Today was defined by extremes. We started the day off in Lodz (after a sleepy four hour bus ride filled with the movie “The Woman in Gold” ) and visited the train station “Radagast” in Lodz — a site where thousands of Jews were forced onto cattle cars during the Holocaust. While on one of those cattle cars, Harry Kramer set the mood with a speech about the perseverance of the Jewish people. He fittingly ended the speech with the words that had become our motto— עםישראל חי ”. These words were embodied by Mr. Buchmann and the story that he shared with us following the speech. We learned how Mr. Buchmann and his brother, along with one other boy, had jumped out of one of those same cattle cars that we had been standing on, and had narrowly escaped from the camp that the train was heading to. After their escape, were able to make it back to Western Hungary through working at different farms, before being re-captured by the Nazis and deported to Mauthausen . As we sang עם ישראל חי in the same place that our ancestors had cried out 70 years ago, a sense of strength and unity permeated throughout the room.

This embodiment of עם ישראל חי intensified after we left the cattle car and came face-to-face with an Israeli group. They too had a Holocaust survivor, and as he and Mr.Buchmann shook hands, relaying both of their stories to our blended groups, there was not a dry eye in sight. A spirited singing of התקּבה capped the moment, and we walked away from the Israeli group with our hearts a little lighter. We then bid a spirited goodbye to Mr. Buchmann, Dr. Strobel,  Aryeh Strobel, and Rabbi Reichmann, with another rendition of עם ישראל חי and a short round of dancing.

We then made our way to Chelmno, bracing ourselves for a more somber experience. We approached the debris of the first gas chambers warily—they had been housed in a mansion as a prototype— and discussed why gassing had been chosen as a method of murder in the first place.We also discussed how the Nazis had destroyed those primitive gas chambers— one victim in particular, a baby boy who had gotten a brit milah moments prior, was talked about extensively.We then made our way to another part of the camp— where they put the bodies. In this spot,Rabbi Olshin explained to us that many fragments of Jewish bones often resurfaced, and that we could take part in the mitzvah of burying them. The skies turned gray as we searched the ground,looking for bones and a way to pay respect to the bodies of our fellow Jews. After some time,Rabbi Olshin collected the bones that we had found, and eulogized those Jews by telling us a personal story of his friend who was murdered by a terrorist the summer before, but had managed to save his family in those last moments. He then related this to IDF soldier Emmanuel Moreno’s philosophy that the last moments of your life— the last thoughts of your life— are the ones with the most meaning. He concluded that the last moments of these people were probably concerned with their families, with Hashem, and, most importantly, held an abundance of meaning. With that, the bones were buried and Kaddish was said, and the group listened to the speeches by myself, Adriel Bolour, and RJ Fisher about Holocaust survivors that we had studied.Then mincha was said and we headed back to Warsaw.

At Warsaw, we ate dinner and said Ma’ariv at Chabad and then had a meaningful reflection session at our hotel. The elevated maturity and level of growth was exemplified during this reflection session, as people brazenly spoke of how they believed the trip had changed them and what lessons they had learned that they would implement in their lives when they came back home. With only one day left, the group headed up to their rooms to prepare for another day (and watch the Frisch hockey game).