Monday March 20, Blog #7

Written by: Jon Katzman

Today was the final day of the trip. Everyone was winding down.  We got an unusually late wake up at 7:45. After davening and eating breakfast at the Warsaw Chabad, we headed out to the Warsaw Zoo. We were able to walk through the Zookeeper’s house where 300 Jews were hidden during the holocaust.  Antonina Zabinska, the zookeeper’s wife, played a special song on the piano to warn the Jews in the basement that the Nazis were around. We were able to go into the basement and saw the trap door that Jews used to escape to the animal enclosures when necessary. This was the last holocaust related stop that we made. It was fitting that we visited a place of hope and survival as our last stop. Rabbi Olshin challenged us with a question: would we put our lives and our families at risk in order to protect a stranger?  It was a very difficult question. Most people hold their own safety and their family’s safety as paramount to everything else. The righteous gentiles were so phenomenal because they realized that they had a moral and global responsibility to save the lives of others even if that meant endangering their own. Many courageous righteous gentile families were murdered due to their great acts of kindness and empathy. Yet, thousands of people did help Jews survive and their great deeds will never be forgotten.

After visiting the zookeepers house, we were given time to hang out in the zoo. I personally enjoyed the chimpanzees the most. They remind me of people only smaller and hairier. I’m sorry. That was a little weird. We also got to check out elephants, kangaroos, giraffes… and a ton of other cool animals.   Then we were privileged to hear from David Lifschitz who gave a great speech.

We returned to the Chabad for lunch where I spoke about my grandfather. It was especially meaningful to speak about him today exactly one year after he passed away. I told the story of his survival. He adapted to his circumstances which allowed him to survive and thrive despite the toughest challenges. Last Thursday, I visited my Grandfather’s house from before the war in Gorlice, Poland.  It was a surreal moment. Against all odds, my grandfather survived and I was able to return to the house of his birth as a continuation of him. It was a moment that will stay with me forever.

Well, finally it was time to go. One thing that was so amazing about the trip was that everything went so smoothly. Well until the bus ride to the airport when we got into a small accident. Rabbi Berlin was in the middle of thanking our wonderful bus driver Yanush when we ironically got into an accident.  It wasn’t Yanush’s fault.  This woman went right into the side of the bus. Everything seemed on the verge of breaking down as the time of the flight neared and we were still waiting for taxis to come.  Voitek our wonderful security guard and savior came to the rescue calling more taxis and negotiating with drivers. Not all heros where capes.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made this trip so special. Thanks you Rabbi Olshin for being the such a great, charismatic guide. You inspired all of us with emotion and leadership that you portrayed. Thank you Mr. Buchman for embarking on this journey with us and sharing your story with us. Thank you Rabbi Reichman for adding so much to the trip. Thank you Benny and Sarah for organizing everything. Thank you Ron. You contributed so much to the trip and we really valued your incites.  Thank you Yanush, Voitek, and Yanush #2.  You guys always went out of the way for us and made us feel so secure.  Thank you to the random blonde polish woman who always just popped up and made us the best pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast every day. Most importantly, thank you to all my fellow participants. Each person contributed in their own way to this incredible experience.