We started the day at the Lodz Jewish cemetery. We went inside the funeral room and the room where they did the tahara. It reminded me of my father because he is in the local Chevra Kadisha. We learned about proper burial. One thing about this specific cemetery is that during the war, the Jewish bodies wouldn’t get a proper burial. The fellow Jews of the town buried fellow Jews themselves. Their own friends did it. Then we headed to the Lodz ghetto. The Nazis appointed Chaim Rumkowski to run the ghetto. Rumkowski turned it into his own “country”,even creating his own currency. He became the dictator. He was a phedophile. He did not treat them well. The other Jewish police would carry his biddings such as bringing supplies and not letting anyone get their hands on them. One time, the Nazis told him he had to pick 25,000 people to be taken to the death camp Chelmno. He was able to convince them to only send 10,000. However, the 10,000 were all children, and subsequently sent all those kids to their deaths.
We then headed to the Radegast Train Station which is still active today. This station is where thousands waited to be taken to the death camps. We saw cattle cars that were used to transport the people. A Rabbi was on one and during the trip, he composed “Ani Maamim”. Determined for it to spread around the world, two people volunteered to attempt to escape. One did not and the other did and was able to teach it to another well known rabbi. Now this tune is known around the world. We sang that tune there in addition to “Am Yisrael Chai” on the way to the bus.
Next, we drove to Chelmno. We first went to the part where they would gather Jew’s belongings and sort them, in addition to the area where a gas truck would pick them up and take them to the forest. Gas trucks were gas chambers on wheels. By the time a transport would reach the forest, all inside were dead. It could fit up to 80 people per transport. Once they reached the forest, they take any valuables they had (like gold teeth), and burn the bodies. The Nazis made the Jewish prisoners open up the bodies to find any valuables. One survivor remembers opening his own mother’s body. How the Nazis mistreated the dead! They took it a step further, the bones were big, so they had a machine that would crush all the bones to tiny pieces. Disgusting Nazis. Then they tossed the pieces of bones on the ground. Today, you can still find tiny bone pieces there. We lit candles in all the victims memory. Then our tour guide found a bone piece. Other people searched and found some too. I personally did not do it because I feared touching the remains of someone and did not think I would react pleasantly. I wasn’t able to distinguish if they were bones or rocks. Then, the memorial turned into a funeral. After 85 years of those pieces of people who did not have a proper burial, they would now get one. We performed one of the biggest mitzvot, burying someone properly and not getting anything in return. I now get why my father is on the Chevra Kaddisha. He’s humble and wants to give people a proper burial. Our tour guide buried them and we said Shir Hamolet for them. It was emotionally moving. Then we made a circle, and talked about the past few days. We went through our itinerary and sang the beginnings of each songs we sang. Our tour guide said that he will remember when we sang “Am Yisrael Chai” while leaving Auschwitz. Then, with dancing and power, we sang it again, walking out of the forest. It didn’t stop there. We jumped and danced right on the road. It felt so powerful. One girl had an Israeli flag in her pocket, so we I got to hold and dance with it. Then we drove back to Warsaw for dinner, and had one more briefing session about our thoughts and something we want to work on. I want to work on always saying brachot before eating. These last few days we emotional, sad, powerful, meaningful, in addition to countless other feelings. There is no one feeling to describe what I felt. Now, I have seen our history with my own eyes. We’ve seen the horrible places and learned about them. I have learned so much, especially how important it is to continue to tell the stories.
May this never happen again.