Tonight we will travel to Poland. I am going with my daughter Abigail, she is 17 years old, a senior in “Alon” school of art in Ramat Ha’Sharon, and her school is going on this very important program to visit the camps in Poland and study more about the holocaust. For me this is an important opportunity to visit the camps, but to do it with Abigail means alot to me, so I am very excited and am looking forward to this week together, as hard and emotional as it is going to be, I am sure this will be a learning experience for both of us, this is why I have decided to start this blog, not only for me, but also as a way for me to transfer some of what happened in the Holocaust to as many people as possible and to expose it to you. I am going to publish this on my website and encourage all my friends and clients to look at this.
I am hoping to bring here my thoughts, photos, maybe some videos or voices and enable you all to experience the journey to the camps through my eyes. It will be even more important since we will experience it also through the eyes of young boys and girls, a year from now they will be in the army, but kids their age were a big part of the victims in the camps and I hope to bring some of their stories here.
Lots of preparations still ahead of me, we are leaving later tonight, got to be at school around 9pm tonight. I am busy with these preparations, but also think of my feelings once I am there. Thanks God, my family wasn’t directly effected by the Holocause, but as a Jew and an Israeli, I feel that we are all holocaust survivors and so I wonder how will I feel when I am at the camps. It will be hard and very sad, very emotional I am sure.
It is after 10pm now, we are all at the bus ready to go, lots of excitment on the bus, lots of noise, all the kids are READY to go, we have a short flight, will get there around 4am and start touring immediately, this is going to be a non-sleep night for us.
We are at the airport already. Long check-in, late night flight into Katowice, small town not too far from Krakow, small airport, we will arrive there early in the morning, hopefully get some sleep in the plane, I will keep posting.
Kids are still energetic, I don’t think that they fully get the trip yet and like young people outside of school, they are happy, not sure they will stay in this mood once we land and start touring, Poland has it’s way to make you feel sad. These who came back well described it as a ‘gray place with an athmosphere of a graveyard’. This will be an interesting experience for sure.
Time to get on the plane. They are calling our flight. Time to go !
well, we are here ! It is around 5am now, small airport, we are at Katowice, at the airport, waiting for our bags to arrive. Everyone are so tired after a long night without any sleep, but the journey begins now. I better go look for Abigail in the crowd.
6am, finally we are out of the airport, on the bus, on our way to Krakow for breakfast and beginning of our trip. We start the journey with a briefing by the security officer we have with us, then an hour drive to get some rest and sleep before we wake up again.
We met our guide Adi and our security man Shay, from now on this is the routine on this journey, being an Israeli group in a Foregin country requires to have security, requires people to be careful and keep an open eye.
This is our guide Adi:
We started our trip with a song: all the faces, all the names, all of them, all the songs they took with them …
All the people we lost during the holocaust, these are who we are going to remember
We are driving on the country roads, it’s all green and pastoral, but you can’t help it, you find yourself thinking how many Jews were murdered in these woods, this is a beautiful country, but it is the cemetery of the Jewish people.
Krakow was the Capitol of Poland, this is where all the kings and rulers of Poland are buried. We are now stopping for breakfast at the university of Krakow, next to the stadium of Krakovia, where the famous football team is playing
We are having Breakfast at the university, eating and making sandwiches for lunch as well. We have lots of places to cover, so we will not have too much time for lunch, meaning we will have to eat what we carry with us as we go. On top of that the parents sent lots of candies and the school made arrangements to have fruits on the busses, so we will not be hungry.
Jewish quarter in Krakow, the Kazimish quarter in the past: Krakow wasn’t destroyed at the second world war. More than 90% of it survived, mainly cause Hans Frank, the German governor of the “general governament” as it was called then, chose it to be the center of his ruling. Krakow of today is built from lots of red bricks, these bricks remind the survivors from Poland the hard labor they had to do during the war, they worked in camps making these bricks.
Lots of Hebrew writing as we walk through the Jewish quarter
Inscription at the entrance to Synaguge says in Hebrew: בואו שעריו בתודה חצירותיו בתהילה
Come into his gates with thanksgiving, into his quarter with praise
Inside the synagogue in Krakow:
Here we had an opening ceremony for al 7 busses together. There are around 280 of us in total. it is overwhelming to be in what used to be the biggest Jewish quarter, the Kazimish quarter, the heart of Jewish life in Krakow.
