April 18, 2012 | 11:08 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
When reaching the 11th grade here, in Israel, you get a chance to go with your classmates on an eight-day journey to Poland, partially sponsored by school. This journey follows the years of the Holocaust, and is an opportunity for a different way of learning about the worst time of the Jewish people.
It took me a while to decide on whether I want to join this trip or stay home. I always chose to avoid the horrors as much possible, and found the possibility of remaining in my bed during Holocaust Day the best solution.
I boarded the plane in the summer of 2007, along with 120 11th graders from my school and several teachers, feeling like I could have done many better things with myself this week. I started writing a journal, hoping to come to great realization, but found myself being rather cynical at first. This cynicism gradually turned into many serious realizations and ended with great appreciation.
For this year’s Israeli Holocaust Day, which is this mentioned tomorrow, I translated my journal to English for you to read.
After months of preparation and four days of packing, the big day arrived. Considering my endless inner-arguments on whether to go on this journey or stay home, I was expecting to feel excitement, tension or even curiosity, but got nothing.
I am writing to you, dear Diary, from room 214, hoping you could be my writing surface (and a dear friend). I Hope will be able to write everything that I feel, even what I won’t share with my friends. I am going on this eight-day journey on purpose to feel more confident and stronger. This is a journey of self-discovery, while digging deep into our painful history. You have the honor of being the diary of a person who wishes she had someone else’s journal from Poland to read before deciding to go on this trip.
I’m still not sure if I am where I should be right now. Maybe I should’ve stayed home…
Yours truly, searching for meaning,
Today we all received a necklace with a Star of David, and a distinct order to tuck it under our shirts. Signs of Hebrew are forbidden, just in case…I’ve never worn a Star of David necklace, and for my first time- I have to hide it.
This hiding of my nationality felt like the beginning of a meaningful Zionist process, or was it…?! The day started with a visit to a Jewish cemetery, hiding between a shopping center and a McDonald’s branch. The only connection this cemetery had with the Holocaust was a formal tombstone for Yanush Korchack, and another one for a group of unknown men who jumped off a train on their way to a concentration camp and got caught. We all found this visit a bit weird, and I was convinced this is our teachers’ way of easing us into the Holocaust atmosphere. I realized I was wrong when the next stop was an hour at the shopping center.
Next we went to Rapapport monument, where I finally felt something- my stomach growling. From there, we went to an Israeli restaurant for dinner, with menus in Hebrew and Israeli music. What can I say- there’s no place like Poland…
Yours truly, searching for a cornflake that fell on the floor,
“Quiet, quiet, let’s be silent,
Dead are growing here
They were planted by the tyrant
See their bloom appear.
All the roads lead to Ponar now.
There are no roads back
And our father too has vanished,
And with him our luck.
Still, my child, don’t cry, my jewel
Tears no help commands
Our pain callous people
Seas and oceans have their order
Prison also has its border
Our torment is endless
Today I walked in a forest of death. My foot left a print on the ground where bleeding people were dragged, and their screams for help were silenced, swallowed by the tall, dark trees. Back then, those tall trees witnessed what our minds are far from comprehend. Today all they witness are camera flashes and teenagers wearing delegation T-shirts, looking around and trying to understand.
Today, I stood silent as the teacher prayed for those who were buried alive underneath our feet, shaking the ground with a cry for help, which slowly faded away.
Today, I shed a tear while listening to “Angels’ tears” (a famous Israeli song by Yoni Rechter), a cellphone vibration in the background, while angels are watching from high above, whispering the lyrics with us.
Today I lit a candle near a pit hole, where my brothers and sisters were thrown to the chilling howl of drunken Nazi beasts.
Today I lit a small flame as an attempt to memorialize six million.
Today I marched into Auschwitz Birkenau, carrying an Israeli flag. I walked on the railroad that carried hundreds of thousands to their death, and waved the flag that those who built this place intended to never exist. It doesn’t matter how I write it, this feeling cannot be described on paper. You have to be there to feel this intense, powerful, complicated feeling. My classmates were really supportive. We marched, hugged together, in a concentration and destruction camp that remained almost the same way as it was 60 years ago. The only difference is that instead of the smell of scorched bodies, there’s the salty smell of tears. There is blue sky instead of no sky. Other than us, there was a church group, led by a priest, who also came to witness the unbelievable. I can’t describe the joy I felt knowing we are not the only ones who care.
We held a short service inside one of the old cabins there. We sat in the dark, quietly, and those of us who wanted to, got up in turn, and read the names of his or her family members who went into one of the “camps” and never came back. One by one, we commemorated by name, those who were stripped from their identities. I was shivering when I read names of relatives I didn’t get to know. “We are only 100 people, and look how many names have been read”, one of my classmates whispered to me.
One by one, we begin to appreciate what we have. I am very lucky to be here today with my friends.
Searching for one truth,
Somewhere in the town of Lublin, amongst a neighborhood and an enormous field of beautiful flowers, lie the remains of Majdanek Ghetto. We wandered around the ghetto, while following the written story of a than 13 year old girl named Hilena.
Cabins. Lines of Cabins, where many memories are preserved. One of them was filled with an uncountable amount of shoes. I still find it hard to comprehend that in each pair, once walked a person.
We entered gas chambers, where Jews were led into after a proper sterilization. Get the irony, dear diary? The Nazis, who made terrible crimes, murdered, and treated people like they were animals or even less, were actually very neat. Sons of bitches. The walls are colored in Cyclon-B blue, drenched in horror and filled with scratch marks.
My reaction to the crematorium I simply couldn’t contain. The shock was more powerful than the tears that ran out. Here, in those ovens I stand in front of, people were cremated, sometimes alive. From this chimney, the smoke of people came out. Right here, next to the hill of ash we now surround.
Right before I was about to start singing at the service, the tap opened and the tears started running. I stood in front of everybody, trying really hard to sing, while my friend put her arm around me, and saw everybody, every single person that I go to school with- cry.
It was very cold outside, but no one complained. We won. We are standing here, alive, with a country of our own. We all stood in a circle, holding hands, and feeling like we’ve never felt before.
I am filled with appreciation to my family, to the fat in my body, to the shoes I am wearing. Slowly, everyone is starting to realize what is given to us. I am so lucky to be.
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