Blog #2- Olivia Schwartz


We began the day in a city called Ger where Rabbi Olshin taught us about the Ger Chassidim.  We focused on one Rabbi named Rav Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, also known as the Kotzker Rebbe.  The Kotzker Rebbe is renowned for his lessons which revolved around being true to yourself.  Rabbi Olshin quoted one of the Kotzker Rebbe’s famous teachings: “If I am I because I am I, and you are you because you are you, then I am I and you are you.  But if I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I and you are not you.”


Throughout the rest of our day at Majdanek, the Yeshsivaht Chochmei Lublin, and in Itsbitzah we revisited this lesson of being true to ourselves.  In Majdanek we went from gas chambers to crematoriums.  We spent those three hours in this gory concentration camp questioning, pondering, and sensitizing the Holocaust.  Rabbi Olshin told us that when Eichmann was caught and put on trial he screamed the words, “Shema Yisroel HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad.”  When asked why he said that, he explained that he spent a lot of time in concentration camps and in death camps, and that before the Jews were gassed they would scream out Shema.  In honor of all of those who died in these chambers, we said Shema as well.  These people stayed true to G-d and His oneness until they were brutally murdered.  Like we learned earlier today from the Kotzker Rebbe, we must always stay true to ourselves and to our beliefs.


Walking from the entrance of the camp to the exit, we stopped at barrack number 58. In this barrack was 400,000 pairs of shoes.  Alexandra Schwartz then recited a poem to us about how we metaphorically should be wearing 6 million shoes for all of those who did not get to wear their shoes and live out their dreams.  Rabbi Olshin questioned how we can wear someone else’s shoes, he asked how we could take someone else’s dreams and make them ours.  His question was answered at the end of our journey through Majdanek.  We stood at a monument filled with ashes from all of those who were burned in the crematoriums, and we recited Hatikvah.  Through these people who are now ashes, we have formed the state of Israel.  Rabbi Olshin also told us a story about a young brother and sister in Majdanek.  A guard walked over to the little girl and accused her of stealing his sandwich.  She told him that she did not take it.  He said, “Yes you did,” and she said, “No I did not.”  So, the guard took pliers and started breaking her knuckles with them, while screaming at her to admit that she stole it.  Her brother then saw this happening and ran over to them.  He explained to the guard that she did not steal the sandwich, but that he stole it for her because his poor sister was starving.  Consequently, the guard took the brother and sister out to the middle of the camp.  He hung the young girl and made the boy sit under his dead sister for a full twenty-four hours until they hung him.  From this story Rabbi Olshin taught us about the importance of family.  He made the story personal by relating it to his family of seven children.  He explained that as a parent one of his favorite parts of the week is at the Friday night Shabbat table.  He also explained how sometimes a fight would break out amongst his kids and that could ruin the whole Shabbat experience.  He then said that even though they fight, he would like to think his son would steal a sandwich for his daughter.  He taught us that rather than having small and unimportant arguments with people, we should tell them we love them and appreciate them.


In Yeshsivaht Chochmei Lublin we talked about what it means to be a leader. Rabbi Benny told us stories that really relate back to the Kotzker Rebbe’s teachings that being a leader is about being true to yourself and helping other people get there.