The March of the Living at Auschwitz Bikenau

This is the third year I have marked Yom Ha’Shoah at Auschwitz Bikenau. Today 15,000 men, women and teens gathered to walk approximately 1.5 miles from Auschwitz to Birkrnau, exiting by groups through the well-known ‘ Arbeit Macht Frei‘ gate over the railroad tracks leading into Birkrnau, site of the now ruined crematoria where flames once were seen day and night as the over one million who died by Zyklon B gas over the course of Auschwitz Birkenau’s span of existence were then burned. 


Walking that path with thousands of others is powerful. It is emotionally overwhelming, sad, tragic, liberating, empowering all at once. We leave the one camp and walk on the tracks to the other. But we leave this place, we don’t die here. Hitler’s quest to eradicate world Jewery failed. We proclaim that with our presence and with our words. 

A cattle car by the tracks reminds us that hundreds were forced into a single car and with others attached traveled for days, without enough air, food or water until their final destinations.

Along the train tracks I placed a note with my family name. 

!זכר Remember! 

At this moment, at my first March since becoming a Bat Mitzvah last month, I kneel down and recite Kaddish.

Remember that people known as members of the Dambrot family once lived, and had names and lives and communitues and homes and they lived and they had every right to live out their lives. Remember that six million other Jews were mercilessly and barbarically murdered solely for being Jewishby means of industrialized murder never seen before or since.

As we approach the tracks speakers line the route, as slowly are recited names, ages and place of murder by the Nazis. It is unbearably tragic.

The March ends at a stage set up at Birkinau  by the ruins of the crematoria, where a stage awaits us for the program. Prayers, speakers, music follows. Six torches are lit and the flames jump wildly around, the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead is said by all.

Never forget that bigotry of words leads to violence of action and beyond. Never forget those who died in the Shoah. And may we take comfort in knowing that the State of Israel is there to defend the Jewish people, that this does not happen again.

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I am Witness to This

Our day began with the honor of attending a symposium held at Jagiellinian University in Kraków on The Double Entendre of Nuremberg: Hate and Justice. 

How did the Nazis combine the ‘rule of law’ to legislate hate laws against the Jews that led up to the gas chambers? After the war, how did the Nyremberg trials bring justice to these wrongs, using due process in the trials that saw only a small number punished for their barbaric crimes?

Alan Dershowitz spoke forcefully.

A remarkably powerful story of his life in many concentration and death camps was relayed by a 90-year old survivor whose raw emotions spread like electricity throughout the room.  “I am witness to this,” he proclaimed, gasping and shaking.

Other speakers included Irwin Cotler and Israeli Minister of Justice, The Honorable Ayelet Shaked.

Our group then visited the Old Jewish Quarter, which is really not Jewush any longer but is home to many important sites. We visited two old synagogues and a Jewish cemetery, as well as the Galicia Museum with its exhibits about past and current Jewish life in Poland. From a pre-war Jewish population of 3 million Polish Jews, perhaps 8,000 reside in the country today. 


The synagogue above has an adjoining cemetery with stones lying amidst overgrown grass, and the wall surrounding the cemetery is made of old stones fit together.

 


Later on, we had some time to explore the Old City, with its beautiful square and hall of shops.


After a lovely dinner, we attended a pre-March concerts hat offered a powerful array of music with the vocals of the Israeli Defense Firces Rabbinical Choir, its chief Cantor,Dudu  Fisher, and speakers including former Israeli representative to the Unuted Nations Ron Prosser. 


I was reflecting upon my emotions during this long day, and recognized that primary was the great sense of pride in the determination of the Jewish people to survive, and more than that to build a strong Jewistate to protect us. Yes.

Tomorriw, the March of the roughly 15,000 teens and adults from e the globe marching from Auschwitz Birkenau, both in honor of the murdered and as a sign that we have reclaimed our power and that we live

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Lessons Learned

What have I learned from my Holocaust, my Shoah, pilgrimage?

So very much, too much to name all at once, some lessons still percolating, and will be for a very long time. But some I’ve listed below.

The first lesson: Deuteronomy 11:18-19: Teach … your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Yes the text refers to the law handed down by God but is this not a derivative of the same? Children must learn about this atrocity. As survivors die, the living must remember.
Let us never, let our children never, forget that this was a planned, mass extermination of a people, 6 million of them, based upon their religion. It reflects the basest evil, not just in the Nazi core, but in the ordinary persons who saw and did nothing, who moved into empty Jewish homes and took ownership of their dwellings and all within them.

