Our morning began with a spirited prayer and song session in “Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin.” We sang and danced together in this incredible an beautiful structure. This was a beautiful way to start our day together before entering the morbid realties of Majdanek. 

Our trip to Majdanek was when the reality of the Holocaust took on a new meaning for all of us. This extermination camp is almost on the border of the city of Lublin, and was the one camp that was not hidden in secrecy or subterfuge.  The fact that it is in almost the exact same state as it was when liberated,  made the visit all the more horrific.  Majdanek was one of the six death camps built by the German/Nazi occupation forces and the SS in occupied Poland. Originally a POW camp for Soviet prisoners, camp authorities started using Zyklon B to murder prisoners, and the camp continued to serve that purpose until it was liberated by the Soviet army in July 1944. Over 800,000 people were transported through Majdanek. The numbers of victims are estimated to be 78,000, including 61,000 Jews. 
After Fall 1944, the USSR used it as a place for detention of anti-Soviet forces among the Polish population. The camp covered 667 acres of land, surrounded by an electrified barbed wire fence, and 19 watchtowers. Up to 45,000 prisoners could be housed in the 22 barracks. The camp also had many satellite camps, and the Nazis planned to expand Majdanek to house up to 250,000 prisoners. However, these plans were never followed through. 

During its existence, Majdanek had seven gas chambers, two wooden gallows, a small crematorium and, from 1943, a larger crematorium. As in most concentration camps, many Majdanek prisoners died simply from being there. Death due to disease, starvation, exposure to extreme temperatures, overwork and, exhaustion, or from beatings by camp guards, were all extremely common. Others were murdered in mass killing actions. Many of the prisoners, mostly Jews, were sent directly to the gas chambers on arrival.  Clearly, this camp was a difficult one for us to visit and it was truly inspiring how our over 200 person delegation came together to lean on each other for support. 

Before we left the camp, we heard from the purple bus, who read a beautiful poem and facilitated a reflection session with our teens. We then drove to Warsaw, where after a group dinner and reflection, we welcomed our teens from Krakow into our community. It was so nice to be able to have a meaningful program with our teens from around the world. 

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