November 21, 2013
Our second day in Poland proved to be an emotional day for many as we came into contact with the real horrors of the Holocaust. We visited the sights of mass murders and were confronted with the harsh reality that is Treblinka.
Our first stop today was the site of the Bialystok synagogue. This was one of the main synagogues in the town in which more than half the population were Jewish pre-1939. We stood on the site of the mass murder of 700 Jews who were forced by the Nazi’s into the synagogue and tragically burnt to their death. We learnt of the incredible faith that was present in that community before the Holocaust and honored the legacy of many well-known Jews, who called the town their home.
As we drove from Bialystock to Tikochin we watched ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. The life of the Jews in Eastern Europe in the 18th century shtetl’s really came to life as we looked out our windows into the town of Tikochin. We made our way into what used to be the main synagogue that was built in 1642. As there were no siddurim available to the people of the town, the main prayers were painted on the walls so that everyone could join together to pray. For me, the prayers on the wall represented how the Jewish spirit remained present even though the Jews had been physically taken out of the Shule. We brought this spirit alive through singing and dancing.
We then went to the town centre where we saw where the Jews of the town had been rounded up. In silence we walked the footsteps of our brothers and sisters who had been separated from their families and sent in trucks to an unknown destination. On the way we listened to a psalm written by King David, The words that many mothers sang to their children, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you [God] are with me.”
We walked into the depths of the Lupochova forest in which the Jews of Tikochin were taken. As we arrived at the pits, I felt a strange connection with the 75,000 Jews that were shot dead. This was the first sight we had visited where Jews had been murdered. Feelings of grief hit home for many people and it was quite a confronting experience. After gathering together and singing Acheinu, a song which unites us with our fellow Jews, we took a moment to reflect on how we didn’t want their deaths to be in vain, and how we had a responsibility to go on living. Am Yisrael Chai. We were all given time to be with our own thoughts and reflect on what we had just experienced. Unlike the Jews who never got to leave, we made it our duty to walk out with our heads held high, each of us filled with Jewish pride and a promise to be active in our Judaism.
After lunch we drove to Treblinka, our first glimpse of a death camp. What many people do not realize about Treblinka was that it was so small yet it was responsible for the deaths of 870,000 Jews, with only 70 able to escape. Much to everyone’s surprise, there was basically nothing left of the camp as the Nazi’s had destroyed all of the evidence. 17,000 stones are all that remains there, each of which represent a town from which the Jewish victims came from. We lit a candle and said Kaddish in memory of the Jews who were killed there, many of whom we will never know their names. Therefore, it was our duty to honour their legacies.
The three hour bus ride to Lublin was filled with spontaneous singing which included a mix of a Counterpoint Ruach session songs and Tish songs, all of which lifted our spirits after a very confronting and empowering day.