March of the Living Update: Reflections from Auschwitz and Birkenau

29 Apr

The past 2 days have been the worst and best of my life.

2 days ago, we visited Birkenau. I have been reading books about this horrific place since I was 10 as well as seen several movies about it. None of those could have prepared me for the real thing. As I walked through the main entrance, I was immediately struck with grief and sadness. I kept looking at the barracks and seeing scenes from movies. I kept seeing the boy in the striped pajamas or Anne Frank or Schindler’s Jews. I didn’t want to picture my own relatives. After walking along the train tracks, we went to an ash pit. This was the hardest part of the entire day for me. I was already upset, but seeing all my friends, especially Len, be so distraught really just broke my heart. What made it even worse was that I knew everyone was inconsolable. I think what really hit me the most was when I looked into the pit and saw a bone. I immediately burst into tears and just let the emotion run down my face. I am so thankful for my friends and Len for being here for me and always having my back.

After Birkenau, we went to the notorious Auschwitz death camp. I thought it was a much different feel then Birkenau. Auschwitz looked like a college campus and is now a museum. Each barrack was a different exhibit. Prior to this trip, I had limited knowledge regarding my family’s fate during the Holocaust. This all changed when we entered barrack 6. Mugshots of the Polish prisoners as well as some of Jews lined the walls. I spent a few minutes scanning the walls, but I found nothing. A few minutes later, Madison came up to me and pulled me into the hallway. She held my hand until we reached our destination. I looked up and saw a photograph of one of my relatives. I immediately fell to the floor and burst out into tears. I felt a gaping hole in my chest and didn’t know what else to do except cry. I didn’t even know that I was related to this man or that he was in Auschwitz. How did I not know? I wanted to say Kaddish, but I don’t know the words, so I said a makeshift prayer. That was the hardest moment of my life. Words cannot even begin to express the sadness and pain I felt that day. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life. Later that day, we went into the crematoria. I was emotionally numb. As much as I wanted to cry, I just couldn’t find the tears. I focused on comforting Len, Brittney, and Madison. Everyone in the room said Kaddish together and it melted my heart. Afterwards, the entire southern delegation prayed together at the wall of the crematoria. This was one of the most powerful moments of the day.

Yesterday was the International March of the Living, also known as the best day of my life. Marching for those who couldn’t along with 15,000 other Jews was truly amazing. My favorite part of the day was trading pins and meeting people from all over the world. I felt so proud and honored to be a part of this march. We marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, 3 kilometers, linked arm in arm with our fellow Jews. Walking out of Auschwitz freely, knowing that just 70 years ago our ancestors couldn’t do the same, was truly amazing.

The aspect of yesterday that truly meant the most to me, was when I planted my wooden paddle on the train tracks. In a symbolic way, I was burying all of my fallen relatives. This was the only time that I cried yesterday. It was such a different experience then the one I had the day prior. I felt so overjoyed to be with all my friends and so many other amazing people. I will never stop telling the stories, I will never forget, I will always remember, Am Yisrael Chai – the people of Israel live.rachel mol

Rachel M. is a participant of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee’s 2014 March of the Living delegation.

March of the Living is presented in partnership with the Shapiro Teen Engagement Program (STEP) of The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. 

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2 Responses to “March of the Living Update: Reflections from Auschwitz and Birkenau”

  1. Aimee M April 29, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    Was moved to tears, filled with such pride at Rachel’s journal entry and so happy that she got to experience the March first hand.

  2. Deb Bryan April 29, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

    Rachel, what a riveting testimony showing us what you experienced. Thank you for such heartfelt words.

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