My Moment By Rachel Kaplan
I have been staring at this page for a couple of hours now wondering what I should write about. So many private personal moments come to mind that I would never truly feel comfortable writing down. But how do I choose a moment out of many that have influenced me greatly?
In the blink of an eye, I remembered a moment, actually several moments, that changed my life forever. The moment was my journey through the eyes of a holocaust survivor. At 18 years of age, my mother sent me on the March of the Living. This is a two-week trip for Jewish teens to travel together to Poland and Israel. The first week is dedicated to Poland to witness firsthand the concentration camps and the attempted destruction of the Jewish People and Judaism. The second week you go to Israel where you witness the rebirth of the Jewish People.
When I first found out I was going with my best friend Michelle, whom I call Michy, I was very excited. When the time came closer to actually going I began to get nervous. What if I get scared? What if I cry? What will I do? When it finally was time to pack, I packed everything along with my stuffed dolphin named Johnny. To this day I have no clue why I felt the need to have him come on this trip with me. Perhaps it was the child in me scared to let my innocence go.
I arrived at the airport unsure of what the weather would be like. I had long green sweatpants on with the University of Miami symbol, a white tank top, a huge grey jacket and black rain boots on. By the time we arrived in Poland it was the next morning and we started our journey.
First, we went to the train tracks where we gathered inside a teeny train car where we learned that 100 Jewish people were packed in to concentration camps. There was not even close to a hundred of us teens and it was still jam-packed. I felt the need to stay near the front just for air. When one of the survivors who accompanied us got into the cattle car, he spontaneously began to say a prayer in Hebrew.
Every part of that trip was hard to see but what stood out the most was when we all arrived at Maidanek. It is located right next to a town where people lived, the majority of them who claimed not to know that this was happening. Lets put it this way, when you make a bonfire, ashes get on you and begin to fly everywhere. You can smell a building fire from a mile away. So how can these people say they did not smell the burning of flesh, the odor of death so close to them? How did they not see the ashes fly around their homes? There is a gigantic pile of ashes in a hole where you can still see pieces of bones everywhere. We lit candles in memory of those who perished. When you walk inside the concentration camp, you first notice the flimsy barracks which housed rows of piled up bunk beds. It is just like laying on a plank of wood with no pillows or blankets. To think about how cold I was at the moment and to imagine how they felt is truly heartbreaking.
We then moved on to the gas chambers. I cannot remember a time when I saw so many people cry in my entire life. The sight was disgusting. You can still see some ashes in the chambers and the stretchers that held the bodies after they burned to death. It sadly reminded me of a huge pizza oven with the red bricks and all. To this day, I cannot look at a pizza oven without being reminded of the concentration camps. I remember that my heart started pounding, I felt myself losing my breath, my heart heavy with sadness, trying to compose myself, but then it happened. Streams of tears came rolling down my face, I could not stop.
One of the survivors then told us a story about how he lost his mother and brother in this exact spot. He began to recite a prayer. Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. We all joined along with him but you could hear the mumbles from our voices, hard to say the words many people left this world saying. As tears continued to stream down my face I ran out but the image was inscribed forever in my mind. We were required to bring journals so that we could record our memories but I am certain this memory will remain forever in my mind. I recorded it for future generations.