School principal welcomes all students in the synagouge, followed by Noam, the guide of bus 1, who is talking about the Jewish life in Krakow now and before the war, past and present together, pluralism and Judaism. This is a temple, mostly belongs to the reform part in judaism, it’s meaningful because at the time of the war this group in Judaism wasn’t accepted, mid 19 century, most Jews were orthodox.
The community here was very liberal, not reform, but more liberal than regular orthodox, mixutre of opinions and ways, pluralism at it’s best.
This building was destroyed during the war, it was renovated in late 80’s with donations, it’s not active today, Jewish community is only 200 people at the moment, they are usually closed and only open when Israeli journeys like us arrive here, continuing the past.
King Kazimish in the mid 15th century brought progress to Poland, he changed it from wood buildings to stone buildings, Jews got here in the 10th century from Germany and France, Ashkenazi Jews, this king gives the Jews this quarter, he had a Jewish mistress, maybe that is the reason he loved the Jews and brouhgt them to Krakow, they in return called the quarter after him. He is buried at the Vavel, where the great people of the polish nation are buried.
This was the Jewish market at that time:
The Issac schoul at the Jewish quarter – בית הכנסת אייזיק שול בקרקוב, ברובע היהודי העתיק
This Synaguge is named after Issac the jew. There is a famous Jewish story of a Jew called Issac. He lived here in Krakow and he was very poor. One night he hears a voice calling his name, it’s not his wife, and this happens to him every night. One night he hears that the voice tells him to wake up and go to Prague, he wants to go and against his wife’s opinion he goes to Prague singing all the way:
He gets to Prague and goes to the bridge that he saw in his dream. There he looks for the treasure that he saw in his dream. He looks for it under the bridge as the dream shows him, he even tells that to the guard at the bridge. The guard laughs at him and tells him: if I was following my dreams, I would go to Krakow to the house of Issac and find the treasure that is hidden there. Issac then goes back home, and under the table in his kitchen he finds the treasure as the guard told him and he then sings again the same melody. He is using the money to build this Synaguge, and it’s named after him. Today this is a museum. That melody he played is called a “Jewish Nigun”
This was a school and Synaguge of the Jews from the chezc republic:
Jews were studying Torah here all the time, we can see the sign here from these days:
The Alte schoul, the old Synaguge, the first here in the quarter.
Before the war this quarter was very busy with religious Jews but there were also Zionist Jews here, non religious, big Jewish community. This is now the museum for judaica, inside you have more than 80,000 articles, stolen by polish people during the war, some of them we managed to get back to the museum. There wee More than 67,000 Jews here before the Jews had to leave the quarter to go to the Ghetto.
This is Part of the art and judaica that was returned to the museum:
Short movie about the Graves at the Jewish Cemetery
Center of Jewish quarter , many Jews are here, famous rabbis who died here. One of them is the famous Rabbi Moshe Isterlisch, who wrote a very famous book talking about all the Jewish laws and the daily way of Jewish life.
The Wislah River:
Jews crossed over this bridge on their way from the Jewish quarter in Krakow to the Ghetto when they were ordered to leave their homes behind and move into a smaller area
Ghetto Krakow: The war begins in 1939, after 3 weeks Krakow is under occupation, the polish nation is over, it’s all under occupation, Russians in the east and Germans in the west after the molotov-ribentop agreement.
All the ghetto had 320 buildings, it was closed at 1941 with less than 400 meters, more than 20,000 people on an area where only 2500 people lived before the war. Crowded, hungry, suffering, that’s how the Jews lived here during the war, but at the same time, Jews were trying to have some sort of normal life to, to keep the education, the cultural life etc. June 1942 was the first selection (Accia the Germans called them) where Jews were sent to their death in the east. From here Jews were sent to work at the factory of Oscar Shindler or sent to their death in the camps.
The chairs we see here at this square is where German officers sat down to select the jews to be sent out of Krakow and from this square thousands of jews were sent out to death.
View to the zagouda square from the pharmacy across the street, where a polish pharmacist named Tadeush helped Jews and got the title righteous gentile thanks to what he did:
Part of the original walls of the Ghetto
After the last 6000 Jews were taken from the Ghetto and killed, the Germans destroyed the place and it became a regular part of town. Jews revolted against the Germans in Krakow and this was an inspiration for the others in Warsha to also fight against the Germans, but not much is known about the revolt in Krakow.
