Today we descended to ‘the depths’ and called upon God from the hell on earth known as Auschwitz. Before entering the notorious Concentration Camp, our small group of Jews and Christians prayed together the words of Psalm 121 and then lined up arm-in-arm under the infamous and cruel sign “Arbet Macht Frei – Work Makes You Free” even though the sad reality is that there was only one way out for most of the Jews who went through Auschwitz, and that was unfortunately through the horrific chimneys of the crematoria.
Having lost so many family members in the Shoah, this was a particularly personal pilgrimage for me. In one of the barracks of Birkenau, Yad Vashem established a memorial room listing the names of the six million Jewish victims. I found not only the name of my great-grandfather Meir Weisz, of blessed memory, but pages and pages and pages and pages of Weisz victims. Horrifying.
In the barracks where both our grandparents spent sleepless nights and where our great grandparents perished, Rabbi David Abrahamowitz and I recited the Kel Maleh memorial prayer for the six million victims of the Holocaust. “God who is full of mercy, remember the souls of our holy martyrs who died to sanctify your name and may the eternally rest in peace.”
At the end of the tracks, the final stop for countless victims of Auschwitz, is a cattle car which transported Jews from throughout Europe to the platform where Dr. Mengelle cruelly separated fathers from their families and mothers from their children.
Where those who were strong enough to work were sent to the right and those who were too young, old or sick to withstand the back breaking labor were sent immediately to the left, and to the gas chambers.
After the harrowing visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, we headed back to Krakow to a site of hope and life in the midst of the terror and death. We visited the enamelware factory of Oskar Schindler, whose commitment to his Jewish workers made famous through Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List” earned him a place among the Righteous Amongst the Nations fulfilling the Jewish maxim that ‘One who saves a life, saves an entire world.’
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