Alyse Dan

About five months ago I took part in the March of the  Living, a trip where I traveled from Poland to Israel. The  March of the Living is a Jewish organization that takes 16  and 17 year-olds for two weeks to visit Poland and Israel,  both places that mark history for the Jews. During this  trip we were to visit concentration camps and reflect on  the Holocaust. The job of the participants was clear: to ensure  that the world will never forget what our people, as well as so  many others, went through. We had all attended seminars and  workshops to prepare for this trip, but no matter how long or  how much I attempted to prepare myself, nothing could have  prepared me for what I saw. What I saw was the evidence of  the deaths of millions who deserve to never be forgotten.

Our trip began in Poland, the place where six million innocent  people were brutally murdered in the place where they called  home. We arrived in the evening on April 17th, and by the  evening of April 18th, we were ready to leave. We could not  take a step without thinking about those who had died  there. We traveled to concentration camp after concentration camp, witnessing a  methodical area that was designed to kill the most Jews in the fastest period of  time, making sure to embarrass them as much as possible. We saw gas chambers  where my family members and so many others suffocated until their wretched  death, and then we saw where their bodies had been taken and burned into ash.  Over the course of a week, we traveled to Treblinka, Plashow, Auschwitz, Birkenau  and Majdanek. Five places that we walked into fully aware that if something were to  go wrong, we could all simply leave without a second thought. Five places that  millions walked into, never to leave again.

It took me a while to fully process what I was experiencing. The first concentration  camp that we visited was Treblinka. I remember feeling numb upon walking into this  foreign place. As I looked around the camp that once was a place filled with buildings  that held horrible secrets, I could not feel anything besides numbness. The camp was  now a barren place that held no resemblance to the one that had existed; all that  remained were bleak tombstones remembering those who had been murdered. I  stared around at the sight in front of me but inside of me it felt as if I had walked  outside on a cold winter’s day in nothing but a t-shirt. I was completely hollow inside.  As we continued our journey to Plashow and then Auschwitz I continued to feel  nothing. I tried so hard to be sad or at least to cry, but nothing would come.

On the day of April 23, 2009 all nine thousand March of the Living participants from  around the world took part in the annual March of the Living from Auschwitz to  Birkenau. The March of the Living is held each year in contrast to the Nazi Death  Marches that hundreds of thousands of Jews and others were forced to undergo  toward the end of World War II. Many of the prisoners perished during these  gruesome marches. We completed the very same walk in complete and utter  silence, holding hands with those next to us. As we entered Birkenau the sight was  startling. In the middle of the camp there were train tracks, the very same that had  lead millions to their deaths.

Everywhere you looked you could see smashed buildings, and then at the very end of  the camp were the gas chambers, which lay in ruins. The wires that once gave power  to these sick buildings stuck out from the ground as if they were tree roots that had  been there for hundreds of years. These “roots” held the secret stories, the wails, and  the screams of those six million that perished. They were our history, our roots.

My eyes followed the wires until the end, where my focused blurred until it  refocused upon the broken walls around me. There were scratches etched into  them. These were the scratches made by those trying desperately to hold on to  every last inch of life that they could. These were the scratches of lost hope. As I  ran my fingers along the ruble, I felt the cool chill of death pass through my body.  I could feel the ridged surface beneath my fingers, each new mark representing a  new death. My hand suddenly began to sting, as if the sorrow and pain etched into  these imperfections were slicing into my hand and seeping into my heart.

Eventually we made our way into the barracks, the buildings where the victims  were forced to live. It was here that we first heard the survivors talk about their  experiences in the war. It was here that my numbness began to fade. My body that  had been frigid and cold suddenly began to feel as though it were on fire.

My emotions startled me and at first I could not really make sense of what I was  feeling. Still trying to make sense of it all, I continued to listen to the survivors  amazing stories and suddenly I began to cry. Hot, searing tears began to fall from  my eyes and I was struck with a sudden realization. I was angry.

I was mad that someone could do something so monstrous such as murdering  innocent people. I was mad that the survivors who had gone with us on the trip, as  well as their family and friends, had to suffer so much at the hands of evil. But most  of all, I was angry at the unfairness of it all. I was mad that after spending a few mere  hours in a place where so many entered never to leave again, that I could simply just  walk out without a second thought. I stood there in the barrack rooted to the spot,  my hands curled into fists at my side with burning tears rolling down my face. I had  never felt so angry; my whole body was shaking with uncontrolled rage. It was at  this point that I realized that I would be sure to never forget, and I would make sure  that the rest of the world did so as well.

I left for this trip a naïve girl, but came back a changed woman. How do you come  back from a trip like this and return to normal? The answer is simple: you don’t.  I had grown up knowing the facts of the Holocaust, but it never seemed real to me.  Now it is more real than ever, for I saw the evidence first hand. Millions sat by and  did nothing while millions more died at the hands of the Nazis. It is up to us to take  a stand and fight to ensure that a Holocaust never happens again.

The world can still be evil and hold prejudices; no war will ever be able to stop that  from happening. All we can do is never forget and make sure to never let another  Holocaust happen again. My name is Alyse Dan and I will never forget.

Alyse Dan, grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, was a participant in the 2009  March of the Living program.