We visited Auschwitz, and saw rooms filled with shoes taken from the prisoners. I saw pictures of babies who were tortured and glass exhibits filled with human hair. We visited Treblinka, a camp completely destroyed by the Nazis to hide their crimes, a Nazi made forest in its place, and memorials throughout to remember.
â–º honorable mention 2012 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
We marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau on the March of the Living with 14,000 people. We listened to survivors stories. Majdanek was so intact that it could be running within forty-eight hours. I was horrified to see people biking through the camp, as though hundreds of thousands of lives hadn’t been lost right there. I stepped into the gas chamber of Majdanek. I saw the walls, the indentations on them and the meaning behind them being there. I heard stories about the claw marks in the wall, But when I myself put my hand against the stone, I couldn’t imagine being so scared, so absolutely terrified and panicked at being locked in with death, knowing that this was the end and yet refusing to stop fighting, filled with so much terror that you tried whatever you could to escape, no matter how unlikely. I thought about this as I brushed my hand over the several claw marks on the wall.
Thinking about the courage of the people who died; the children and women, and men, the fathers and sisters, the friends, who were murdered and fought until they couldn’t anymore. I had tears in my eyes when I walked in, and hands clasped in mine when I walked out. I sat down and held onto the people I had grown so close within such a short time. I felt Trudy, the holocaust survivor accompanying us on our trip, hug me as she looked at us with tears in her eyes, as she said, “He didn’t win. Hitler didn’t win. It’s okay.”
I heard this and started crying all over again. This little woman was reassuring me after she had experienced the horror of losing her family in Auschwitz, of being the only survivor and returning to the place where she endured the incomprehensible insanity of the Holocaust. Trudy astonished me with her bravery as she comforted anyone who needed it, while confronting what I can only imagine as a past of nightmares.
As we continued to walk through the barracks that have become museums, I held Bri’s hand, we stopped for each other when we had to cry, we held the hands of strangers and friends, and we helped each other through it. Later, I walked up the stairs to the massive dome, and under it was death. The death of 60,000 people, reduced to ashes. I sat next to one member of my new family, who was crying and then I cried, and when I was done, another friend sat down and as she cried, I repeated, over and over, “I know” and “It’s okay”. And she said what we were all thinking every time someone repeated those words to us, she said, “No, it’s not.” Countless tears fell that day. I cried when I walked into the crematorium, as I sat on the grass outside staring at the barbed wire, on the bus back to the hotel.
That night we got on the plane to go to Israel, and I looked around to see nearly everyone giddy with excitement. I felt as though I was filled with happiness and the sense I was going home, a place where I could be safe, a home for the Jewish people.
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