As we sat in the synagogue, snow poured outside. We stood there, listening to the familiar words of the daily prayers and felt connected as one. I was in shock as I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that 75 years ago, this synagogue and yeshiva stood as a symbol of triumph. When all else was destroyed, the buildings stayed. Being able to experience this as a group and then talking amongst our intimate family groups gave us a chance to debrief. We spoke about new ideas that made us think deeply, compared to being simply fed knowledge. After our family groups, everyone rushed outside to feel the snow. For many, this was their first opportunity to see snow. It was incredible.
We then got on the bus and as we drove, tried our best to prepare our minds for what we were about to see. As we turned into Majdanek everyone went silent, taking in the reality of what occurred years ago. The air was cold as we stood in the snow. Our tour guide Tzachi spoke to us, and Michal read a portion of Halina Birnbaum's book.
We then walked into the room where they shaved the women's heads and showered them. The walls were concrete and let off a cold feeling which added to the depressing atmosphere surrounding us. As Tzachi spoke, pictures our my minds developed as we tried to imagine what he described. The cans of Zyklon B stored in the room showed proof of the horrors. As we all stood there as one, Ilan Lavan began singing Acheinu and Hatikva. Tears rolled down everyone's cheeks as we sang the words that unite us. Leading on from this were the gas chambers. There was no preparing for this moment. We all had time to ourselves to reflect on our experience. The gas chambers had an eerie atmosphere, yet it aroused curiosity about the depths of human indecency. I heard the cries of my people and felt sadness at the immense tragedy that was the holocaust.
I noticed something incredible about our year group as we continued on and finished by visiting the crematorium and seeing the ashes. Before IST, people from older years had told us that we shouldn't expect to cry. I think we only truly processed the meaning of that once we got there and saw that everyone reacts in different ways. Instead of focusing on how we were supposed to react, I felt that we came together to really focus on where we were and what we could learn from the experience. Yet to truly honour those that perished, we know that we must also celebrate the lives they had before.
We drove through town to our next location and were confused as to where we were going as it seemed like a ghost town. As we arrived at the old synagogue everyone's attitude toward the town changed. It is incredible how ones whole attitude can change according to the feel of the place. What changed our attitude was how we entered the room and we noticed that if you looked closely you could see the outline of what was a shul and was now abandoned.
We realised that when we began our day, even though people had perished, the first synagogue was still so grand and redone, then we go to the abandoned shul and we see it's only one side of the story because like many of the people that attended it had been left in ruins. We all began dancing and singing. This shul needed us more than any other, we made something out of what was nothing.