Day 4 - Belzec, Rav Elimelech and the Children's Forest
One of the first things that my (beloved) tour guide Tzachi told my group was that "[In a situation like the holocaust] there are so many questions, and there will never be answers."
Today these words rang true. Some atrocities belong to the impossible. And today we stood and saw what should have been the impossible.
We began the day in good spirits, feeling rejuvenated after a 'full' night's sleep and after breakfast and tefillah, we left our hotel in Lublin and headed to Belzec.
Prior to our visit there, my knowledge on the infamous death camp was fairly brief and simple, but as soon as we pulled up to what once was a place of death and loss, I instantly felt claustrophobic. I felt like my lungs had closed up. The feeling was no longer foreign to me, as I felt it too upon arrival at Majdanek.
It was as if my body knew what horrors occurred at Belzec, even before my mind did.
The memorial echoed an empty silence, telling nothing of the screams that had once filtered through the walls of gas chambers.
Women. Men. Children.
How can you fathom a mass of 600,000 people, all different, yet all the same, all stripped of everything they had ever known and loved, all together yet all alone, led to their deaths?
And only 2 survivors.
We walked through the monument and the museum in a knowing silence. We learnt of people who were taken from what was known as the 'General Government', in the centre of Poland.
While I had no direct connection that I knew of, to anyone taken to Belzec, I still felt such a strong, emotional connection to the people who were taken there. It's moments like those, standing in what was a Death Camp, atop of the defiled bones of my people, that make me feel completely, and in the most raw form, Jewish.
After leaving Belzec, we headed to Lezajsk to visit the grave of Elimelech, a well known and beloved chasidic rabbi.
At first, I was skeptical about the stories I'd heard about pleas made at the grave coming true, but even so, I knew it was important to go into the house with an open mind, and we all did.
As soon as we began to daven minchah, I felt a pulling connection, as our voices reverberated against the walls we were surrounded by, and I felt whole, united, a part of something. It was such a paradox to the deafening silence of Belzec, and it was beautiful.
Together we sang and alone we prayed to G!d, thinking of those we love and those who need our prayers. Everyone was overwhelmed by the power of our singing, and the spirituality we all felt as our year became one entity.
We left the grave at nightfall and headed with trepidation to the children's forest of Zelitovska Gura.
We were aware of the facts. 800 children taken to be executed and thrown into pits while their families were transported to Belzec. But we couldn't prepare ourselves for actually being there.
How could we?
We walked along the path, shaded by naked trees, grown by the blood of our brothers and sisters. Children our age. Younger.
And I posed an ultimatum to myself, one that I think we all have at some point in time.
It could have been me.
And even more than that, I looked at my friends who I walked arm in arm with and I knew;
It could have been them.
And I pictured my gorgeous brother and sister whom I miss so much and sobbed because;
It could have been them too.
I wracked my brain as to how I would write this. How could I possibly do justice to the horrors hidden behind those trees? So that all of you reading this could feel what we felt there, what those children felt there.
And I realised an overwhelming truth that there will never be justice, and we will never understand what happened there that day. But we can live. We can live and grow and prosper and that in itself is revenge against the Holocaust.
Rabbi Benji screamed 'Am Yisrael', 'the nation of Israel'. And we screamed back 'Chai', 'lives'.
And that's just it. The nation of Israel lives. The Nazi's failed. We are still strong. Still here. Despite all odds, the trees that stood silent witness to the desperate cries of families being torn apart and murdered, will now too bear witness to the survival of our people.
And after leaving the forest I knew that I will live for those children who will forever be children.
And I will.
Am Yisrael Chai.