Oscar Shindler and the camp in Plashow:
We are standing on top of the hill, the entire valley had 2 jewish cemeteries, street is still called Jewish street and the Jewish community all was here before the war. The Germans build their working camp of Plashow on the cemetery and covered the streets of the camp with tomb stones. Germans sold Jewish workers to Oscar Shindler and others and they became forced workers, working for the natzis. The house of Amon Gat, the commander of the camp, is not on top of the hill like in the movie “Schiendler’s List” but below the hill. He shoots Jews from the balcony there, as we see in the movie. The house is at the corner of the white buildings below. More than 8,000 Jews were murdered in the camp here.
The bodies were burnt at the valley below. The monument was build after the war, they didn’t want to mention only the Jews so it is very general and talks about all the victims of the war, Jews and non Jews. The small monument talks about the Jews. Hungarian women were also sent here instead of to Birkenau at June 1944 and the smaller monument is to remember them.
The entire valley here is where 8,000 people were burnt after they were murdered. Before the end of the war the Germans destroyed the camp and got rid of the evidence, but this is the camp that the movie of Schiendler talks about.
Up to the top of the hill, overlooking the entire city of Krakow:
View from the Vavel into the Whisla river:
The symbol of Krakow is a dragon and every few minutes he fires fire from his mouth. The story says that the king of Krakow, king Krak, lived in This Castle. Of course he wanted someone to come and kill the dragon, so he promised his daughter to the man who will kill the dragon. After many try without any luck, a simple guy tried and manages to do it, he manages to blow the dragon up and the dragon sinks in the river below the castle. The location of this astle here is for control, the king needed to control the entire city from here.
Who is buried here? Leaders of the nation, not politicians, but writers, philosophers etc
Short movie about the Inside of the Castel
If I want to summarize this day, I can try and say that today we learned about the very rich life in Poland of before the war, not only economicaly but mainly spiritualy, about the elite of the Jewish people and about a world which have disappeared in flames and smoke – the sites where it all happened are there, they look very green and pastoral, yet these are the graves of a whole nation.
Tomorrow we will visit Auschwitz and Birkenau where millions of people died. What bothered most of the kids is the difference between the beautiful landscape and what happened here, they can’t believe that people today live their life where millions were killed just few years ago, it will be a deeper feeling as we get closer to the main camp.
Complex of camps, 3 camps all together, main camp is number 1, the concentration camp, number 2 is Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp where we will be going later this afternoon. Now we are on our way to the main camp Auschwitz
On the way to the camp we watched a movie, testimony of a sur vivor named Obadiah Baruch. He survived Auschwitz, married the woman he met in block 10 in the camp (where German doctors led by doctor Mengale did medical experiments on inmates, specially women) and with that woman he had 2 children, grandkids and grand-grandkids. At the end of his testimony he says: “this is my victory, I won the entire Natzi armi with their generals and doctors, I stayed alive, I sur vived, I had a family and now with my family I visit Auschwitz to make my statement: they didn’t manage to kill me !”
This testimony was vert touching, very emotional and made us all think of what we are going to see in Auschwitz
Entrance to the camp, standing in a circle, reading and listening to a reading part written by a survivor, we join more than 1 million tourists per year, in the museum and memorial.
Auschwitz begins as a concentration camp for the elite polish people, not for Jews, it is built after Dachau, and we are standing at the entrance where the selection took place, this was the command room where Rudolph Hess was, the commander of the camp. Camp in total has only 28 buildings in it. First 30 preasonrs here were criminal inmates from Germany, they became the Capos here. Each person who gets to this camp, gets a number and becomes part of the complex of Auschwitz, from camp 1 to camp 2, Birkenau and to the rest of the working factories and camps in section 3 of the camp
Buildings here are the original buildings, the outside of the camp didn’t look as it looks now, today it’s a museum, with green grass and all, there were no seating banches in the camp, this is what survivors say, camp didn’t look then as it does now, people ate the grass as well, there was nothing green in Auschwitz.
“Auschwitz is not another planet, people here didn’t have names, logic here is different, when you arrive to the camp, you are a person with a name, when you are inside the camp, you are just a number, you have no rights, you are not aperson any more. if you don’t understand this, you die”
“Arbeit Macht Frei” – the sign at the entrance to the camp, this is what you saw as you entered the camp, “Work will set you free“. This is not the original sign, the original sign was stolen around 2010 and was found later.
