Alumni Reflections: Murray Brown, The United Kingdom, 2017

What is the name of the March of the Living Delegation / Group that you traveled with? The United Kingdom

Year(s) attended: 2017

What was the most memorable moment of your experience? Saying Kaddish at Majdanek.

What impact did Poland have on you? My family fled to the USA and the UK many years before the Holocaust. Some left from Poland and to see a nation where they had to leave,where so many lived and where so many died, shook me up. Modern Poland and the many Polish people I met on this trip are very accommodating to Jewish tourists and I have a lot of respect for them.I would advise anyone reading this to take a trip to Poland to see and to experience this nation and its history. We must never forget the Holocaust and we shall remember all who died under Natzi occupation out of nothing more than a hated and indifference of their fellow men,women and children.

What impact did Israel have on you? As a country where my aunt, uncle and 9 cousins live and where my grandmother was buried Israel inspired me to carry the Israeli flag from Auschwitz to Birkenau. This flag symbolizes to me the power of Jewish continuity.

How were you impacted by the overall experience? We must acknowledge our history. Never forget, but look to the future and we must teach what happened to others. Holocaust education in the UK needs to be improved.

What else would you like to share about your experience? I am Murray Brown! I am originally from Manchester in the United Kingdom but I moved to Cornwall with immediate family members in 2006 and I now study Politics at the University of Exeter. I am a Jew and my family fled Russia, Lithuania, and Poland thankfully before the holocaust for a better life in the United Kingdom and in the United States. I successfully applied for the Sir Martin and Lady Ester Gilbert Scholarship for my essay which allowed me to visit Poland and to attend the March of the living.

Diary of the Week:

Wednesday 19th April.

I made my connection and I am here in Warsaw. Today I visited the historic graveyard of Warsaw and the Warsaw Jewish museum. I had assumed that Warsaw was going to be like the photos of the city as it was in the 1940s but the city has a feeling of being a blend between Chicago and Plymouth. The hospitality we have received from locals has been good and the treatment of us as Jews has been truly spectacular. A cross over between modern tower blocks and 1960s style buildings greeted me with a dosage of the good old free market. Poland may have a dark past but I say it’s brighter future of embracing a love for the west and for having Israeli flags on display in a lot of areas of the city gives me hope. The actual Polish Jewish community though has still not recovered properly from what happened.

Thursday 20th of April.

Is is quite cold in Poland. Today I visited the Warsaw ghetto. On my first day in Warsaw I did not realize how vast the Warsaw ghetto was but also how small as 500,000 Jews were stuffed into it. Then I went to an old yeshiva called Chachmei Lublin where the Nazis planted a flag as they thought that it was the HQ to the protocols of the elders of Zion. Very few Jews reside in the city of Lublin. Later I visited Majddanek which was a game changer. People live so close to the camp, even now and why, I do not know. The language of the SS guards was in German so if one did not speak German survival was close to impossible. Many had to eat grass to avoid the pain of death and many had to distract themselves from the smell of death as well as the feeling of coldness. They put the children in cages before the gas chambers. Phrases from the children before death were: “Where is my mummy?” My questions were: “Where is humanity?” “Where were the people of Poland? “Silence and everyday life around the camp gives us time to reflect! I felt peculiar. I feel that I try to avoid the pain of the Shoah by not wanting to dawdle. By looking away when the confusion becomes too much. My feelings are that I do not have the right ones. I find it difficult to express feelings. Theft leads to murder at Canada. I can’t explain my feelings as they are more than one. But, the most important moment was when the bus C group got together for a minyan so I could lead Kaddish next to a memorial containing a heap of ash of the victims that the Russians built.

Friday 21st of April

On the Friday the 21st we visited Markowa Synagogue on the way to Krakow. We then went to a memorial of the famous Umana family who worked to hide Jews and refused to hand them over. They were burned alive in their barn by the Nazis as they were farmers. After visiting the remains of death Pitts at the Zbilatowska Gora Forest the scale and disrespect of what happened is what got to me. I went in the evening to pray in an orthodox service which was at an old synagogue with needs for repair that used to thrive with Jews from Krakow. My denomination until I was 8 was semi modern orthodox when I belonged to the Holy Law Shul in Manchester. When I moved to Cornwall I belonged to a reform community called Kehillat Kernow where my sister was taught how to prepare for her Bat Mitzvah and I was taught how to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah from the life president Harvey Kurzfield. At university, I belong to an unaffiliated synagogue called Exeter Shul where I am on their committee as the head of the education sub group. Having been to so many denominations before I like to think that I can mostly follow most Jewish services. The service was run by certain United Synagogue members on the Friday evening with tunes that I was familiar with. The tunes for Saturday were quite bland because it was a predominantly a Chabad service. Chabad read from the siddur too quick for me but most ultra-Orthodox Jews understand what they are reading so the tune for certain songs are less important than it is for some of us in the diaspora. Sabbath dinner came later when Kiddush was recited by 2 survivors and the loudest benching I have participated in with my bus group, which was predominantly made up with modern Orthodox Jews from London, happened. The survivors are more energetic than the students and their memory is as good as it was back then. These modern Orthodox Jews from London live differently than I do. I assume it is the fact that the majority are from such proximity to themselves and other Jewish institutions. Jews living in rural areas are fewer in number and further apart from Jewish butchers or book stores. We were told that the joy in our benching was a fantastic way to feel about the trip from some in the group. To say that the Jews live on. This experience of my Tour with March of the Living reminded me of a Sheleg camp that I went on with RSY and it reminds me of groups that my father said that he was involved in when he was about my age when he went on Israel tour. The trip had contrasting moments of joy and remembrance as well as sadness and death.

