Touring Auschwitz and Birkenau

Yesterday, the group toured the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, located in the town area of Osweicem, 37 miles west of Krakow. We visited the only original synagogue left in the town and learned that the community was 80% Jewish before the Holocaust.

One of our staff, Rebecca Cohen, shared her family’s life in Osweicem and we were able to see documentation of her family in the synagogue. It was really special to share that moment with her and to bring Jewish life back into that town again. We then toured Auschwitz a short distance away, followed by Birkenau (2 miles away).

BACKGROUND: The Auschwitz concentration camp complex was the largest of its kind established by the Nazi regime. It included three main camps and 44 sub camps, all of which incarcerated prisoners for forced labor, but, Birkenau (Auschwitz II) was the killing center. Auschwitz is the only camp that administered tattoos to its inmates and the famous Dr. Mengele selected and performed medical experiments on the people here.

Of the people brought to Auschwitz, only 10% of each transport was not killed immediately. In total, at least 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz of whom approximately 1.1 million died there. Today, the main camp of Auschwitz is a museum with artifacts in each of the barracks. The massive area of Birkenau is a grim reminder, with burnt remains of the crematoriums and barracks in full view.

Later in the evening, the delegation from South Africa joined us after dinner to hear testimonies from the two special survivors traveling with us – Linda Schwab, Pennsylvania and Paul Galan, New York. Hearing their life experiences makes our experience here more personal and we are so fortunate to have them on our journey.

Hear from the teens:

“Seeing forty thousand pairs of shoes created a whole new perspective of the number 6 million.” – Maddie Rosenberg, New York

“There is something indescribable about turning the pictures from our history books into reality. Today, we were able to see those pictures right in front of our eyes and feel them beneath our feet.” – Sydney Alhadeff and Ariel Stern, Illinois

“Today, I learned that the Holocaust has touched us all. I grew up thinking that my family had little, but, today I saw the book of names of those who perished in the Holocaust. I was shocked when I found 13 pages of my last name, but spelled differently (Hersch instead of Hirsh). I found out later that my family may have changed the spelling. Amazing.” – Jack Hirsh, Philadelphia

“It wasn’t until being here that I was really able to put the Holocaust and its history into perspective. It’s incredible being in Poland and witnessing everything first hand. Our past has never been so real to me.” – Brielle Shapiro, New Jersey

“After listening to the survivors’ stories and witnessing the horrifying past of the Holocaust, I finally am able to comprehend the history of my people.” – Alli Pollack, New Jersey

“Today was the most surreal experience of my life. Walking through the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau gave me a new sense of belonging to my Jewish culture. I forever will be able to say I have witnessed this horror, and will carry on this message for the rest of my life.” – Noah Woolf, Pennsylvania

“Being surrounded by so many teens who all share a passion for Judaism is so powerful and impactful.” – Mollie Reich, New Jersey

1 comment… add one
  • Horacio Nov 1, 2017, 3:53 pm

    Hello there! Fantastic piece of writing! I really enjoy how you outlined Touring Auschwitz and Birkenau.

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