Group in a circle looking at the entrance sign and gate
“If you were in Auschwitz, you will never leave the camp, if you were not there, you will never fully understand it”
Electric fences, signs to warn people from getting anywhere near the fence. Sometimes people just jumped at the fence to die and end their life when they couldn’t take it any more. People here were prisoners and we have lots of documents here since Germans documented everything in very detailed way.
Each morning when inmates went out to work, the band played music as inmates were passing Hess the commander of the camp like an army parade. People saved their life playing music as entertainment for the Germans, the orcerstra also played as people were shot to death.
The fence around the camp:
The minute you entered the camp through this fence, you had to change your view of life, you had to get used to live to survive, only to survive, not enough food, no human dignity, no rights, you have to think of yourself only and to do all in your power to stay alive.
Inside block number 4, symbolic grave with ashes from Birkenau
The ashes here is a symbolic remembarance to all Jews who were killed here. Behind the window lots of hair taken from the prisoners to fill carpets and matrices. Hair looks gray cause it was taken from people who were gassed to death, their hair changed color due to the sianid water in the gas of cyclone b.
Factory like solution, Jews must pay for their deportation, must pay to be killed, must pay to be fed and kept by the Germans, they pay working for Germany and pay when they die, gold tooth, hair, bones, all are materials for the German war effort.
We are in block number 5 now. Most blocks here were residential buildings, others were used for special purposes: block 10 was for medical experiments on the inmates, run by German and polish doctors, block 11 was a jail inside the camp and 21 was a hospital. Germans kept everything from the people they killed, even suitcases, tools, shoes, jewelry etc, it was all taken from the bodies and transferred back to Germany.
Each shoe here is a complete life story, a person, with full life.
In Auschwitz there was a water pool. Close to the fence, behind the blocks, the pool was a water reservoir and was built because of the claims from the insurance company. Germans actually insured the camp, each worker here was worth 6 marks per day for the Germans, his life meant nothing, but he was making money for the Germans and lots of money to.
Block 10 is the place where German and polish doctors did experiments on women. Young Jewish women were held here and they were used for medical experiments. Led by Mengale, Clauberg and others, the German doctors did crazy experiments on people. Doctor Shmuel was a jew who was forced to help the Germans but he also did his best to help the Jews, didn’t operate on them and saved some of them.
The wall of death where inmates were executed. Block number 11 was the in-house jail in Auschwitz, inmates who smoke during work, stole food etc, were executed in front of this wall:
One of the capos here was Jacob Kozaltchik who was a boxer before, he got to the camps and cooperated with the Germans and for many years later, even when he lived in israel, he was not liked. As it turned to be, after years, they realized that he was helping the Jews here, tho he was the capo.
Square where Rudolph Hess, camp commander, was hanged on April 1947. He had 5 children, his youngest daughter was born in Auschwitz, and he wrote her a letter before he died here.
Rudolph Hess was hanged here on this spot:
Room where they burned people after they were gassed, 30,000 people were killed here and their bodies were burnt
Auschwitz 2 Birkenau
All Jews who arrived here came to the Jeden ramp at the entrance to camp. We are now sitted in front of the train rails.
March 1941 this camp was built after a direct order by Himler himself, he needs to increase the speed of building more camps in preparations to taking Russia after the Barbarosa operation will begin. Germans take the village here, build a camp and call it Birkenau meaning “building” in german. This camp was built by 10,000 Russian war prisoners, they took down the village houses and used the bricks to build the camp. 45 original blocks survived here.
Most of the camp was destroyed after the war by the polish local people who rebuilt their village here.
This camp changes from a war prisoners camp into a death camp. This is a factory for death, this becomes the most efficient camp when it comes to killing Jews. All the Jews from Europe arrive here, they are selected here to death or work, and many of them are killed here using 6 destruction facilities, killing many Jews in a factory style solution, in an industrial way.
“Take me with you, says the little child to the train, each time we separate there is a little taste of death” – these words of a song talk about families separate, mothers see their loved ones sent to death from the ramp in this camp. Elite of European Jews got here from Europe and died here – end of the world is here.
After separating men from women, some of the Jews were selected to work in Auschwitz 1. The rest, most of the Jews who arrived here, were sent to death here. Even these who were selected so called to live, were actually selected to die. The lucky ones were sent to death right away, but out of these who were sent to work, only 10% survived, they were lucky, most people worked till they could not work any more and then died.
