How do you answer when people ask you how the trip was? I’m not sure that I can quite put it into words or if there are any words that can really sum it up. Thoughts were encircling my mind as to how and why anyone could deny another of their livelihood, of their family, of their freedom.
March of the Living was an intense five-day trip to Poland, where I got to explore the thriving life of Polish Jewry before the Holocaust and learn about it during and afterwards too. We were accompanied by some amazing educators who took us on a journey through the places most people see in their nightmares; however, this was the reality for six million of our ancestors.
Walking through Majdanek was spine tingling. It’s something you just can’t describe unless you have been there. The bitter cold air, the mausoleum with six tonnes of human ashes and the wooden barracks. It felt so surreal, like being on a film set – but this was very much a terrible reality for so many, not knowing whether you would live till the end of the day or ever see your loved ones again.
When visiting Auschwitz and choosing one photo out of the thousands we related to, it hits home that six million people have six million stories of the atrocities and pain that was inflicted upon them and their families. I can’t even begin to comprehend what they went through. The hunger, the pain, the bitter cold in those thin stripped pyjamas and their identity striped away and replaced with a number. Everything that was humane to them, was no more. It was a weird feeling to think that I could walk out of this horrendous concentration camp, in a place where so many were denied their freedom.
After having time to reflect and contemplate my thoughts, my highlight of the trip had to be Shabbat. There is such a powerful and electrifying atmosphere when 260 members of British Jewry come together for Shabbat in Poland, where Jewish life was so nearly extinguished. Lighting candles with members of the community, spending time in the local synagogue in Krakow and singing with 70 others in the middle of the dining hall was an experience I will cherish.
When Shabbat was over, Havdallah commenced which marks the end of Shabbat. It was incredible to join in with the uplifting Havdallah ceremony, where we were accompanied with the 7 survivors on our busses, dancing, singing, enjoying our freedom and Jewish identity.
What I have realised is that this trip isn’t just about death. It is about celebrating life and the fact that hate will always fail.
Written by 2017 Alum, Leanne Mitchell, a J-Soc Officer who looks after J-Socs across the UK and Ireland, and helps to run social action projects on campuses.
Originally published HERE