Dor Brown wrapped in the Israeli flag as he approaches Treblinka death camp. (photo from Dor Brown)
Israel’s Journey to Poland – the equivalent of the Diaspora’s March of the Living, but without the Israel portion – is organized by the Israel Education Ministry and funded mainly by the parents.
Sept. 4, 2015
Every year in Israel, senior classes from high schools across the country have the option to travel to Poland on an organized tour of those terrible, yet important, Holocaust death camps. I chose to join my class and am now writing this from the bus on my way back from the Majdanek death camp. It’s probably been one of the most difficult and emotional days of my life.
We were in Majdanek for a grisly four hours. Going into the “showers.” The barracks. The room where the Nazis burned the dead bodies. At the end of the tour, we held a very touching ceremony near the mountain of the ashes. Yes, a literal mountain.
With my hand on my heart, this trip is a must for every Jew worldwide. Until you go to Poland and see firsthand these horrific sights, you really cannot fully understand the depth of the horrors and misery and death.
A snapshot. One hundred fifty students from my school crying their hearts out while looking at those terrible sights. Weeping while holding the Israeli flag. While crying out loud, we were all shouting together in our hearts and minds and with great pride: “Am Yisrael chai!”
Sept. 7, 2015
Today, we were in Auschwitz I, the labor camp and concentration camp that is now a museum. It was very difficult and very moving. Piles of hair. Piles of discarded shoes. Piles of glasses. It was unbelievably difficult to look at. An experience we should all have, however tough, to really understand how low civilization stooped.
After Auschwitz, we boarded our buses to the Plaszow labor camp. What remains is basically a beautiful memorial site. Amon Goeth was the cruel, barbaric and sadistic commander of this camp. He was the one who famously shot Jews for fun and practice. And tortured them in terrible ways.
Wrapping up the tour, our guide shared a story about a certain Jewish prisoner.
One morning, a Nazi guard came to this prisoner and told him he must run to his bunk. The prisoner did as he was told. When he arrived, he was greeted by Goeth. His meagre belongings were strewn across his thin cot.
Goeth was hunkering over his stuff with a picture in his hands. The picture was of Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl. “Who is this!” Goeth barked.
“Theodor Herzl,” replied the prisoner.
Goeth mocked, “The crazy Jew from Vienna who thinks there will be a Jewish country?!”
The prisoner was shaking with fear. He thought his death was near.
Goeth laughed and spat out, “The chances that it will happen are as slim as you becoming a cabinet member in that country’s government, or an ambassador.” With that, Goeth struck the man so hard that the poor prisoner blacked out.
Forty years later, that prisoner – Zvi Zimmerman – fulfilled Goeth’s prophecy. During his life, he not only was ambassador to New Zealand and a Knesset member in four Israeli governments but was also a deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament.
Upon finishing his story, the guide – with tears in his eyes – shouted, “Am Yisrael chai!”
For the rest of the day, we were all Zvi Zimmerman.
Sept. 9, 2015
Our last day in Poland. We woke up at 6:30 a.m. and headed to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the death camps. The largest death camp the world has ever seen. And, hopefully, the last death camp the world will ever know.
We saw lots of difficult places and sights over the past week but this was the toughest. I can’t describe the chills of dread going through my body as we entered the gate. The images of death running through my mind as I walked through the camp, the death place of my ancestors.
“Work Makes You Free.” Indeed.
The camp is huge. And beautiful. The surrounding trees are tall and green. To think that those trees were the last sight that almost one million of our people ever saw. How dare the camp be so beautiful today.
At the end of the tour, we had a ceremony where we each had to read out loud the names of persons who died in the Holocaust. It was a sad and exhausting roll call.
As the ceremony wrapped up, with tears pouring down our cheeks like rain, with hearts and souls broken, we all shouted together our rallying cry of the week: “Am Yisrael chai!”
As Yigal Alon said: a country that doesn’t know its past will have an uncertain present and future.
Dor Brown is the son of Bruce Brown, who immigrated to Israel more than 20 years ago from Canada. Dor and his family live in Rehovot. Dor is finishing high school this year, and will enter the Israel Defence Forces in October 2016.