Entering the camp, they take away your self respect and your identity, you are no longer a person, you become just a number, you start with 5 weeks of getting used to life at the camp, enclosed in this wooden blocks, moving stones from place to place and just being in the blocks. If you survived that, you would start working in the camp waiting to be put to death. This is the biggest death camp for European Jews.
These blocks were meant to be stables for the German horses, but they were used to keep 500-700 inmates in a place meant for 52 horses. No privacy, toilets in the middle of the block, not enough water. The people who had to clean these toilets were called the “scheise commando”. As one of the survivors said, even the horses were suppose to have better conditions than the Jews who were kept in these blocks.
Remains of the camp after local polish people took all the bricks:
We are now on the ramp at the entrance to camp, this is where the selection took place, if you were too young or too old, if you looked not healthy enough, you would be send to death immediately without even get inside to the camp.
As we go towards the inside of the camp, kids carry Israeli flags, sort of the “march of the living” in a place that symbolizes death:
Inside the block, beds in 3 levels, wood only, crowded, total of around 600 people per block, 10 women in one bed, older women 40-45 in lower level, younger on higher levels. Wake up time in summer is 5am and in winter is 6am, you would get some hot fluid and go to work, either outside or as part of destroying bodies and taking their property, life at the camp were hard, if you didn’t have a certain position, you were at the bottom of the group, people did their best to get better position and survive better this way. Life in the camp were like in the jungle, if you are strong you will survive.
If you were not strong enough in the camps, you will be selected to die, they would take you and put you in a separate block, keep you there naked waiting to be sent to die. Women would try to look better when they knew selection is on it’s way, they would paint their lips, pinch their skin, maybe this way they would survive for another few weeks.
The destruction stops on November 1944 and the Germans leave the camp on January 1945, on their way on the death marches towards Germany. They walk all the prisoners from the camps back to Germany, huge distances, no shoes, in the snow, where people die in the long hard journey. There were 4 crematoriums here, death machine, women with kids, elderly people and children under 14 will go to death. This is crematurim number 2 in the photo, 2000 people at once, will be killed using 7kg of cyclone B gas, it’s heated so the gas will operate better, it takes 20 minutes to die, then the “zonder commando” people will clean the bodies from everything including gold tooth and property and take them to burn then. The ashes where then thrown into the pool. This was crematorium number 2:
When you are in Auschwitz, near the crematorium and close to the pool of ashes, the quietness of the place catches you, it’s so quiet here, so green, here where people died. I am saying here the kadish, the Jewish prayer for the deads, in front of the crematorium:
We end our visit to the camp with a ceremony planned and done by the kids, they prepared the entire ceremony themselves.
Short movie with part of the ceremony
End of the visit with the singing of Hatikva, group of Israeli kids on polish land, in the camp where their people died – this is our victory !
Group of Americans we met going out from camp made an interesting remark as they saw us coming out: “we are so happy to see so many Jews going OUT of the camp, all alive and proud with the Israeli flag in their hands …”
Abigail my daughter on the way out from the camp
In the evening we have a group meeting, reflecting on how we felt during the day. This was a vert emotional day for all of us, lighting candles in Auschwitz in memory of all these who were killed there, carrying the Israeli flag and being here with a group of young people who will be soldiers next year, specially with my own daughter, this was special for me and for all the kids on the trip. Hearing their reflections now makes me understand that they can’t bring themselves to think that they could be there, they are so safe in their life, in their country, that it doesn’t even get to their minds, they know what happened, they understand, but they can’t put themselves there, this is another planet, it didn’t happen in their world, it happened in another world, a world they can’t fully understand.
An early morning start brings us to the Catholic cemetery in Krakow. This is a polish cemetery, but inside it there is a British military cemetery.
We came into the Rakowitz Cemetery with Israeli flags, we will have a short ceremony here, the entire group together, Jewish prayers in memory of the Jewish soldiers buried here.
13 Jewish soldiers from Palestine are here, they have volunteered to fight together with the british against the Germans, they were captured in Greece and transferred to Poland and died here in Poland. Inside a catholic cemetery, we have Jewish graves, we will leave here Israeli flags on each grave and remember these who died outside their own country. They were held as war prisoners by the natzis, and later were killed by the Natzis and buried here after the war.
