2018-04-25 / Editorial

A Yom Hashoa reflection: Remember the names

By SAMMY BRESLAU For the Voice

I thought a lot about what I wanted to post today. Which pictures I wanted to share, and what exactly I wanted to say. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

Over the course of a week during my winter break, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Poland with a large group of my fellow Nativers. During this trip, we visited multiple concentration camps, cemeteries, and older communities which used to have a larger Jewish presence.

After we returned to Israel, there were so many different things I wanted to post. But nothing I tried to type up seemed right.

I could post about my experience in Auschwitz, about my anger at the Nazis for everything that happened there.

I could post about how depressed I felt in Treblinka while looking over the never-ending sea of tombstones.

Instead, I want to talk about my experience in Belzec. Before this trip, I don’t know if I had ever heard of Belzec, or if I had, then I had not heard enough about it. Belzec, an often forgot about camp, was not only another death camp, but it is in fact the 3rd deadliest, behind only Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka, with an estimated death toll of anywhere between 500,000 and 600,000 people.

So why is it so forgotten? In my opinion, it is because there is very little to see there. All that remains of the camp is an area filled with tombstones, a monument, and a small museum.

Before we left for Poland, we were split into small groups to prepare small presentations/ceremonies for the various sites we were going to see when we went. I was fortunate enough to be in the group that would be leading the ceremony at Belzec. In my group, we decided we each wanted to contribute one part to an overall ceremony. I chose to try and find a story from a survivor of the camp. This proved very difficult for me, and at first I couldn’t understand why. While I knew how deadly of a camp it was (after my initial research), further investigation revealed that the reason I couldn’t find many stories from survivors was because there weren’t many survivors at all. There is still not an exact number of survivors known, but the current estimate is fewer than 20.

I did find one survivor’s testimony. Though Rudolf Reder’s story gave me a true insight into what transpired in the camp, it was too long for me to read at the ceremony. Instead, I found a small list of names and stories of those who were sent to Belzec (from: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/…/…/re membelzec.html), and wrote a short poem from the list. I had practiced saying the poem multiple times beforehand, trying to find the best way to leave a lasting impact on my friends. But all of the practicing and research had not prepared me for what I would experience and actually see at the camp.

To say I was awestruck would be an understatement. To say I was heartbroken would be an understatement. To say I was furious would be an understatement.

To me, Belzec represents almost exactly what the Nazis wanted. Mass extermination of the Jews with little to no evidence of it having happened. As we walked through the path in between the 2 large areas of tombstones, 2 thoughts ran through my head: 1) How could this have happened? How can more than half a million people have been murdered here? How did the world let this happen? How? 2) I’m sorry. As we passed the nameless stones, I looked at the ones closest to me and said I was sorry. Sorry for what? I can’t say I even know what I was sorry for. Sorry you died? Perhaps. Sorry your family, friends, and communities were murdered? Maybe.

I didn’t cry when we saw the children’s drawings at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I didn’t cry at the crematorium in Majdanek. I didn’t cry at the field of tombstones in Treblinka.

I cried when I read aloud my own words that I had written a week before and practiced saying countless times since. I cried when I felt the full impact of my words on, not just my friends, but also on myself. Here I was, reading the names and stories of those who had died not 100 feet from where I was standing. I cried because I could only read the names and stories of 5 people, and that I could not read the names and stories of the other hundreds of thousands of the victims, because most were not known anymore—names and stories that have disappeared from history and will never be recovered.

Today in Israel is Yom Hashoah v’Hagivurah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. Today, I not only remember those who history knows died during the Holocaust, but I also remember those who history will never remember, those whose names and stories will never be said aloud again.

“Never Forget”: This is a very common thing that is said on Yom Hashoa. It is one thing for us to never forget that the Holocaust happened. It is one thing for us to never forget family members or friends who died during this time. However, today I challenge you, not to never forget, but to remember. Remember those whose names you’ll never know. Remember those whose stories will never be told.

Remember, because if we don’t, no one ever will. 

Sammy Breslau, of Cherry Hill, is participating in the Nativ College Leadership Gap Year Program in Israel. This article is excerpted from reflections he posted on Facebook for Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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