We had a long day in Auschwitz Birkenau. We began the visit at the Alte Judenrampe, the place where until about May 1944, most of the Jews who were brought to Auschwitz came off their trains and were walked into the camp. The Auschwitz Museum has wisely decided not to create a memorial there but just to have some signs explaining the place, a couple of copies of drawings made by people who arrived there, and a box care. We then walked the approximately 1/4 of a mile to the camp entrance in silence. No one had to ask for it. It just seemed the appropriate thing to do.
Spent most of the day in Birkenau and, at that, most of the time in the back at Crema 5,4,3,2 [in that order], the Sauna, Canada, and a few other places. For me the most powerful part of that visit is to the exhibit of pictures in the Sauna. They are family pictures brought to Auschwitz/Bikenau by people who, under the impression that they were being resettled, brought their most precious memories with them in the form of family pictures. They are so precious because they show the victims in all their life and not in their camp status.
The group held a most moving service right next to Crema 2 [between the remains of the ovens and the pit/pool into which the ashes were dumped]. The most powerful part was when people began to call out the names of those for whom they were mourning.
After a relatively short visit to Auschwitz 1, we returned to Krakow. At dinner we were joined by 3 members of the Tzulent [pronounced Chulent] society, the Jewish "young peoples" society of Krakow. They were wonderful. These are young people who are finding their way to their Jewish identity. None of them knew they were Jews or practiced Judaism growing up.
One of them talked about the vibrant 300 member Krakow Jewish community. On the way back to the hotel Brigitte Dayan, who lives on the Upper West Side, observed that there are more Jews in her building than are members of the Krakow Jewish community.
Yet rather than being depressed everyone -- Israelis and North Americans -- walked out on a high. Here were young people who celebrated their Jewish lives in a place that has been so marked by Jewish deaths. They are making a difference. All of us in the group have a choice in how we want to live our Jewish lives... in fact we have lots and lots of choices.
They don't have those choices and yet they so value what they do have. They were the perfect antidote to what we had seen during the day.
The members of the group then did something really amazing. On the spot they collected $1000 and gave it to the Tzulent society to support the Seder they are making. And they did so to honor the three scholars and leaders who have accompanied them on this trip: Larry Moses, Ezra Korman and myself. They could have given us nothing more precious than this.
It is a gift I shall truly treasure.
Now some folks have gone off to the Jewish quarter. I am off to bed since our wake up call comes at 3:15 a.m. tomorrow.
Next stop: Budapest.