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Joseph Zeleznikow


 

On Sunday the 8th of April, five students from Leibler Yavneh College and I (together with 11 students from other schools in Australia) began our voyage of education focused on the continuously powerful event of the Holocaust.

On the first day of our journey we entered Krakow, where we visited a mass execution site called Plaszow. We imagined the former site, where thousands of Jews were relentlessly murdered would be dark, and gothic. This was the first of many shocks for the trip, this site was now a beautiful park. I pondered what kind of monsters would let their dogs play on and have their own children ride their bikes on top of a mass grave. I’m still unsure of whether to blame these bystanders who are just walking their dogs or to condemn their ignorance. This is because the only acknowledgment of what happened here was a little sign.

Subsequently we travelled to Bedzin, this is where we visited Eli Sztrochlic’s Zaida’s home and heard his enlightening testimony about his family's history in the area. The next day we visited another mass execution site, Zbylitowska Gora. This is where I experienced an epiphany. 800 children were killed in this very spot and I had never heard of them or where they were killed. Every year we remember the 6 million who died but who will remember these specific people? We, as a Jewish nation, at least owe it to them to know their names. We have to look at the victims of the Holocaust as one plus one plus one. This became the thread of meaning for my March experience.

On day four, Thursday, we embarked on the physical march from Auschwitz 1 to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The march was in complete silence as we walked under the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign. Up until the moment I saw the iconic train station I hadn’t expressed much emotion, I just felt empty. As we got closer, with our arms intertwined, I began feeling overwhelmed with emotion; this was present with every single person in our contingent. With fifteen thousand Jews and non Jews from around the world with many different languages present we entered Auschwitz-Birkenau.

We all put wooden pegs on the train track, writing who we were remembering from the Holocaust. This was the most emotional point in my trip – remembering the individual felt again the most important thing I could do. We all sat and wept, we supported each other, and I have never felt so connected to a group of people before as we put our arms around each other in a circle and sang Tov Le’hodot. Nothing of that magnitude has ever hit me personally as much as that occasion did. On the Friday we toured the horror of Majdanek and saw the remains of a fully functional Death camp. In the gas chamber we saw a butterfly, The juxtaposition of fragile, beautiful life and a place of mass murder and death seemed almost ironic.

On Yom Ha’atzmaut, we commenced the second march from the new city of Jerusalem to the Old City. Again with the same fifteen thousand people from all around the world, we marched in song and happiness to the most holy site in our religion. Again I was overwhelmed with emotion, this time with extreme joy. 
We learnt about the courageous story of taking back Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and if it was worth all the fighting. The most memorable part of Israel for me was the Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Kotel and praying in the same spot as my ancestors did thousands of years ago. Whilst I had my face pressed against the Kotel reciting the ‘Shema’, I was certain I was home.

This was an unbelievable trip, which I highly recommend to all Year 11 students. I thank every single person and especially the Yavneh kids for being there and giving each other immense support on our emotional rollercoaster of a journey. The last thing I want to state is that the generation of Holocaust survivors is dying and in the next ten to fifteen years there will be none left. It is up to us to prevent ignorance and educate about the Holocaust and our beautiful complex religion.