The Journey to Poland
Omer Shachnai writes about his experience visiting Polish concentration camps.
I must confess, when attempting to write about the holocaust, it is difficult to know where to begin.
I had the opportunity to endure a rare, personal and profound experience when joining an educational delegation for Poland, a few years ago. When leaving Israel, I left a loving and supporting country, a homeland and on the contrary, when arriving in Poland, which was once one of the biggest and most important Jewish centers in the world and is now almost empty of Jews, I realized that I have reached a foreign and alienated country, which did not want us 70 years ago, and doubtfully wants us now.
For seven emotionally-draining days, we were the representatives of our institute, our community, of Israel and of the entire Jewish people. We toured the death camps, the concentration camps as well as the ghettos. Gloomy, macabre places, sending shivers down your spine, such as Chelmno, Treblinka, Maidanek and Auschwitz- Birkenau, stood right in front of our eyes. We were now standing on a scorched land, filled with the ashes of the millions of our people who were barbarically exterminated, only because of their beliefs.
Questions like "If this is man?" of Primo Levi, the holocaust survivor, or alternatively how did such chaotic and evil forces emerge from another human soul? We left unarenswered. We stood there and we didn't know how to explain, we only pondered how on earth did people survive there in the ferocious cold, while being tormented, without any food, with shards of fabric serving as cloth, battered, bruised and disconnected from all their loved ones.
A strong bond and friendship formed between the delegation's members, the life story of the holocaust survivor who accompanied us, the sites we saw and the ceremonies we held on Polish soil, the vast graveyard, showed us why we shouldn't take anything for granted, especially in these days, when threats to destroy us are once again becoming more and more common.
We held the final ceremony in one of the prisoners' blocks inside Auschwitz- Birkenau. After completing the ceremony, we sang the Israeli national anthem, Hatikva, and then went outside to the frost. The wind was carrying feather-like snowflakes, but in our hearts, we carried the sentiment that we are free people, free to live in our country and elsewhere, free to choose good, free to choose life.
The journey to Poland was one of the most important events for me as an Israeli and as a Jew, and it will forever remain in my thoughts and in my heart.