The second lesson: suffering is not always redemptive. My own faith journey has always led me to a place of redemption, even in my personal dark nights of the soul. But where is the redemption for the men, women and children who were shoved into closed cattle cars for days at a time, without water or food, arriving at death camps and being made to strip, walking into gas chambers under the guise of taking a shower, their corpses then tossed into crematoria? Or marched into the woods to be shot into ditches, covered by dirt while some still barely lived?

The third lesson: the human heart carries within it the seed of evil, in all of us alike, and we must be alert to that and not deny it. To do so is to turn our hearts from God and claim an idolatry in our own worth that denies the need for the divine light, the sacred that calls out to us and drives us towards the good, towards our God.

The fourth lesson: There is resurrection life. In the survivors who made it out, alive even if barely, made a new life. In those who risked their own lives to help, as best they could. In our own remembering what happened, so that it may not happen again. The Holocaust is another chapter, a new one, in the Biblical narrative. Never forget.

These are my lessons, for today.

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The End and the Beginning

My pilgrimage has ended, but my heart has been transformed for a lifetime.

What led me to this journey?

When I learned a year or so ago that many ‘Dambrots’ were murdered in the Shoah – the Holocaust – when I saw with my own eyes in the chronicles of the Holocaust Museum Yad va Shem in Jerusalem name after name of my father’s relatives whose life was extinguished by the Nazi regime, God called me.

God called me to visit these places of their murder, to honor and mourn them, to be witness to the depravity of the human heart at its most base, and to plant in my heart that bond through the generations. Cousins deported from Paris to Auschwitz. Relatives in the most closed, walled-off ghetto, in Lodz, who died either in that hellhole or by transport to the Chelmno or Auschwitz camps.

Incredibly, the story continues in and with hope. Firstly, that Hitler’s dream of Europe being ‘Judenrein’, or free of Jews, did not occur. Those who survived went on to live, to have families, and to continue the traditions and laws of their forebears.

And secondly, for me, the resurrection hope I proclaim in Christ, the narrative of my faith, the faith I am blessed to remember at the altar – that hope refuses to die in the face of the human depravity that was Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer – and his officers, troops, and the ordinary man and woman who sat by and did not act, and in reality often joined Hitler’s dream, donning informs and leading mass shootings, gassings, and the burning of corpses in the methodical and efficient Nazi manner.

One of the most touching moments of this journey came for me at the event held at Birkenau. A group of 11,000 people marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, where the gas chambers and crematoria of Auschwitz were located, and a program was presented there. A hand-written Torah was nearly complete, and the last six letters were to be hand-written by a scribe on the stage. Large screens allowed all to witness the writing.

The scribe sat with the Torah, a line of Shoah survivors behind him. Gently he called one by one over, patting his own hand gently, as if to say, place your hand here, over mine. The survivor would put his hand over the scribe’s as he wrote a letter, symbolically having the survivor write the letter. It was so very beautiful.  And so meaningful, the last sentence of the Torah, a blessing: for all …the great might and awesome power that Moses displayed before all Israel. Yes.

Torahscribe

I will not forget that moment. The completed Torah will now march with all future “March of the Living” annual pilgrimages to Poland. What a blessing in itself.

I honor also the Righteous among the Nations, those who did act to hide Jews, feed them, join the resistance, in the face of their own persecution, risking their own and their families’ lives. Those such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor who returned from the safety of the United States to Germany and was part of the plot to assassinate Hitler – one of many that failed. For that, he gave his life. Sister Edith Stein, convert from orthodox Jewry who declined safety in Switzerland and wound up in the cattle cars to her death. And so many others.

And let us never forget that millions of others perished in the Holocaust also. Political prisoners, gays, Romas, clergy, resistance fighters, among many.

The profound question for my own reflection, perhaps for yours, is:

What would I have done?
What would I do now?

May God bless and keep us, enlarge our hearts and make us one.

