Israel at last!!!!! (Day 8)

From Poland to Israel… dark to bright, cold to warm, heavy to light, sad to elated, (what felt like) holding our breath to exhaling… we have arrived in Israel! The contrast from there to here is astounding, and not lost on us. We truly couldn’t be any more grateful to shed the extra layers needed there (physically and emotionally), and be here. Even though we flew overnight, didn’t sleep on the plane, and arrived before 5am to just change clothes and go straight into our day… today was an amazing, energized, empowering day.

Reflections from Danny Niedermann and Daniel Moss…

Daniel M.: I have been to Israel around 10 times in my life. I have a lot of family here and I consider it my second home. When we got off of the bus today, I took one look at the Israeli sand and started sprinting towards the sea. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen after a heavy week in Poland. It felt like a breath of fresh air that was a must need. Going from such sad stories and experiences to the freedom of the Jewish State of Israel is indescribable. Throughout the day we went to the Baha’i Gardens in Haifa, The Grottos in Rosh Hanikra, and then we went on a Disco boat on the Kinneret. It’s safe to say that this has been one of the greatest days of my life and I am still smiling as I type this. I can’t wait to see the other side of this great country that I have not seen before.  -Daniel Moss, Walnut Hills HS

Danny N.: Yesterday, we woke up in a land that symbolizes the darkest time in our people’s history, a land that still struggles with remnants of the Holocaust 70 years later. Today we woke up in the homeland of the Jewish people. A land that has been a safe haven for Jews being persecuted and humiliated around the world. We started the day with the beautiful roman aqueducts of Caesaria. The ultra fine sandy beach and Mediterranean Sea serving as our inaugural step in our journey through the promised land. Following that we went to the port city of Haifa to see the beautiful Baha’i Gardens and learn about the Baha’i people. We then went to the Israeli-Lebanese border and the city of Rosh HaNikra. We saw the beautiful caves looking out onto the Mediterranean and then partied and danced on the Sea of Galilee.

In less than a day we went from the horrors of the Holocaust to the sights and wonders of the State of Israel. What a difference. Even though I’ve been to Israel before, today, on my birthday, I saw Israel in a completely new light. The last week has really shown me just how precious life is, and now I get to spend the rest of the week celebrating life in a truly magnificent land with truly amazing people. For that, I’m so grateful.  Am Yisrael Chai!  -Danny Niederman, Mason HS

During our journey, we’re sharing a few highlight photos per day in our daily blog, yet to see ALL of our photos (many per day), go to our shared album here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0SJqstnBJ10BQS

 

IMG_4582Ceasaria aqueducts, Mediterranean

Rosh Hanikra

grottos

Rosh Hanikra

grottos

Disco Boat at Tiberias

Disco boat on the Kinneret

Disco Boat at TiberiasKibbutz Sha'ar Ha'golan

 

The Children & Krakow, last day in Poland (Day 7)

Reflections from Sam Scherer & Reily Boss…

Sam: Here we finally are, about to board the plane to Israel. This week has been a roller coaster of emotions, filled with laughing, crying, cheering and hugging. We have learned so much about the tragic Jewish history in the Holocaust.  I didn’t expect to cry myself, but managed to break down today while looking at the letters from my family which have flown thousands of miles for me to see them. Tomorrow we wake up in Israel, the land of milk and honey, where we will learn so much more about our heritage while becoming so much closer on the journey.

-Sam Scherer, Lakota West Hs

Reily:

To start off the day, we traveled to a forest called Zblitowska Gora. Never would I have believed a beautiful forest, such as this one, was a previously horrible place. If it wasn’t for Peppi, our tour guide, I wouldn’t even begin to imagine the horrific scenes that took place here. We visited the ditches where the Jewish people were murdered into ditches. The one that really spoke to me was the first ditch we walked up to. 800 children murdered by hand grenades, bayonets and bullets lied there. I couldn’t even begin to fathom how the Nazis could do this to such innocent people, my people, our people. After taking a moment for ourselves to comprehend what we were standing in front of, Peppi shared some stories of survivors. One woman, by the name of Rivka Yosselewska, witnessed the deaths of all her family members with her that day, including her own baby who was ripped from her hands and thrown into the pit. She survived that inconceivable experience by crawling out of those pits after the Germans left for they did not know the bullet they shot at her had only grazed her head. Bodies and bodies had fallen on top of her yet she still managed to make her way out. Another woman, who has remained unnamed, wrote a beautiful, sorrowful letter to her daughter who she had to give up to someone else in order to save her daughter’s life. The letter spurred so much sadness inside of me, because I luckily have the chance to grow up with my real mother, when this little girl didn’t. I can’t even imagine not having my mother in my life. Throughout my entire life, she has taught me so many lessons and loved me unconditionally. My appreciation and gratefulness towards her has reached a new level. Everyone needs a mom no matter who you are…

I really realized this when we received letters from our families on the bus after the forest. Once my letter was handed to me I immediately started crying. We all didn’t know who the letters were from, but I can recognize the handwriting that wrote my name anywhere, it was my mom’s. I opened up the letter with such joy and happiness for I haven’t seen my family in a week and I miss them very much. Opening that letter made me the most emotional I had ever been on this trip so far. Everything has been building up inside of me and it was all released at that moment. This trip has really opened my eyes and helped me realized how lucky I am to have them.

