2018-05-09 / Columns

From Poland to Israel; from sadness to joy

By EMMA WEISS Regional Sh’licha

Chelsea Stern (left) and Emma Weiss on the March of the Living in Birkenau Camp. Chelsea Stern (left) and Emma Weiss on the March of the Living in Birkenau Camp. On April 9, myself along with four other teens from South Jersey Region BBYO and our Regional Director flew to Poland to take part in the March of the Living. The March is a two-week trip, the first week spent in Poland to commemorate Yom Hashoah and the following week spent in Israel to experience Yom Hazikaron and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut. Our time in Poland was dedicated to remembering the Holocaust and allowing ourselves to become witnesses to what had happened to the six million Jews and five million others who perished between 1933 and 1945.

The time in Poland is almost indescribable, as it was the most meaningful and heart-rending week of my life. In this seven-day span, we would tour Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka, the Krakow Ghetto, and the Warsaw Ghetto. Auschwitz was our first stop. The moment we stepped foot inside the camp, the trip got real. Up until this moment, all we had done was prepare ourselves for this moment and it was, now, here. Walking through the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate was beyond surreal and finally put all the pictures and stories I have heard into true perspective. That same day, we also toured Birkenau, and got the opportunity to tour that camp as well. Seeing the infamous train gate into the camp was an overwhelmingly powerful sight. We then took part in the actual March of the Living on Yom Hashoah from Auschwitz to Birkenau with thousands of others Jews from around to the world for an inspiring day of remembrance.

The rest of our time spent in Poland was to see the other remaining camps. Majdanek was our next stop, a not as well known camp, but most definitely the most gut-wrenching camp we saw while in Poland. This camp was left intact for the most part, and if electricity were added, it could be a fully functioning camp in about 24 hours. Treblinka was next and was sadly peaceful and serene as there were no remnants of the camp left and the space was turned into a beautiful memorial and was our final stop before leaving for Israel.

The second our plane touched down at Ben Gurion, the entire mood of the trip had shifted. We went from the place that held the worst memories of the Jewish people to the homeland of the Jewish people where they live and thrive each and every day. Although, we were in Israel now to commemorate Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, we were all still in a lighter state of mind than we had been in Poland. Yom Hazikaron was a touching day as we were able to stand still with the entire state of Israel to hear the sirens blare throughout the country. Directly after Memorial Day is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, which was extra special this year since it was Israel’s 70th Birthday. We danced on Ben Yehuda Street with thousands of other Jews for a truly unforgettable night of enthusiasm. The rest of our time in Israel was spent admiring the state for all its glory and touring around the historic sights of our land.

Within two weeks, we were able to witness the best and worst of the history of the Jewish people and were able to experience the advancements of our people and how far we have come. 

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