Saturday the 22nd of April

On Saturday, the 22nd we went back to the synagogue for morning prayers. I asked the rabbi the night before about reading shemini as it was my part that I did for my Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel in 2011. He told me to ask another rabbi and he said it sounded grand. When I asked the other rabbi, he sent me back to the original rabbi. I was in a tad of a rabbi loop. I met a Jewish man from White Field Hebrew congregation in Manchester but I forgotten his name and he did not know my relatives that also belonged to that shul that serve CST there. After shul, we went back to the hotel for Kiddush and lunch. We then went on a walking tour of old synagogues in Krakow that shows the transformation of the Jews to become recognised as Polish Jews. Before Havdalah my bus group had the loudest adon alom I have ever heard with Mala, a holocaust survivor who was sent to Belsen, and she did not leave when things got too loud which was significant because the British delegation were bringing back Jewish life and songs to Poland. Mala gave a fantastic speech about how life was for her before and after the holocaust.

Sunday the 23rd of April.

Auschwitz & Birkenau. One is death, the other is death, one feels like the Middle Ages, the other like the 20th century, both are systematic, they could have only functioned in an Industrial Age, less anger from me at the Polish for what I fought was indifference before, many were victims too, many saved Jews but also many wanted to avoid death and torture. But those that spilt the blood of the people of Israel will have to answer to the King of Kings. Perpetrators of the Shoah, if they still be alive Should it be Polish or German need be to repent to the King of Kings. I am in Poland and we are coming to the end of the trip. Today kaddish was said many a time for the victims. I am from a position of feeling grateful that my family left mainland Europe before the holocaust for the US and UK. Names mentioned included the family of Mitch Balish who is a good friend of my mothers from New York City. For Mitch’s grandmother’s uncles and aunts at the Lodz Ghetto, where they perished. For Aron and Rajzla Kalisz,Abram Josek and Sura Kalisz. They were from Brzeziny, where no Jewish community remains as they were all killed in the holocaust. We will remember the family of Mitch and we will say today on the March of the Living for all 6 million Jews and 11,000,000 people that died in the holocaust: Never again!

Monday the 24th of April.

After breakfast Bus C attended a walking tour of Krakow where there was an old wall that symbolised where an old Jewish ghetto was once. This wall separated Jews from Polish people and it was put up by the Nazis. The emotions of seeing a wall that led to the murder of thousands revealed a heroic Polish pharmacist who gave Jews medicine for free as he had the only pharmacy there. Proof that humanity was there even in the midst of horror. The March began after Bus C took the short trip to Auschwitz one. It took an hour till the march began and we assembled in a line to leave the camp. During the hour, there were trading of badges from different nations as a gesture of goodwill. I was the only one with an Israeli flag attached to a pole that went to the camp from the British delegation. The Israeli flag does not just symbolise the state of Israel in my eyes. It symbolises a European flag created to mainstream Zionism so Jews can be free. That is why I waved it. I am a Zionist as I believe that the Jewish state has a right to exist so the Jewish people are never persecuted on mass ever again. On the other hand, just because I am a Zionist, it does not mean that I support every action of Israel’s government and it does not mean that I necessarily want to move there now. I am a Zionist half British half American Jew but at the moment the United Kingdom is my home. On the March, there was singing by some but others were silent. There was an interesting debate about how best one should treat the March. Is it about the idea that Jewish life is back or is about waking in silence with solidarity with the victims? I do not know the right answer. Like many stories in Judaism the march of the Living is a matter of interpretation. Arriving at Auschwitz Birkenau we attended a memorial service where flames were lit, the Hatikvah was sung and Kaddish blared for the victims from loud speakers all around the camp. The Nazis killed 11,000,000 people and among them 6,000,000 Jews but we now respect the dead and pray at the site to Hashem, the site that banned the Jewish faith and killed millions.