My relatives murdered in the Shoah:

Dambrod, Alexandra Aleksandra
Dambrod, Cecylia
Dambrod, Jakub
Dambrot, Edouard
Dambrot, Laura
Dambrot, Maleck
Dambrot, Sarah Esther
Dambrot, Edouard
Dambrot, Aleksandra
Dambrot, Cecylia
Dambrot, Fela
Dambrot, Noech
Dambrot, Necha
Dambrot, Ida
Dambrot, Mejlach
Dambrot, Chaja
Dambrot, Sara
Dambrot, Anczel
Dambrot, Shalom
Dambrot, Dina
Dambrot, אנטנינקה
Dambrot, Pinkhas
Dambrot
Dambrot
Dambrot, Ezra
Dambrot, Ida
Dambrot, Nekha
Dambrot, Nakhman
Dambrot, Meylakh
Dambrot, Khaya
Dambrot, Sara
Dambrot, Anchel
Dambrot, Ida
Dombrad, Fedor
Kott, Sarah Esther

yes, some have no first names even listed.

And so I mourn those who perished with the traditional Mourner’s Kadish:

Yit’ga’dal v’yit’kadash she’me ra’bba, Amen, be’alma dee’vera chir’ute ve’yamlich malchu’te, veyasmach purkane vikarev meshihe b’chayechon uv’yome’chon
uv’chaye d’chol bait Yisrael, ba’agala u’viz’man kariv; ve’imru Amen.
Y’he sheme rabba m’varach l’alam ule’alme almaya.
Yitborach v’yishtabach v’yitpaar v’yitromam v’yitnase, v’yithadar
v’yit’aleh v’yitalal, sheme d’kudsha, berich hu, Amen. Le’ala min kal birchata v’sheerata tush’bechata v’nechemata, da,ameeran b’alma; veimru Amen.
Ye’he shelama rabba min she’maya, chayim veshava vishua venehama vezesava
urfua ugoola uslicha vehapara verevah vehatzala lanu ulhol amo Yisrael; ve’imru
Amen.Oseh shalom bimromav, hu berahamav ya’aseh shalom alenu, ve’al kol amo
yisrael; veimru Amen.

Exalted and hallowed be G-d’s great name in this world of His creation. Amen. May His will be fulfilled by the revelation of His sovereignty and the flowering of His salvation. Amen.
May He hasten the coming of His anointed Messiah in your lifetime and in the life of the whole house of Israel, speedily and soon; and say ye, Amen. Be His great name blessed for ever, yea, throughout eternity. The name of the most Holy One be blessed, praised and honored, extolled and glorified, adored and supremely exalted beyond the power of all blessings; and
say ye, Amen.
May peace abundant descent from heaven, with life and plenty, healing, solace, liberation, rescue and deliverance, atonement and forgiveness, redemption and salvation, for us and all God’s people Israel; and say ye, Amen. May He who creates the harmony of the spheres, in His tender love create peace for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen.

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Our Last Stop in Poland: the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw

It is ironic that the history of the Jewish community in Warsaw is told by its gravestones. Here lies the ordinary person, the great Rabbi, the artist, the grave of a resistance fighter. It is much like entering into a time warp, it’s old old stones often fallen over, some with moss growing over them, gates surrounding them collapsed onto the ground.

In the stone itself lies the story. A beautifully carved stone with candles cut short reflect a woman’s life taken too soon. Similarly a tree cut short is a death before it’s time. For a great Rabbi, a mausoleum so that his students could come to his grave and continue to study there. For the artist, a carved mask.

The cemetery still buries it’s Jews, but there are  so few left.

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Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego

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An orphanage in Warsaw houses children ages 3-18. It was not always that way.

In 1912 an orphanage for Jewish ‘social orphans’ was built for Jewish children ages 7-14, children whose parents could not keep them for various reasons. One hundred boys and girls lived here, sharing chores, going to primary school, learning a trade. The orphanage was a charity funded by wealthy Jews.

Continue reading

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The Warsaw Ghetto: a Revolt of the Human Spirit

Warsaw was completely destroyed in the war. What is left of the ghetto are memorials that tell the story of the resistance, both in the Jewish ghetto and the later Polish revolt.

We walked the ‘Hero’s Path’, a symbolic route to commemorate the ghetto and it’s effort at resistance. Mila 18 no longer exists, but a large monument stands as a reminder of the will of the few to combat the Nazis with the little ammunition they had. But the resistance was also in every single person who willed daily to live another day. An emotional fight to stay alive and defy their oppressors. They did not succeed, but their battle was won.

300,000 Jews were deported in July- September 1943 to their deaths. May God bless and keep them, and may their memory be for a blessing.

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