Eventually, my tears dried up and my spirits were lifted again as we went to the Jewish Quarter in Kraków to visit many old synagogues. They dated as far back as the 1600s, and some are still functioning today. The architecture of the buildings were absolutely stunning. Many were very tall and prominent in the streets. Inside, some had prayers written all over the walls. The prayers were used as decorations, but also for those who did not have enough money for a prayer book. Other synagogues had church like features (like stained glass windows and an organ although it was never played) really intrigued me. This intrigued me, because I am half Christian and it was interesting to see the Christianity influence on these historic Jewish synagogues.

After a day of emotional highs and lows, we were able to release our tensions through shopping and eating at Old Town in Kraków. Going through a week of the same food over and over again, I needed something I could end my time in Poland with a bang. Searching all over the town, I ended up at Hard Rock Cafe with some other people from our delegation. Feeling good from divulging on American-related food, we headed to the market place in the middle of the square. Many trinkets and t-shirts were being sold there and my group and I got some good stuff! With our full stomachs and goodies we headed back to the bus to end our very last day in Poland. Now we begin our new chapter in our trip at the Polish airport where we leave for Israel. In Poland I learned more stories about Jewish survivors in one week than I could ever have during all my years in school. Peppi taught us the significance of every historical holocaust building, monument, museum, building, etc. I am so thankful to have been given this opportunity to experience a trip like this which I will never forget. Like how I will never forget the holocaust. Am Yisrael Chai.

-Reily Boss, Wyoming HS

During our journey, we’re sharing a few highlight photos per day in our daily blog, yet to see ALL of our photos (many per day), go to our shared album here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0SJqstnBJ10BQS

 

Today, WE MARCH! (Day 6)

Reflections from Abby Whayne, Hannah Guttman and Austin Rudd…

Abby:

Something life changing happened today. Thousands of Jews from all around the world came together, in one place. The place where MILLIONS of Jews died. Normally, Auschwitz is full of sadness and gloominess but today it was full of life and high spirits. It almost sounds weird that the place that destroyed millions of people and families was full of joy; pure joy. And yes, tears were shed but most were happy tears. The tears that something so horrible and so wrong can bring together thousands that share the same feelings and emotions. Being with the other Jews from around the world almost makes me feel whole again. We have the privilege to enter AND exit the horrendous camp that our ancestors were not able to. We walked today for our ancestors. In their honor and memory.

After a long day of visiting the Kraków Ghetto and the Plaszow Labor Camp our feet and backs were aching. We were tired, hungry, and sad. When I was marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau I thought to myself, “there is no way I can do this. I am too tired, I want to sleep. My back kills from holding my backpack and my feet from standing and walking all day.” Then I realized there is no way I or anyone else marching can complain. The pain we felt is incomparable to the pain felt by the ones who suffered in the camps. We have to push; we are strong, just like our ancestors.

My spirits lifted as we got in place for the March. On the way to Auschwitz it started to rain. It was cold and gloomy out, just as it was yesterday when we visited Auschwitz. As the Cincinnati delegation entered the camp and stood waiting and talking the sun peeked out. All of the layers we once had on were shed. Everyone started laughing and meeting other delegations. Seeing everyone happy in a sad and depressing place is weird. I used to think that no one should ever laugh or smile in a place so disgusting and horrid as this place, but today was different. Jews, LIVING Jews were there. Jews that live great lives and Jews that are so different yet so similar. Trading with the other delegations was such an astounding feeling, one that barely anyone can experience. Jews that are all proud of where they come from all hug and love together. This experience is one I’ll never forget. I never want to forget this. Everything seen today is stuck in my head. Nothing will leave. I have always known evil is real but all these experiences have made us witnesses. Our greatest responsibility is to remember. The things we see can’t be forgotten. Going from 700 marchers at the very first March of the Living to over 8,000 this year is incredible. So many proud Jews that live in no regret and no fear of where they come from is so real and powerful. We have strength that we gained from our ancestors that we are proud of and will love and cherish forever.          – Abby Whayne, Lakota East HS

Hannah:

Today was THE MARCH. Thousands of Jews wearing the same blue MOTL windbreaker, all in the same place. Marching for and celebrating those who couldn’t. This was the most amazing experience of my life. Amazing isn’t appropriate for what this experience actually is. I truly believe that I will never do something or be a part of something so special, so powerful, meaningful, and important as participating in the March. This was so significant for me, and I’m sure for thousands of others, because about 77 years ago, the Nazis truly believed and obsessively hoped that we wouldn’t be here. BUT WE ARE and we’re not going anywhere. Today we celebrated the 6 million whose lives were stolen in the Holocaust.
I have never felt more proud to be Jewish than today. To be surrounded in a flood of Jews for as far as the eye could see (literally) was such a comforting and empowering feeling. It reminds me even more that Judaism will live on forever, and the memory of the fallen will never be forgotten. We listened to many speakers, but the one who stood out the most for me and brought me to uncontrollable tears was a survivor named Edward Mosberg. He was wearing his black and white stripe uniform and cap that was given to him when he was in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. I’ve had the privilege of hearing many holocaust survivors speak, but he is the only one who said he cannot forgive. He saw his entire family murdered and turned into ash. When he spoke, the podium was shaking and had to be held down by his escort. His granddaughter had to hold onto him because the passion in his voice caused him to lose his breath and balance. His speech really made me sit up straight and realize how recent the Holocaust was and at that moment I promised myself that I refuse to let anything like this happen again. Whether it’s ignorance at school or a protest against Jews on a college campus, I will not be a bystander nor will I let anyone be a victim. I will never forget so that a Holocaust never happens again. #NeverForget #NeverAgain                  -Hannah Guttman, Cincinnati Country Day HS

Austin:

Hello everyone. Today we started the day with a short amount of time in the Kraków ghetto. Followed by about an hour in a concentration camp called Plaszow. We learned that Plaszow was different from other camps, in that there was only Jews in the camp as opposed to other camps that had polish people and people of other ethnicities. After we left Plaszow we drove to Auschwitz. Once we arrived we walked into the camp. Immediately, I noticed a difference from yesterday. Yesterday, when we walked through the camp we all had a huge range of emotions, ranging from straight faced and trying to keep it together to extremely sad and in tears. But today I walked into the camp and at least five minutes had passed and I turned to Danny Niedermann and said “I just realized, we’re in Birkenau!” I FORGOT THAT I WAS IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP!!!!! I know that that sounds terrible but I have never see so many Jews being Jewish in the same place at the same time. The entire time that we were marching I’ve never felt more Jewish in my entire life. When I started this trip I started it with complete strangers but by the end of the third day I already knew that I would end this trip with a new family that I will always be able to count on.          -Austin Rudd, Little Miami HS

 

During our journey, we’re sharing a few highlight photos per day in our daily blog, yet to see ALL of our photos (many per day, including more detail of this preserved camp), go to our shared album here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0SJqstnBJ10BQS

Auschwitz-Birkenau (Day 5)

Reflections from Sydney Miller and Hannah Loftspring…

Hannah: 

Although our day began at Auschwitz, there was something I heard at Birkenau that set the mood for what I am about to say. I overheard a discussion about how the word ‘sad’ was an insufficient & quite frankly inappropriate term to use to describe the mood & story behind the Holocaust. It led me to be able to understand something I was thinking about earlier: why haven’t I cried? I cry at sad movies & everyday things that sadden & upset me, but the events we are learning about cannot be described as sad, but with words so much more powerful that I cannot even begin to think what they may be, as Peppi said, a new language would need to be invented. I think that it is of the utmost importance for as many people as possible to experience what we have on this trip and be to submerged in this knowledge so that as many ideas as possible can be put forward & we can begin to try to understand the intensity of the Holocaust. I know I speak for many when I say everyday I hear more & more unfathomable information that leaves me in awe.

Today we visited Auschwitz 1 and 2 (of the 3 main camps and 40+ subcamps of Auschwitz) in addition to where 1.3 million innocent Jews were sent. Amid all of the confusing emotions, I know exactly how I felt when our tour guide told the story of Rudolf Hoess, the Commandant of Auschwitz. He fled & hid in Germany, and even changed his name to avoid being found & tried, but a brilliant Jewish officer was able to track him down & soon after, Hoess was hanged at Auschwitz, in the same place where he led the most gruesome events, as well as where his kids were raised. My faith was restored knowing that, despite the heinous events the Jews underwent, some of those who were responsible were not let off of the hook, but only 10% were actually tried.

As we moved through the camp, it began to hail & pour down rain, then the sun came out soon after. I felt this was appropriate weather as it symbolized the attempted downfall of the Jews, then the bright comeback; I mean here we all are, part of the Jewish population that is back to the same number it was pre-war. As the Holocaust spanned over multiple years & there were more camps than we can imagine as well as ghettos, it is important that it not be forgotten, & those involved wanted to ensure that. Prisoners inside Auschwitz  took illegal photographs that were discovered after liberation. They photographed the despicable acts such as soldiers forcing women to undress, then mocking them & their bodies in attempt to strip them of not only their freedom & clothing, but dignity as well. Attempt after attempt was made to make the Jews feel worthless. They used words like “extermination” & gassed them with Zyclon B, a pesticide meant to kill pests. I chose the word ‘attempt’ to describe these crimes because today we are here to say that our community was strong, and they resisted & fought & no dignity was lost despite their harmful attempts. The retelling of heinous acts continued as we learned about the trials that took place for prisoners of war and internal camp prisoner “crimes,” but I don’t think  they deserve to even be called trials. They were less than a minute long & rarely was anyoone found innocent. As punishment they were placed into “punishment cells,” some were intended for suffocation with little to no air flowing in, some for starvation, and 4 others held 4 people at a time & you were made to crawl into a small opening near the ground & then stand for hours upon hours in the dark, crammed, before going to work the next day for 11 hours.

Tomorrow, on Yom Hashoah, we will return to Auschwitz, and march along with 12,000 other Jewish teenagers from the gates of Auschwitz into the killing center of Birkenau, honoring the 6 million murdered, yet also celebrating life. To be a part of that is another experience that I cannot put into words, & I wish that all of my Jewish friends & family as well as strangers from around the world could participle to prove once again that there was an attempt to destroy innocent, wonderful people, but it was only an attempt. We have grown once again into a strong community, now with even more appreciation for who we are. We cannot mourn enough for the lives lost, but we cannot celebrate enough either for our presence today.     -Hannah Loftspring, Sycamore HS

Sydney:

Real. If I had to choose one word describe our experience today it would be real. As we approached Auschwitz, we got out of the bus and you could tell the mood of the group had shifted. As we went around and all gave a quick word for what we were about to endure, there was a common theme. Some words people gave were uneasy, scared, nervous, etc. We had all heard about the atrocities that ocurred at this camp and we  weren’t sure how we were going to feel. Once in the camp, we started with the gas chambers. Immediately, this sparked something. As people entered the room and felt the energy from the walls, where 700 people were killed at a time, I watched people begin to break down. For some reason, this had a stronger impact than when we went into the gas chambers at Majdenek.

We continued to go on the tour and contrary to usual, none of us were having side conversations. We felt the heaviness of the thousands of people who had perished  here. One of the buildings we went in (formerly a bunker), had items that belonged to the Jewish people. It was seperated into categories, room by room. The first room we went in was full of hair. A huge glass display just piled high with hair, hair from the Jewish people that they cut off. I felt sick looking at this, our tour guide couldn’t even go into the room. We then went into a room filled with shoes, and I mean filled. Staring at the piles, 40,000 pairs of shoes, I could make out one pair of shoes, among all the grey. It was a little strappy white  sandal. I saw one and then another one a few feet lower and I was moved. When I had seen shoes in camps before, I hadn’t noticed pairs until today. This made me think of the woman that wore these shoes. It made me think of all the life that once filled up the space in these shoes. Other rooms had items that the Jews had packed in their suitcases, like teapots, plates, and even shoe polish. The Nazis had taken their most prized possesions, as if taking their life wasn’t enough.

After a few hours spent at Auschwitz, we then spent several more hours at the extermination camp of Auschwitz, Birkenau. Walking into this camp, we were all silent. Compared to Majdenek, this place was huuuge and I mean huge. To imagine all the terrible things that occured here was so hard for us all. There are train tracks running through the  camp, which brought 4,000-6,000 people per day. Of those, 90% were sent straight to extermination, which meant your chance of survival here was very low. There were rows and rows of bunkers that held the Jews, keeping in mind this was only 10% of the arrivals. People were sometimes given a chance to live in this camp by getting jobs. One job a woman had was to clean the litrine, which was rows of holes in concrete benches, called “the bathroom,” and even though this was a terrible job because thousands of people had to use just a few spots per day, she said it was good because the Germans never came in there (too disgusting for them) and that she didn’t have to be outside (and the harsh elements in just a striped uniform). There were also unspeakable acts that were commited unofficially and randomly. (WARNING: the following is graphic) One story that our guide told us was about a 16 year old boy who came to the camp and on his first day was raped by the Kapo (the senior prisoner who is assigned as a gaurd) and as he was being raped the kapo was shoving bread down his throat. This boy said even though it was so painful, he didn’t want the Kapo to stop feeding him bread because he was so crazed with hunger. After the kapo was done raping him, he stole the boy’s hat, because if you didn’t have your hat in role call in the morning, you were shot, and the kapo didn’t want anyone to hear of his unspeakable act. This boy was desperate, so he stole somone else’s cap and eventaully survived this camp. Although there were many other stories and heartwrenching things we learned today, we all stayed present and leaned on each other throughout. We ended off the day by stating what our individual revenge would be against these terrible people, and mine is marching tomorrow in and out of this death camp (the opposite of what the Nazis wanted, 2 generations later) in honor of all of those who can’t because their lives were taken by the Nazis. We’re showing our empowerment by marching with 12,000 other teens from around the world tomorrow, and even though you aren’t participating in this with us, it doesn’t mean there aren’t other things you could do to display how humanity overcame this hateful attempt to wipe an entire population out. Just remember- we’re still here.  -Sydney Miller, Sycamore HS

During our journey, we’re sharing a few highlight photos per day in our daily blog, yet to see ALL of our photos (many per day), go to our shared album here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0SJqstnBJ10BQS

En route to Auschwitz…

At home, many are just ending a normal Saturday night. Here in Poland, we’re on a bus, on a 4-hr drive to Auschwitz & Birkenau (the extermination camp of Auschwitz), to immerse there today. The silence on this bus full of normally chatty teens is as much of anticipation and nerves as it is fatigue (we got up at 5:45, and the intensity of these days is exhausting). I’ve been to these camps twice before, and the butterflies in my stomach are just as active as theirs, but maybe weighted a bit differently- knowing what we’ll see, haunted by the layers of it I’ve tried to comprehend over the last 6 years since my first visit with another very special group of Cincinnati teens I’ll forever be connected to in sharing that first experience together, and palpably aware of the responsibility that goes with being some of the few in the world who will ever come to this place, or attempt to understand at this level.
Deep breaths, as today will be difficult and challenging (two different things), heavy, immense, and… incredibly important.

-Sarah Singer-Nourie, trip co-lead/chaperone

Shabbat: The Warsaw Ghetto, Polin Museum & Umshlagplatz (Day 4)

Reflections from Cincinnati Delegates Josh Glynn and Hannah Levy…

Hannah:

Shabbat Shalom! Today we started with a little morning service, where we shared our true meaning of life. It was really amazing to hear each and every one of our statements on what we truly believe is the meaning of life. The answers went from “happiness” to “being true to yourself,” and entirely made us think deeply about the answer. We came to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong answer. As we finished up our service, we made our way to the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto. We learned about how Jews were treated in these places that our feet were actually standing on. What was so cruel and real was right in front of our faces, and beyond surreal. After the Warsaw Ghetto we made our way to the Polin Museum of History of the Polish Jews. Some of us may not be the museum type, but what they offered gave us reason to be. After we went through the entire museum we made our way to the Umshlagplatz (the train-station next to the ghetto, where the Jews of Warsaw were ordered to report, and then taken away on trains to the camps). This was something that spoke to me the most so far this entire trip. It sparked my eagerness to write today. At the memorial we were sitting waiting for Peppi (our tour guide) to explain where we were and what it was. Then suddenly, a man interrupted her and said “excuse me, sorry to interrupt but…” I thought maybe we had done something wrong. It happened to be that in the exact moment we were there, so was a women who entirely changed my life. Irene Kurtz is an 85 year old women who was 11 years old when she was standing with her family, on the verge of finding out which camp they would all be going to… where she was going to leave her loved ones forever, not having a clue that these camps were going to be hell. Not only did this happen to her, but it happened to her exactly where we were sitting. A few feet away, Irene as a little girl had been humiliated while the Nazis made her strip, get patted down, or anything else they ordered them to do. This meeting today was a fluke. It wasn’t planned that we ran into her. It wasn’t a guest surprise. It was a miracle that this woman had shown up. She told us a little about her life and when these things happened to her. Let me tell you-  it’s a blessing she was there in front of our eyes. As a delegation we have heard stories and talked to survivors for the past few months before this trip, but the fact that this lady was tortured and starved in the same place we we were sitting about 77 years ago made this story different. It felt so real. It made me more proud to be a Jew than I have ever been in my entire life. I felt proud and strong to see my peers and I talk directly with a survivor in such a significant place, out of complete coincidence. Besheret is what I want to sign off with – a Yiddish word, meaning “meant to be.” Today was a day that was most definitely meant to be, and will forever have me believing in miracles.

-Hannah Levy, Sycamore HS

Josh G: 

Although day four was on the lighter side, it was a meaningful day nonetheless. We started our day visiting different parts of the Warsaw Ghetto. Eventually we made our way to a beautiful museum in Poland that outlined the history and origin of European Judaism (almost all of our group originated). This museum was especially meaningful for me because it gave us a better understanding of all of the struggles the European Jews have been through before the Holocaust. I couldn’t help but notice that throughout the course of history, the Jewish people were constantly being persecuted and exiled. Unfortunately, this beautiful religion full of people that wanted nothing more than to live in peace were never able to do that. After going through this museum, a very important question came to me… Why is it always the Jews? Why are Jews the consistent scapegoat throughout European history? I then related this to slavery in America. In America, the majority race (White) enslaved the minority race (Black) because they felt they were lesser humans. They felt this way because of a difference in skin color. In Europe, the more powerful people  (Nazi’s) convinced the majority of Europe that the Jews needed to be exterminated. This intolerance came because the Jews (minority) looked and acted different than the rest. Unfortunately, this is the world we live in. Bigger, more powerful groups of people attempt to assert their dominance on minorities because they are different. Whether they have different skin or beliefs, the common theme is different. As I was walking out of the museum, many thoughts were going through my head after such a powerful experience. I thought about the roles being reversed. If the Jews were the majority, and the Aryans the minority… would a similar event such as the Holocaust have occured? I surely hope not. Spending a day at the Polin Museum made me incredibly proud to be of Jewish descent. After everything… we as a religion are here on earth, prospering.

-Josh Glynn, Sycamore HS

We also went to the spot where Mila18 (the leaders of the Warsaw Uprising) fell, and learned about the unbreakable strength and fight of the young leaders who stood up against the Nazis.

At the end of a day of learning and history, we explored a bit in Warsaw’s old city, then ended Shabbat with our Havdalah service.

Our words around the closing circle tonight, after Havdalah:

Mishpacha

Shavuah Tov

Connected

Family

Anticipation

Ready

Excited

Foundation

Overwhelmed

Crazy

Ancestors

Lucky

During our journey, we’re sharing a few highlight photos per day in our daily blog, yet to see ALL of our photos (many per day), go to our shared album here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0SJqstnBJ10BQS

Lublin & Majdanek (Day 3, 2017)

Reflections from Cincinnati Delegates Avi Goldstein & Drew Schneider…
Avi:
We boarded the bus this morning and headed towards the petit town of Lublin. Beautiful architecture, pubs, and polish signs lined the streets. It was hard to imagine such a beautiful area as once a harsh Jewish ghetto. We collected in front of an old building that was used as an orphanage for young Jews during the war. My positive view on the town shifted as I learned about the soldiers and trucks that took all the children, infants included, away from their home, out of the town, and into the woods to be massacred. It was hard to imagine the adults at the orphanage forced to watch all the children they lived with murdered before being shot themselves right in the peaceful town we stood in.
The morning set the tone for our next stop, Majdanek concentration camp. We bundled up in our coats, hats, and scarves and entered through a rocky passage that had a huge, intimidating rock awaiting above us at the end of the entrance way. From standing on any path in the camp, the skyline of Lublin is visible. The location of so many atrocities was so close to the town and yet they continued the labor until death process, uninterrupted, for 2.5 years. My stomach turned as we learned the story of Ilse Koch, the German general’s wife, who would ride her horse around the camp and point out individuals with unique tattoos to be killed, skinned, and turned into lamp shades for her home.
Realizing the amount of detail and preparation put into building Majdanek was hard to stomach as well. A company had to design the architecture, the floor plan for gas chambers. Somebody designed a trench around the chamber to collect body liquid. Another created a gas-safe door to seal in the hundreds of victims. Somebody sat down and designed an oven that would be most efficient for burning human bodies. A bathing room was even put into the warm crematorium for the german officers to relax in.
By hour 3 of walking through the bitter cold and heavy winds we all started to feel a bit tired, hungry, needing to use the restroom, wanting to sit, and very cold. However, with the feeling of coldness came a feeling of guilt for me. As if I had no right to feel cold or hungry. I wore a nice winter coat with a warm hat and 80 years ago individuals walked the same path with harsher weather and thin sheet-like clothing with mud covered wooden clogs as their only protection. The clogs were given to the prisoners upon entry to weigh them down, and their 80,000 street shoes were taken, collected, and are now piled together in one of the old bunkers.
The end of the story for many who were held in Lublin and Majdanek came at the “Harvest Festival” where german officers rounded up 1,800 Jews from the whole area, forced them to dig trenches, and murded them all by bullets in one day. The officers would have shifts so they they could take breaks for slaughtering the Jews to eat and drink vodka. Provided was large speakers to blast music so that the sounds of machine guns and screaming could not be heard over in Lublin. There are no bodies left from this event though, the Germans burned them along with most records and hard evidence of Holocaust relating events. The Germans did all they could to erase from history the existence of all the individuals they killed. And in a way they succeeded, so many people will never be known because of the destruction of records. But they can never erase the heavy energy and erie air that still fills the camp.

-Avi Goldstein, Sycamore HS

Drew:
We walk down a staircase and find ourselves in a tunnel, surrounded by rocks, The encapsulating and intimidating walls make us feel claustrophobic. Above us is a giant memorial, commemorating the 60,000+ murders that occurred on these soiled grounds. Welcome to Majdanek. The first thing I noticed about this camp was how revealed it was. From nearly every place that we stood, the bustling city of Lublin was in clear view. Clearly, the Germans had no intentions of hiding their horrid actions from the public.

Besides the shock, rage, and sadness that plagued me the entire 4 hours that we walked around Majdanek, I was excited to learn more about the culture surrounding the Holocaust and the perception many Europeans had towards Hitler’s initiative.

I think of the two giant metal doors that, when opened, revealed the gas chambers. I couldn’t help but notice a company emblem imprinted on the front-middle of the door. The men that designed this door (who knew full well what they were building and how it was going to be used) were proud of their work. This fact raises the controversial question: who is to blame for the Holocaust? Although, impossible to answer, I couldn’t help but feel the architect, construction workers, and every other individual who knowingly contributed to building up the infrastructure of the “Final Solution.”

Although I have countless stories to tell and many emotional experiences that I gained from walking the grounds of Majdanek, there was one experience that was especially disturbing. As we passed the rows of warehouses, the barbed wire fences, and the soldiers barracks, we all gathered around an enclosed part of the road. It just so happens that this part of the road was a piece of the original Majdanek road. As I looked closely, I noticed Hebrew letters on the pavement. We then found out that these were the headstones of Jews from destroyed Jewish cemeteries. I couldn’t even wrap my head around this idea. The soldiers used the headstones of dead Jews to create the paths of the entire camp. The intention of this action is ridiculous to me. The utter disrespect and evil that this reveals is emblematic of the entire Holocaust. My rage and grief are off the charts.

Although, I recognize the human inability to truly understand this surreal and terrifying event, I can confidently say (after only 3 days) that I am well on my way and beginning to grasp the gravity of our history.

-Drew Schneider, Sycamore HS

Typical architecture in Lublin, Poland. Once the Jewish/spiritual educational center and 3rd biggest Jewish population of Poland, the first Nazi-forced Jewish ghetto, then its “liquidation” of Jews during the Holocaust was here.

Then entry into the preserved Majdanek Concentration Camp… daunting and fitting

Look closely, and see that this Nazi road was made of Jewish tombstones.

Gas chamber in Majdanek. The blue stains are from the Zyclon B gas.

At first carbon monoxide was used to gas the prisoners, but then the Nazis preferred Zyclon B (originally a pesticide, but then produced en masse for the Nazis for mass killing), as it was more efficient, killing a whole gas chamber full of people in 10 minutes.

The barracks built in many camps were actually prefab constructions meant to be horse stables and hold 52 horses. Here, they housed 600-700 inmate people, wedged onto wooden bunks, 3-5 to a small bunk, 3 rows high.

Door to a gas chamber. The peephole’s purpose was to look in, not out-  for a guard to be able to confirm when all the people inside were dead, and it was safe to open the door. This took about 10 minutes.

The company who custom- designed this gas chamber door for most efficient killing, displayed their brand proudly on it.

The Crematorium. Human ash constantly billowed from this chimney throughout the town of Lublin. Residents needed to shut their windows to keep the human ash from coming in.

More efficient than mass burial pits, the Nazis added crematoria… these are the ovens in which bodies were burnt to ash then dumped, or spread on the mud to make for a drier walking path for the guards.

Thousands of shoes taken from innocent prisoners, fragrant even 75+ years later. So personal, each shoe seems to tells a story of the man, woman or child whose wear it shows. For many, this is the last thing we have of these anonymous victims.

 

During our journey, we’ll share a few highlight photos per day in our daily blog, yet to see ALL of our photos (many per day, including more detail of this preserved camp), go to our shared album here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0SJqstnBJ10BQS

Tykocin & the Lupachwa Forest (Day 2, 2017)

Reflections from Cincinnati Delegates Jonah Goldwasser & Josh Rosen…

Jonah:
The little shtetl of Tykocin was an eye opener for me. People can tell stories of their experiences in the holocaust and you can learn all about it in history books. But, once you’re actually there it’s a whole different perspective. I went into this shtetl not expecting much from it. Only to learn that the entire 1400 person Jewish population was wiped out in one day, it was the first shtetl taken by Nazi forces in Soviet territory. The forest of Lupachwa was heart wrenching. I didn’t have to walk into the forest to know that this was no ordinary forest. That a tragedy had happened there, that there was constant sadness and remembrance within the forest. As soon as I set foot off the bus, with the knowledge of the fact that we are on the same trail as these 1400 Jews from Tykocin and knowing that these were their last steps of life, I instantly felt overwhelmed. I began to tear up before we even took 10 steps into the forest. Once actually seeing the ditches which the Jews were executed like animals in, it became more surreal, and astonishing that a person, a human being was capable of this. It’s very hard to wrap my head around. When our guide, Peppi, read an excerpt from a Nazi soldier the words were chilling. “I thought of my two infants as I shot these infants.” And the fact that he said “I was nervous about the idea at first but after doing it a few times you become used to it.” There’s just nothing right about that, and the fact that he thought he was in the right is astounding.

-Jonah Goldwasser, Loveland HS

Josh:
It is surreal for something as picturesque as Lupachwa to be forever tainted by the horrific acts that occurred there in 1941. Seeing the 3 different areas in which the 1,400 Jews of Tykocin were buried was devastating, as the Nazis ruthlessly murdered entire families in these 3 pre-dug pits. This breathtaking forest, where these same families would enjoy many activities such as picnics, is now a place of sorrow. The most emotional portion of this experience, in my eyes, was lighting a candle with a name of a family that was brutally murdered in Lupachwa. I think I speak for the whole group when I say that the names that were on our respective candles will be names that will stick with us for a long time, if not our whole life. After the candles were lit, we came together as a group and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish, in order to honor the lives of the 1,400 buried in Lupachwa, as no one in their family was able to do so. To conclude, even though we were all exhausted, I wouldn’t want out first day to have gone any different, as Tykocin and Lupachwa have already taught us so much and brought us closer together as a group.

-Josh Rosen, Sycamore HS

A quote that came to Jonah, in reflecting on this day and this trip:
“Hard times build determination and inner strength. Through them we can also come to appreciate the uselessness of anger. Instead of getting angry, nature a deep caring and respect for troublemakers, because by creating such trying circumstances they provide us with invaluable opportunities to practice tolerance and patience.” ~ Dalai Lama

Our words around the closing circle tonight:
introspective
heavy
in awe
angry
speechless
sad
breathtaking
surreal
overwhelming
ridiculous
perspective
connecting

During our journey, we’re sharing a few highlight photos per day in our daily blog posts, yet to see ALL of our photos (many per day), go to our shared album here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0SJqstnBJ10BQS

The most important prayers on the walls of the temple in the Shtetl (small Jewish village)- as they didn’t have books. The temple was the center of spiritual life in the shtetl.

Peppi shows us a photo of boys in Cheder (tiny school, boys only, where they would start learning their Aleph-Bet, then torah, starting at age 3)

We followed this road from the Tykocin town square into the forest in complete silence, the same path that every Jewish man, woman and child of this town was forced to take on one day, to a spot where they were each shot into pre dug pits.

The last view that the Jewish children, women, and men of Tykocin had before they were shot. “Forest” is a word we’ll not hear the same way ever again.

A memorial candle for the Gold family, who perished in this forest on that fateful day.

Paying tribute to the hundreds of innocent Jews shot on top of one another, at their mass grave.

Memorial candles for individuals who perished here. It was important to us that we know their names and honor them specifically, as they had no family left to do so.

Worth it (Day 1, 2017)

After many weeks of meeting, learning and preparing together, plus a whole lot of anticipation… the day finally arrived. Gathering yesterday morning at CVG, we read our traveler’s prayer, hugged our goodbyes to our families, and were off. Two planes, one bus, three airports, and 16 hours later… we landed in Poland, having bonded in ways we might not have predicted. En route, we were rigorously and lengthily grilled by El Al security questioning (rigorously, as in question lines like “Can you sing a song from the seder you had?” after answering “Yes- I celebrated Passover”) before heading out of the country, some of our delegates got to wrap Tefillin for the first time (right in the middle of JFK airport, with cheers at the end), we shared thoughts about what’s defined us thus far in our lives… and we learned some layers about one another.
So now, with a quick change of clothes in the airport, we are on our bus (consistent “home” for the next week, as we’ll be in different hotels each night) with our guide Peppi, our pilot Magda and our security guy Dominic (they’ll be with us through Poland)… headed straight into one of our most important days through our dark history. We’re a little red-eyed, yet energized by the privilege of being here.
Some words that capture where we are right now (going around the bus), looking out of our bus windows at this new place:
ready
ansty
curious
interested
anxious
pretty
anticipation
crazy
excited
eager
nervous
suspense

From here forward, we’ll share a few highlight photos per day, yet to see ALL of our photos (many per day), go to our shared album here. https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0SJqstnBJ10BQS

-Sarah Singer-Nourie, representing our whole delegation

Our delegation of 20 + parents, just before we take off from CVG. Thank you so much parents and Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, for giving us this opportunity.

Our traveler’s prayer, read with parents in our first circle, right in the middle of the the Delta terminal, before we hug goodbye…

Once past security, we all got our journals, which will capture thoughts, learnings, emotions and moments throughout our journey. First entry: “Where I am (mentally, emotionally) NOW as we’re about to take off…”

After flying CVG-LGA, our bus from LaGuardia to JFK. Next was intense and lengthy security questioning from El Al airlines, making sure we’re going to (Poland then) Israel for innocent reasons. Getting more real now.

16 hours later… arrived in Warsaw! Excited, eager, nervous… let’s go!

Polish stamp in our passports… check!

From Here to There. (pre-trip, 2017)

Hello everyone!

I can’t begin to express how excited I am to begin this incredible journey on Wednesday morning! Of course, in many ways, our journey has already begun. We first met each other over 3 months ago and talked about our hopes and fears of this experience. We talked about our expectations. We heard from Holocaust survivors from our Cincinnati community. We had thought provoking discussions about anti-Semitism, how and where it began, and your own experiences dealing with it. We escaped from our Houdini’s escape rooms (one group getting out with ONE SECOND left). We learned the unique history of the Jewish state and the history of our people. We learned about the differences between Israeli culture and our own. — this is why I think we are incredibly blessed to come from Cincinnati. This is a community that gets you FROM HERE TO THERE. They prepare you. They give you opportunity that no other cities IN THE WORLD give. They have your back.

As we get ready to depart our beloved city of Cincinnati, I am reflecting about how lucky we all are. To be able to live in a city that gives you an experience that gets you FROM HERE TO THERE on so many different levels! I do recognize that it’s a two way street and you get what you put in. I want to thank each of you for giving your time and being present at our pre-trip seminars. For allowing Cincinnati to prepare you for what will be one of the most incredible experiences you will ever embark on.

Wednesday can’t come sooner. I couldn’t ask for a better delegation.

See everyone at 9:30AM at CVG!

 

-Phil Ganson, Delegation Head

 

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*not pictured: Avi Goldstein, Stephanie Mather, Drew Schneider, Hannah Levy

**This post marks the beginning of the 2017 Cincinnati March of the Living blog. Please follow us as we experience our journey!