Central Europe Discovery 1: Update #3

Central Europe Discovery 1
Update # 3 – Krakow

We cannot believe that a week has passed since we all first met and set off on this journey. As Sunday night closes, we end our stay in Krakow and prepare for our route to Warsaw. Teens are re-packing bags and reflecting with friends new and old on the sights we have visited.

Upon arriving in Poland our first major attraction was a tour through the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Zach M. said the following, “I really enjoyed the Polish salt mine with Simon, our tour guide. Simon was funny and energetic, and he made something that would seem boring into an interesting experience!” During the tour we saw sculptures made of salt and learned the history of the mine and the wealth it brought to Poland.

After settling into Hotel Wilga, we dressed for Shabbat and began our walk to one of the city’s newest synogogues, at only 150 years old. The shul was packed with an estimated 600 people from all over the world, some our teens knew from other organizations back in the States! It was a festive evening of prayer and song for all to share. On our walk back to the hotel after dinner, we were able to see preparations for the Jewish Festival which we attended on Saturday.

We were able to get some extra rest by sleeping in slightly, before meeting for Saturday morning services, and then it was time to see Krakow!  Our walking tour took us through the streets, to Wawel Castle, where Dima entertained us with stories of fire breathing dragons and the development of Jewish culture through centuries in Poland. He taught us about the roller coaster of prosperous years, and years of pogroms and restrictions. He explained the foundations of the Jewish quarter and how Jews shaped the economy and culture in the area. We visited seven different synagogues, all with a story. Dima is a master of storytelling and we cannot wait to share these with everyone back home!

The afternoon was spent in Market Square – free time for all! Rain couldn’t stop us from eating and shopping for souvenirs. It was then time to attend the festival, once again jam packed with people enjoying various musical performances. Our group wasted no time getting to the front of the stage dancing and absorbing the joyous atmosphere in Szeroka Square.

Evening programming came after dinner, with a shift to the more serious – preparation for the next day’s visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau.

Now, as I think through everything we have done so far and try to summarize today’s events, I thought it best for you to read some of the reflections from the teens…

“Today we visited Auschwitz, and it is a difficult topic for a lot of people especially the Jewish people. But it was a really moving experience for all of us and it gave us an insight of how our ancestors suffered for no reason. Now I have a better understanding of “never forget” so this does not happen to us again or anyone else.” – Jacob R.

“After visiting the concentration and death camps in Poland today, I’ve gained a new perspective on the history of my ancestors. It was a very difficult day to get through but with the support of all of my new friends, it was more bearable. I came out of this day with a new appreciation for life and the motivation to no longer be a bystander in the face of discrimination.” – Brooke F.

“Visiting the camps in Poland was a very difficult but important experience. Now that I have first-hand experience, I have a completely different perspective on the events of the Holocaust. I can now help educate my peers and community at home who have trouble understanding what we are taught at school. This day also helped me realize how strong of a community we have built in less than a week.” – Phoebe C-S

“When I think back on the stories Dima told us about survivors of the camps, heros who were murdered, and how many people saved the lives of others and died, as well as those who fought for their own preservation, I have a hard time comprehending the horrors of their experiences. Yet there are so many more stories that are left untold. One of the stories shared on Sunday was of a Birkenau survivor who lost his father in the camp’s hospital. Upon visiting, the son contemplated stealing the father’s bread but did not out of love for his dad. The next day his father was gone and he made a promise to himself to do what was necessary to survive. All sense of logic was left outside the camp gates.

One example we learned today was of a famous Polish boxer, who was turned in by a woman in Paris.  When taken to the camp, he was recognized by one of the Nazi guards and they used him to fight for the Nazi’s entertainment.  When he won, he was rewarded with extra food to allow him to maintain strength for the next fight. Instead of eating it himself, he gave it to others who needed it more. The fighter survived all the way to the Death March near the end of the war. During the march, he saw many people suffering and decided to sneak out of the line at the next city to steal bread to give to the people in need of food. On his way back, one of the guards saw him and told him to freeze. He kept walking and got shot. This story is heroic and shows how courageous the boxer was to help others around him.

I hope I can be this courageous in my lifetime to help the Jewish community, and the world, remember the atrocities of the Holocaust. It’s crazy to think these are just two stories of the Holocaust and how many more there are. There are few survivors left, it is up to us to make their stories last forever.” – Will S.

Thank you for reading our stories tonight. Good night to all!

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