We are all doing great and we (staff) were very impressed by the respect that the teens showed today and how engaged they were in learning and expressing their thoughts throughout the day.
Beginning our day very early, we toured the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, located in the town area of Osweicem, 37 miles west of Krakow. Oswieem was 80% Jewish when Auschwitz became a concentration camp in 1940.
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 there. Of the people brought to Auschwitz, only 10% of each transport was not killed immediately, and of all those sent to Auschwitz, only 1% survived. By the end of 1944, two and a half million people had died of disease, starvation, were worked to death or tortured by medical experiment.
Today, the main camp of Auschwitz is a museum with artifacts in each of the barracks - personal items, such as eyeglasses, prosthetics, tallit, brushes, shoes and suitcases. Along with barracks describing living conditions, there is a model of a crematorium and a full display of Zyklon gas cans. Most chilling is the room display of shorn hair spanning across the entire room behind a glass wall.
"Today was incredibly eye-opening and made so many stories from the Holocaust seem real. After seeing Auschwitz, we looked through books of names of victims there. I was able to find Adolph and Zdenka Klein, my great grandparents whose daughter survived on a kindertransport. It was so meaningful to know that they were counted and remembered. They were not lost in the masses. I'm taken aback by the effort put in to remember these people." - Jordan Kotler, Northern Region East BBYO
"You read about all these stories of the concentration camps, but, being here is something else." - Brent Fischbein, Columbia, Maryland
The massive area of Birkenau is a grim reminder, with burnt remains of the crematoriums and barracks in full view. Walking under the famous arch (pictured) was surreal for most and made the reality of the Holocaust real for everyone. Our time at Auschwitz was highlighted by our survivor, Trudy, telling her story to all of us in a barrack similar to the one she was in 70 years ago. We are so fortunate to have her with us on our journey. The teens are already so enthralled with her and to see them helping her and walking with her, holding her hands, it is a testament to their character and compassion. I know you are as proud of them as I am.
"We must share these stories so the next generation will know, too, what happened." - Sarah Sheinkopf, New York
"We are their revenge! This quote that Ronen (Israeli Guide) said to us made a real impact on my experience today. I am proud to have been able to walk out of all the places our ancestors were not able to walk out of. I'm proud to be able to live my life freely and I'm proud that Hitler didn't win. We did, and the next generation of teens like us, walking in and out of the camps, prove that we as a Jewish people are stronger than they gave us credit for." - Sarah Weprin, North Texas-Oklahoma Region BBYO
Tomorrow, we will visit the area that was once the Krakow Ghetto and then return to Auschwitz for the actual March of the Living walk to Birkenau, joining thousands in a silent protest march to prove that Hitler did not succeed.
I look forward to sharing more with you tomorrow.
Take care, Sherrie
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