Look at the Magen David on this grave. His name is L. Herzig, died on may 1944, here together with many more British soldiers.
Abigail putting flowers on the tomb of a 19 years old soldier:
Around lunch time we spent 2 hours at the city square, eating and shopping.
On the bus, 2 hours driving towards Lublin, we will watch the movie “Schiendler’s List” which will summarize the story of Krakow for us.
Jewish cemetery in Keltze
This cemetery is 3 hours drive from Krakow. This town started with Jews at 1868 and by second world war there were around 25,000 Jews in the Ghetto. The Ghetto is destroyed on august 1944 and more than 20,000 people were sent to Treblinka. After the war 200 Jews return here to look for survivors. They are not welcomed by the local polish people who meanwhile took their homes and property, they don’t like them to return and on July 3, 1946 a polish couple tells the police that their child disappeared and when he returned, he said he escaped the house on plant 7 st., where the Jews lived after the war. He said that he was taken to that house, kept there in the basement and he found there lots of dead polish kids and Jews were taking their blood to make mattza for Passover. The police takes this very serious, rumors start in the city, polish people come to the house, there is no basement at this house, but still the people of the city and 3 polish officers come in and shoot a Jew from that house, after the holocaust, again Jews are killed here in this city by the local people. During that day 3 Jews are killed also, Regina and Moskowitz and their son Avram are taken to the woods and murdered there, others are lynched by polish police and residence of the city. In this pogrom 41 Jews were killed, more than 50 wounded and eventually the polish army came and stopped it. Some of the leaders of this pogrom were arrested later.
The whole pogrom was planned by polish, who hated jews and didn’t want the returning jews to come and retake their houses and property, so they told the child to say what he said.
In the tomb here we have 47 Jews who were murdered on this pogrom, 7 of them were not even identified and we don’t even have their names, some survivors from Auschwitz who survived hell just to be killed here after the war:
In 1942 Jews from this town were sent to the camps. It was in August, 3 trains left with 6,000 Jews each to camps like Sobibor and others, the rest were left here to work and few months later, 42 kids from town were murdered here. 3 kids only were saved, after the war parents in August 1945 built this tomb stone. One of these kids was Gisela Herbert, 15 months old, her mother Sara Karbel gave a testimony about what happened here: Germans ordered to give the kids, they were taken to a small house near by, they were crying as their parents stood there hearing them. She had her baby hidden under her coat, finally an Ukraine policeman saw her and took the baby to die, they died without their parents near them.
The castle of Lublin, place where the king lived. This Building is reconstructed, this is where Lita and Poland were united. King kazimish the great doesn’t leave anyone after him when he died, instead the princes from Hungary arrives here. Her name is Edviga and she is engaged to the prince of Germany, but they want her to marry the prince of Lita instead, but she refuses mainly since he is not Catholic, so he converts and Poland and Lita are united into the great Poland. She dies at 23 years old, but this is where the agreement about the unity was signed.
Jews lived here since the 14th century, around 44,000 of them and this is the center of the old city of Lublin. Jews then moved inside the city. There were lots of “Yeshivot” here, very rich Jewish life and very rich cultural life. During the war Odelio Globotznick is in control in Lublin, together with Hans Frank who controls Krakow, they both together run the Reindheart operation with the objective to clear the entire area from Jews.
The first thing Germans do here is to concentrate the Jews in the Lublin area. They tried first the “Nisco” plan, to put the Jews together in a small area and let them die naturally from hunger and deceases. This doesn’t work, so they decide to close the Ghetto and send the Jews to the death camps in Belzet or in Majdanek. The street light which is always on now days is left here by people of Lublin as a memorial to what used to be the Jewish community of Lublin and vanished during the war.
Inside the old quarter of Lublin
The inside of the city today used to be the Jewish Ghetto during the war. There was lots of Jewish community life here. We went through the “Grotzka Gate” leading to the quarter, nothing was left here except of that street light we passed. We follow a story of a Jewish family from the Ghetto, the Zytomirski family. Together with the Jews from here, they are all taken and sent to Belzen. Each year on April 14 lots of kids from Poland write letters to Henio Zytomirski, the child of that family who died. His father worked at the post office and lots of times he used to sign letter with “address unknown”, so the letters they write get signed by the post office with the signature “address unknown” and sent as a memorial. There is also a Facebook page which was opened in his memory. Interesting that these activities are done by a polish group, non Jewish theater group called “Brama Grotzski”, who were touched by the story of this child and his family.
