One disclaimer before I start. Today we went to Auschwitz, and I am going to write about my experiences there and the emotions that I attached to those experiences. However, this place cannot be explained by any amount of words. In order to fully feel the power of the following blog is to see it with your own eyes. Even seeing it doesn’t paint the full picture, as when we went there was green grass growing and Israeli flags blowing and you could here quiet Jewish laughs echoing throughout the camp to ease the immensity of the place. I’m going to give some experiences I had with some commentary of my own to try and add depth to the experience.

We started off the day earlier than usual, and davening was pushed back so that we could utilize our time in Auschwitz. This bus ride took a while, so we had some time to think about where we going.

I tried to save my thoughts for when I was going to actually be there, but one thing that went through my mind was that at one point I was a little uncomfortable on the bus, and I realized the contrast.

I immediately thought of seventy five years prior when other Jews were uncomfortable on their way to Auschwitz. That gave me an interesting perspective to have when we entered. I had brought an Israeli flag to Auschwitz. I forgot to take it out for the other concentration camps, but once I had this new perspective of how we were going back to Auschwitz as free grand and great-grandchildren, who have the rare present for Jews throughout history with Eretz Yisrael, I knew that there was a reason why I’m solely wearing the flag here. This whole trip to Poland shows to us and to everyone else that the Jewish people always survive, but not only do we survive, but we also thrive in our new homes, and what better place to call home than our real home back in Israel.

A very interesting thought was given by Zak Comet about our entrance into Auschwitz II. Right as we got in, everyone headed to the bathroom, as it was a long bus ride. Only realizing this later while we were there, Zak said that he realized how much we took for granted that luxury of simply going to the bathroom on our own terms that was taken away from those who were there in Auschwitz. When we were walking through the camp we went into a bunker that was used as the lavatory for the Jews. Rabbi Olshin told us that the Nazis didn’t want to go in because they were disgusted, and of course the Jews realized and took advantage of this, leading to a lot of smuggling going on in the bathrooms. An example of this that the Rabbi gave was that there was someone who worked as the cleaner for the bathrooms, and had access to the area where are the “spoils of war” were taken. One of the small girls came up to him very timidly and asked for a sweater. It takes him a few weeks but he finally gets to come back to that lavatory while she’s there, and gives her the sweater.

The girl starts crying. She tells the Jewish man,

“Siddur, not sweater.” We see here that even in the depths of hell on Earth, Jews still kept their faith, and through that faith, especially of the children, the Nazi goal of destroying us would never succeed.

Recently there was a cattle car that was brought to be put on the rail tracks going into Auschwitz. The story behind that is incredible, however, what we did there brought me to tears. Coming along on our trip was Manny Bachman, a survivor from Budapest. He lost family members during the Holocaust in Auschwitz, and on the step off of the car, he sat Shiva for his family members. He gave his story, about his childhood and how he luckily escaped, and how his family was brought to this place. Then, one by one, each member of our program walked up to him and comforted the mourner. The last one was Aryeh Strobel, Manny’s grandson. To paraphrase, he said that Manny has all of his family and now all of us on this program to pass on his story and that Manny is a true hero for overcoming such tragedy and became what he is today.

The last place we went to in Auschwitz II was the broken crematorium and the end of the train tracks.

Rabbi Olshin spoke to us about all the lost souls at this one place, and connected it to Asher Strobel. I thought about how in life we sometimes lose those close to us too early, and I thought about my grandmother. She too was taken from my family too early. The trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau concluded with a suggestion. To take one of the small stones under the train tracks by the crematoriums, and in times of pain you can look at this stone and realize how much the Jewish people has improved since the Holocaust and I am just one pebble in the river of stones that is the Jewish people. I first scanned through a bunch of rocks, and one stood out to me. I picked it up, and unfortunately someone had spit out their gum, so I got to have the honor of helping maintain and preserve the graves of my people. I then found a rock, that on one side was completely flat, but on the other side it was bumpy. I chose it because to me it symbolized how the Nazis tried to flatten Jewry, but our faith runs deep, and for us it was never what was on top, and as long as we had our faith no level of flattening out with fully rid the world of the Jews and our ideals.

After this we went to Auschwitz I. It was a much different experience. It almost seemed stale at first, with the large crowds and as Rabbi Olshin put it, the “Disneyland” vibe. However, once we actually passed through those forboding gates, the lying gates of “arbeit macht frei” that work sets you free, the right atmosphere returned. The most emotional thing I experienced was when I entered a room and the only thing in the room was a book. To explain, this book was standing at 3 and a half feet tall and spanned from side to side of the room. This was a record book. Every recorded name of a neshama who left this world during the Shoah. We found Jon Katzmans family who we spoke about at Belzec. After that we all looked for our own family names, and I went through L’s until I reached a page. At the bottom, I found 29 different David Lifshitzs who had perished. I have to make up for 29 people, and my name is quite popular. That means that there are some names that will never be passed on. I will speak about this mysterious number of six million and how we can fathom about it on Monday, but what I took from this one moment is that although you can have that personal connection with those who had the same name as you, it is just as important to remember the everyman.

In conclusion, this journey through Auschwitz has drastically changed my perspective of my role in the Jewish people on multiple fronts. Another interesting thought I had on the way in to Auschwitz for the first time, that I will conclude this blog with,  was the weather. When we were in Majdanek and Belzec, we were freezing, and that really helped the group get into the mindset of where we were and what we were dealing with.

However, Friday was a balmy sixty degrees, most kids didn’t wear heavy coats, and I ended up tying my coat because I thought it was too warm.

Then I entered Auschwitz. And I realized that we didn’t need the temperature to be cold.

Every step I took there gave me chills.

Instinctively my first reaction was to put on something to keep me warm. I just didn’t put on something for physical warmth.

I put on my Israeli flag.