Day 20: Krakow-Warsaw; Auschwitz on Yom Kippur
Typically on Yom Kippur, I wake up, get dressed and head to temple for a few hours, come home and figure out a way to pass the time reading or napping and then maybe go back to temple and then there’s breakfast. Well, today was a bit different. Still woke up, still fasted, still got dressed (and had to put the bags on the bus early) and went to temple of a different kind, still found a way to pass the time until well, I could eat again which was not exactly the same as the way breakfast works in my house…filled with gefilte fish, bagels, cream cheese, lox, herring for my dad and some pastries of sorts. So, I left my sister to fend for herself with a pound of lox and had the experience of a lifetime instead…the lox will be there when we get back!
We spent over three hours at Auschwitz and Birkenau and I’m not sure if there are any words that could ever describe the trip, the feelings or the emotional drain that took place that day. Everyone was silent throughout the tour. We had on headsets to hear our guide, Agnes, who was wonderful and told me that her grandmother made her work there as her family was taken to camps and survived but their homes were destroyed. She was very informative and had a lot of emotion behind everything she said. There’s too much to tell in even a blog entry but let’s just say that we saw things that turned your stomach and made your heart ache. Places where human atrocities took place and the suffering was palpable. Your eyes welled with tears around every corner as there was another story, another face, another life stolen for no reason at all. Our trip ended at a memorial created by survivors with plaques in 22 different languages and an English one added for those coming to visit Auschwitz today. I placed rocks on the memorial and made sure to say parts of the mourners kaddish and yizkor and other prayers that I knew were associated with Yom Kippur as it was the Day of Atonement and here I was at Auschwitz. It was an incredibly moving day and even more emotionally agonizing as it was Yom Kippur. I did however notice a few butterflies as we were at the memorial; signs of life & the spirits of loved ones no longer there.
It was so interesting as we were walking back down the tracks where so many trains brought people (including Eli Wiesel and others who I’ve known) some to their deaths and seeing some colored weeds on the side of the tracks. The platforms were where many people faced their deaths yet these flowers of sorts, I thought at least, showed that the spirit of so many lives on forever. We walked on hallowed ground everywhere we went and every step we took was taken by so very many before us, many who never got to leave the gates that we would soon enter. It was very hard to be there, but something I would recommend to anyone who breathes the air today. It is a place where you will make sure that nothing like that EVER happens again! As we got on the bus, Todd finished the story he had started earlier. He asked each of us to pick up a rock somewhere along our journey that day and told us that on one of his earlier trips he had met a survivor who spoke to him. The survivor told stories that said he owed his life to some of the members of the Nazi resistance who made sure to give him a job in the library where he would be warm. That not all Germans were Nazis and that there were many who did what they did to save their own lives and those they loved as well. He wanted everyone to know that life can always be worse than it is and asked Todd to continue this tradition with his groups. The rock, the survivor said is cold, but if you hold it long enough you can put the warmth back into it. He said to tell everyone, that if you’re ever having a bad day where life just completely sucks; pick up that rock and hold onto it and remember; things probably really just aren’t that bad.
As we got on the bus with a somber mood that continued along for quite awhile, we hit lots of traffic and people were forced to eat their lunch on the bus (kind of hard to deal with all of those smells when you’re fasting, right?). After a long while we made it to the Black Madonna at a monastery. The Black Madonna is a painting of Mary and Jesus and is said to have healing powers beyond belief and it happens to be the most visited sight in Poland…yes, even more than Auschwitz. We saw the painting and hung around at the monastery for a bit as Yan needs to have a driving break every few hours and then then we were on our way.
After tons of traffic again, we finally made it to the hotel and dinner-okay, so not the same breakfast meal, but a meal nonetheless. Kelsie (the other vegetarian) and I had a penne pasta with pesto sauce and a really good pineapple coffee cake…trust me, I will ALWAYS remember this Yom Kippur and it will not be because of the food! After dinner some people went with Todd to the Skybar at the top of the Marriot to take some photos of the city of Warsaw. Mathew went and I stayed back to type some emails and go to bed. This day was a very big one for me and tomorrow we have one more official day in Poland.