What happened on the day after the war is over? Polish people take over the Jewish houses. Lublin is freed by Russians already on early 1944, Jews come back here and organize themselves again in community life. In January 1945 the first Zionist congress is held here, the topic is the question what are we going to do now? Stay in Poland or try and move to Israel which is under the British mandate? This question divided the Jews who survived, not all of them wanted to move to Palestine, lots decided to go back to their previous lives in Poland.
Another question is how do we get revenge now after the war is over? Jews are separated into groups, each group works on their own agenda and they are all waiting to the results of the war. They have also put the staff from Belzen camp on trial. There are only 2 Jews who survived Belzezc, when more than 300,000 Jews were killed at that camp.
This parking lot used to be where the houses of the Jewish quarter were:
Story of this camp begins already in Warshaw, we talk about Alina Birenbaum here, she was sent with her family to Majdanek near Lublin, we follow her book called “life in hope” החיים בתקווה
We start the walk into the camp, again with white delegation shirts, with flags and we also plan a ceremony inside. It’s very important and emmotional to enter the camps with flags and also in white, as if we want to say that we are coming here with pride, coming here strong and independent and officially represent the state of Israel, what a statement to make in the camps !
Majdanek stars as a war prisoners camp, becomes a concentration camp and then changes into a death camp. It tries first to teach people how to think inside the box like everyone else, re-educate them to think “the proper way” as the Natzi party wanted.
Israeli flags and the Majdanek monument behind:
The camp is only 2 kilometer away from the town of Lublin. This is true now but also was true when Jews were brought here to die. No one can say that they didn’t know what is happening, there is no way not to know when the camp is attached to your city.
First they bring here the polish elite for re-education and then the others. In the beginning of 1942 the camp became a death camp, October 1942 they started killing Jews here.
In 1942 there are already 6 working death camps all together.
When you walk down the path into the camp, the houses of Lublin on your right will slowly disappear as you go in. As you go down, your muscles try to stop you from entering, but there is nothing you can do to stop you from going inside and as you do, the city is still living it’s regular life as it used to do. The camp encloses you and you have no idea where you are and what is going to happen to you. This is the entrance to the camp now, and it is designed to show you what Jews felt as they walked into the camp and watched the city disappearing away from them.
In front of us is the camp itself, the road leading into the camp leads us into the dome of ashes, there is a mountain of ashes there, collected from all the burial fields around Majdanek. Most camps sent the ashes they collected to be used as fertilizers in Germany, this camp runs it’s agriculture alone and uses the ashes locally.
The road here looks as if it’s broken, it’s all part of the monument, there are cracks here, symbolizing the prisoners who lived here and can’t rebuild their life tho they were saved from the camp, but the terrible experience they had in this camp lives inside them and cracks their soul for ever. Up to the dome it’s all part of the monument built when the camp was opened for visitors.
Entrance to the camp today was the area where the soldiers and camp personel lived and where the SS buildings were. The building we see is front of us is the area where the women guards lived.
In 1944 the Russians came and cleared the camp, not leaving anything from the original camp. Instead, they planted trees as a memorial forest. They only left the gas area and two buildings together with some signs around the crematorium. The entire place was then covered with grass and was even used by local polish people as a picnic site. Then it was turned to be a memorial site, no picnics are allowed now, but you can still see people taking a short cut through the camp to get home behind the camp of today.
What is written on the monument is unclear, each one can see what he thinks and wants to see, you can look through and see the ashes mountain, with an inscription: “what happened to us is a warning for you” – this we have to remember when we visit Majdanek.
The white house on our right is the house of the doctors here, there were 2 doctors here, but instead of saving life they took life.
Karl Koch was the head of this camp. He was an accountant for the SS, stole money and was caught, instead of being put to jail he was sent to lead Majdanek since he was very close to Himler himself. His wife was Ilze Koch. Her hobby was to prepare lamps from skulls and skin of prisoners. Was she also a murderer or not? is she to be blamed as much as her husband who ran the camp?
This leads to a discussion of who is responsible for the holocaust, who is to be blamed, these who actually pulled the trigger, these who gave the orders or maybe also these who helped, these who took part or even these who knew and didn’t do anything to prevent this from happening? This is a very difficult question, there is no answer for that question, it’s one of the dilemmas of the Holocaust that we have to deal with.
