Natanzon/Taylor Senior Trip: Reflections from Majdanek
As part of their Natanzon/Taylor Senior Trip to Poland and Israel, BT seniors visited at Majdanek to witness the atrocities that took place at that site. BT High School Jewish History Department Chair Mr. Neil Rubin and Toby B. '19 share their reflections on their haunting experiences there.
Mr. Neil Rubin: As Lizzy G. read a moving reading by the late Holocaust survivor and existentialist writer Primo Levi, she arrived at a description of the wind. And, as if waiting, the wind intensified as the 51 members of the BT senior class closed more than an hour at Majdanek, one of the Nazi-built work/death/horror camps that unavoidably dot the Polish landscape.
Prior to Lizzy, Jacob B. movingly read the words of Elie Wiesel. And then Joseph L. had his turn. Then Bradley H., slowly, methodically read the Kaddish. As he did so the group stood on the periphery of the main memorial at the camp, the one that literally houses ashes of Jewish victims cremated about 1,000 feet away.
Within eyesight sat two other large markers, testimony to the stunningly painful century that this and all of Europe saw. Amidst the remains of the camp – so much has been destroyed by invading armies and time – sits a tall column with three eagles. One is for the Nazis’ Third Reich, one is the Polish national symbol and the other, one supposes, is just for symmetry. This marker was put up by the Nazis themselves.
And toward the edge of the camp is a massive stone carving, one which seemingly precariously hangs out and under which you are to walk, sensing that the world is caving. This one was put up by the communists.
After the readings, everyone was silent, respecting the time, the place, the thoughts. Reflecting the thoughts of so many, Ryan R. simply said, “You know, I just can’t understand that this happened. I mean, it’s actually unbelievable that these things could happen.” There would be no answer to that. Only a pat on the back. Words are no longer needed in this place.
Later that evening, after a good kosher meal at the Hotel Rzeszow, the group would break into four groups and process the day. Over and over came similar thoughts to those of Natan G.: “Learning about it is one thing. Seeing it is another.”
Finally, after a day that actually began about 30 hours earlier in the Beth Tfiloh Sanctuary for convocation, the seniors could go to their hotel rooms to rest as well as they could. Tomorrow will bring even more provocations to the human sensibilities. As one adult on the group said, “It’s unbelievable – except for one thing. It happened, and our being here proves it.”
Toby B. ’19: Today we went to the Majdanek Nazi concentration camp. We went to the third section of the five because it is the only one that remains today. It was incredibly difficult to see and hear the stories of the innocent people who were tortured and murdered there.
One of the cabins we went into was filled with shoes. More shoes than I have ever seen. It was devastating to see. I imagined each person that went along with each pair of shoes and it just made my heart hurt more than it already did.
Then we went to the crematorium. I walked in thinking I was prepared, but I stood in there for two minutes before having to leave because I began to feel sick. The most horrifying part for me was not in the crematorium, but the fact that there were smaller ovens designated for children. I cannot fathom how they burned the Jewish bodies as if wood and not innocent bodies.
Next, we went into a gas chamber. As I walked inside, I felt all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was horrifying to imagine what people thought in there. They assumed they were going to get cleaned but no, they were going to be poisoned like rats.
As we walked outside through the middle of the camp I could envision starving men, women and children, nothing but bone and skin. Being forced to run around for the Nazis amusement. I could hear dogs barking viciously in my head as I also heard screams of terror. There is no way to describe what I saw today. Everyone has their own experience. But I do know that people must see it, feel it, and most importantly remember it.