I just returned from the March Of The Living, which was a 2 week program spent in Poland and Israel.
It was a remarkable journey. We saw and felt the horror of the concentration camps in Poland, met with and listened to the stories of survivors of the camps and the ghettos. Their accounts are literally gut wrenching. How they were able to move forward after the experience is a real testament to resilience and courage.
There are no words to truly describe the rawness and despair of these places, the vastness of the killing machines, the gas chambers where you could see how people clawed against the walls, the pits of human ashes, the piles of warehoused shoes and glasses. It’s impossible for me to wrap my mind around the sheer numbers – what the number 6 million means. What the deaths of 6 million people means.
We also heard from a woman who was awarded “Righteous Gentile”. She and her parents hid Jewish children during the Holocaust at tremendous peril to their own lives. An amazing story of bravery.
Listening to actual survivors share their personal experience is much more “real” than reading it in books. I will never forget their stories. They will stay with me forever.
There are very few survivors left. They need to be honored and heard. We marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, 10,000 people strong, arm-in-arm to the sound of the Shofar, overwhelmed by the enormity and solemnity of the occasion. We must hope and pray that this never happens again.
Then we traveled to Israel. We saw how the State of Israel memorializes the victims of the Holocaust as well as those soldiers who died in service to the country. We attended a memorial service in Jerusalem and felt the communal, visceral grief of the people around us. We met parents of an American boy who moved to Israel, joined the army and died at age 22 in Lebanon from fire by a terrorist sniper. We grieved with them.
On the Day of Remembrance, a siren is sounded throughout the country, in every city and town. Everyone stops for 2 minutes. It was amazing to see cars & buses stop in the middle of the street, right where they are, when they hear the siren. People stand in silent respect during the entire time the siren sounds. I was awed.
The following day is Yom Ha’Azmaot, Israel Independence Day – a day of sheer joy & abandon where people literally dance in the streets; a real celebration of life. To me, Israel is an incredible place. I feel lucky to be able to go there and always feel “at home”.