The buildings on the right is where the gas rooms were, it can’t be seen now, we can just see the laundry room of this camp. Men and women are separated here and they enter the camp, men are taken to field number 2 and women are brought inside. The selection here is not like in Birkenau, Germans take these whom they think are not fit enough to an empty area between the fields, the rest stay here. These who were taken from the group never came back. Helina who wrote the book about this says her mom kept telling her that soon they will go into the bath, take a shower and then go out to work at the fields. As a little girl she was hoping for the line to move faster so she can get into the bath faster and then go to the block where she will have lots of food and be warm. She didn’t know that soon her mother will be taken into the bath and never return from there alive
Germans cut the hair of these who entered into the bath, they sold the hair to companies to process it into industrial fiber felt. Only hair from men was used for that. We have evidence of the Germans selling 730 kilo of hair to a factory to make mattresses for soldiers on submarines. Russians who came to liberate the camp found there hair waiting to be shipped to the factories. They also found there 800,000 shoes and a mountain of ashes.
Cutting your hair also takes away your human self respect. First the hair, then a number is tatood on your arm, your freedom is taken away from you, then your life to. We enter into these inner rooms now, this is what they thought are showers in a bathhouse, sometimes it was just real showers but most times wasn’t, in most cases it was the gas chambers. Here at the square of red roses as the prisoners called it because of also the blood spillt here, Helina’s mother was killed.
These are the real showers where they took the lucky ones who stayed alive, they were showered, disinfected and then sent to work. There is a very touching and shocking scene in the movie “Schiendler’s list” where the prisoners scream and are sure they are going to be gassed to death in the showers, till they realize these are regular showers and it’s actually water coming out.
But the rest, including Helina’s mother, were not that lucky, they were gassed to death here in this room. The blue color on the walls that we see until this day are remains of the gas, cyclon B, the gas comes in the shape of powder, in touch with air it becomes deadly gas that kills many people at once in a very short time, about 20 minutes. They even heated the bodies by making people take hot showers before they went into the gas chamber, this way the gas was more effective.
Some of the victims in Majdanek were killed using this gas. Most of them were killed using CO gas, which came from big dizel engines.
We look into the room where the gas was thrown to kill people, nothing much to see today, empty room, dark, closed, just with one picking hall where Germans could make sure that everyone inside are dead.
This is a song that says “years and nothing is forgotten”! Sang outside of the gas chambers in Majdanek
When a man cries inside his heart, only God can hear his cry, when the heart is quiet the soul inside shouts – words from another song we sang outside the room where Helina’s mother was killed.
We enter the restored part of the camp, camp 3, male compound:
The inside of block number 14, again 3 layers of people
In Majdanek you had to fight for everything, for food, for a place on the floor to sleep, for space, there was no place in Majdanek for the sick or weak people, survival of the fitted.
November 3rd, 1943 Germans brought here more than 40,000 people and shot them on the fields behind us, on one day, 18,000 Jews were killed here from the camp, they ran them between the fences into the fields and at field 5 they made them take off their cloths, leave their valuables, go into the halls and shot them layer upon layer, while loud dance music was played through loudspeakers.
On November 5th they burned all the bodies here. The crematorium building is original. Inside the room stands a bed which was used to look for valuables inside people. They opened the bodies up to look for valuables that they might have swollowed. This is a sarcophagus which was used to store the remains of corpses burnt here, around July 1944:
The Germans used the heat produced from burning the bodies to heat the water for showers for the time prisoners would take their monthly shower. The German who operated the crematourium was hitting his shower water by burning bodies of gassed Jews. Rest of the ashes was added to the compost used to fertilize the soil for the nearby SS farm.
Mountain of ashes of victims:
We end this visit with a ceremony at the foot of the crematorium, near the mountain of ashes of victims murdered in Majdanek:
End of day is the ceremony to remember the victims of Majdanek
Of course, we end this ceremony with singing the “Tikvah”
Tonight is Shabbat evening, the entire delegation has Shabbat dinner together, all in white shirts, traditional dinner with some songs and music, very hard after a day in Majdanek, but very powerful experience specially after such a day of death.
Shabbat Shalom !
Sabbath of peace – this is the traditional blessing we bless each other on Shabbat, it is much more meaningful in Poland, after a day in Majdanek, peach is what we all pray for.
We all had dinner together, starting with couple of songs to receive the Shabbat: