Reflections on Visiting the
Extermination Camps: 2005
Margaret and I have
returned from The March of Living trip to Auschwitz and two
other Holocaust extermination camps. Joining us from the
Nassau County Holocaust Center were Holocaust survivor Gloria
Glantz, her son Craig, and Holocaust survivors Eddie and
Judy Weinstein. Also in Poland for the March of the Living
were 21,000 others – many students and Holocaust survivors
from throughout the United States, Israel and over 65 other
countries. This was the first time Holocaust survivors and
other adults were invited for this annual march of teenagers.
The inclusion of adults was inspired as a commemoration of
the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of the Holocaust camps.
We heard detailed survivor testimony about their horrific
experiences, we saw crematoriums, gas chambers and many graves.
On the other hand we were exhilarated by being among thousands
of youth carrying Israeli flags and singing songs in Hebrew.
This trip also provided a view of Jewish life in Europe prior
to the Holocaust. We visited old Jewish quarters in Warsaw
and Krakow. We saw abandoned synagogues and walked through
old cemeteries where great rabbis and every-day Jews were buried.
We heard historical talks from our tour leader, Dr. Bill Shulman,
President of the Association of Holocaust Organizations, from
our Israeli-born bus tour guide, and from our Polish bus guide.
We were also blessed with testimony from survivors throughout
Upon arrival in Poland,
we boarded our bus and immediately drove to Treblinka, a
death camp where over 800,000 people, primarily Jews, were
exterminated during 1941-1942. This was an awesome sight.
One could feel the death hidden by the surrounding forest.
We heard the vivid testimony from survivor Eddie Weinstein,
who was at Treblinka for seventeen days before he escaped.
We all benefited from Eddie’s testimony that day. For
the remainder of the trip I found myself often in conversation
with Eddie, hearing about his time doing forced labor, his
seventeen months being hidden by the owner of a fish hatchery,
his time in the Polish Army and his journey post liberation.
Later that day we stopped at the site of the Warsaw ghetto
and heard about the ghetto uprising. We visited a standing
ghetto wall and memorials to the uprising. We asked about the
current Jewish population in Warsaw and were saddened to hear
that less than 300 Jews live there today. Although census numbers
are not available, it is believed between 5,000 and 10,000
Jews live in Poland.
The second morning
after minimal sleep, we went to the Warsaw train station
for the four-hour ride to Auschwitz. On the platform our
group stood along with hundreds and hundreds of other people
from around the world, many young, carrying flags from their
country and also holding Israeli flags. Adjacent to us was
a group from Ecuador and next to them Canadian teenagers. The
first train pulled in, jammed with smiling teenagers. When
the train stopped the teens came to the window, and put out
a sign saying “EITZ HAYIM MOSCOW.” The Ecuadorian
group began singing in Hebrew and we all joined in, including
the Russian teens on the train. We were all overcome with emotion.
We marched into Auschwitz and hours later heard inspirational
presentations by former Israeli Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Nobel Peace Prize winner and
Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel.
We then went to Krakow.
On day 3, we returned to Auschwitz-Birkenau. We walked throughout
the camp for hours seeing a gas chamber, barracks and a prison,
while continuously listening to survivor testimony.
Over the next three days, our trip included a lengthy stop
at the Majdonek extermination camp where the gas chamber, crematorium
and barracks all stand. We went through each, hearing about
the operation of the camp and thinking about the people coming
to the camp, going through selection and for the few who were
allowed to live, to hear about life at the camp.
Among our other stops, we visited the recently opened Auschwitz
Jewish Center, the Galicia Jewish Heritage Museum in Krakow,
an old large Jewish cemetery in Warsaw and the Jewish Heritage
This trip was physically
and emotionally challenging. Often I felt like I was on an “emotional roller coaster.” Although
I have read many books about the Holocaust and recently heard
many survivors’ testimony at our Holocaust Center, being
in Poland at the sites brought out a much more intense feeling.
Margaret and I spoke at length about our feelings at dinner
after the two-day visit to Auschwitz feeling totally emotionally
drained. I expressed my desire to further my involvement at
the Nassau County Holocaust Center to memorialize this era
and help prevent anti-Semitism and racism from happening again.
My work ahead will be challenging, but this week has provided
I have always been
proud to be a first generation American whose Jewish parents
escaped from Germany. This trip reinforced how special it
is to be a second generation Holocaust survivor and the importance
of teaching “the lessons of the Holocaust.”#