perished this way is something I will never forget.
After we spent some time in the area where the market used to stand, we travelled to the Lupachowa forest, which we learned was the destination of the Jews after they were deported from the shtetl, as well as the place of their brutal death.
Upon our arrival, we walked silently into the forest, our silence enhanced the power of what we were recreating as we walked – the exact path that the Nazis led the Tykocin Jews toward their death.
The MOL participants and those who were prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau are an absolutely incomparable pair, but among the many emotions, I found myself thinking of one thing throughout our heart-wrenching experience in the camps. Us students and other MOL participants have the luxury in Birkenau that 90% of the prisoners that have entered did not have – we left.
Visiting and touring Auschwitz-Birkenau was the first time that all the stories and testimonies I had heard really came to life. There was never any doubt in my mind that the things I have heard about the Shoah aren’t real, but seeing the chambers in which my ancestors were murdered definitely hit me in a way that was exceedingly personal and overall “real”. Seeing the barracks in which one of our own survivors slept in opened my eyes in a way that a story could not.
It is said that those who were not in Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Holocaust will never be there, and that those who were will never leave. But this does not mean that we should stop trying to comprehend the atrocities that happened to our people.
Visiting today brought us all step closer to truly grasping the past.
The day started off weird, with happy Jews in Auschwitz. It didn’t seem normal but nothing about the Holocaust was normal, even more then 70 years after liberation nothing can really be normal. There were hundreds of different stories waiting to be told for people to cherish. We all traded shirts, hats, scarves; everything you can imagine to celebrate that Jews still thrive all around the world. The Nazis didn’t win, they did not destroy us. Then the March started. It again was weird, seeing thousands of us walk in silence to remember who we are marching for and why they couldn’t be there to March. When we got to Auschwitz II Birkenau, it started to rain. It could not have fit the mood better. We were in this horrid place that had housed and still houses millions of tears. We continued to the Yom Hashoa service. It was truly inspirational, not only being there and listening to the MCs but to see everyone there attentive and just flooding in to the camp. A Survivor spoke and told his story while wearing his Auschwitz uniform and I have never been more moved by anyone before. The 6 torches were lit and we were on our way to the barracks to hear the most horrific and inspiring survivor story I have heard. We stood in what could have been Nate Leipciger’s barrack where he was with his father for 88 Days and he survived. Today was honest to god one of the best and inspirational days I have had in my life and it was truly worth it.
Watch the full event on the March of the Living International website:
We’ve made it!! After months of anticipation and preparation, the wheels of our plane touchdown on the runway at Katowice. Arriving in Poland with expectations of grey everything, it was a pleasant surprise to see some colour and even vegetation. Now my friends and I have speculated that they grey pictures we have created for poland may spark from the black and white film and imagery which we have seen throughout the years. However, I also feel it may come from the countries dark past, which I anticipate I will learn more about throughout the week. During the day we visited the Jewish quarter of Krakow, Podgorze Ghetto, and the Plaszow memorial. All of this gave us our first look at Poland from the inside. I am certain Poland does not look like it used to, now it seems very quiet and has a certain beauty in its rolling hills and small houses on the hill sides. The day intrigued me. It made me question all that I know. It leaves me with questions as well. Is the country all bad? Has it reformed and repaired itself after the war? The small taste which my first day in Poland left me with made me want to learn me If there is one thing that I know to be certain about Poland is that it has a very full history. My goal on the march of the living is to learn. What the first day gave me was the knowledge that there is so much I do not know and so much to learn.