We spent time at the memorial site of the Umschlagplatz, where about 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto were rounded up and taken to Treblinka in the summer of 1942. Stories of the atrocities that were taking place in Treblinka found their way back to the ghetto and this inspired some surviving Jews to form an uprising.
We then spent some time by Miller 18- a bunker at the heart of memorial of the Jewish uprising, which holds deep significance as this marks where the Jews prepared for some sort of armed struggle. We learned of Frumka Plotnika, a youth leader of Habonim Dror, who engaged with all other youth movements in educational welfare of Chanichim, even during the war and strongly believed that education must not die despite living in such horrific circumstances.
Next, we visited the Yeshiva of Lublin, a once flourishing and grand place, only for the intellectually the elite. It was built by Rabbi Meir Shapiro in 1930, who wanted to merge the ideas of Chasidut and mainstream Judaism. He initiated the Daf Yomi scheme, which involved anyone who took part, learning the same page of Talmud on the same day taking 7.5 years to complete. He saw this as an institutionalised daily learning for Jews around the world, intending to create connections between various denominations of Judaism. It is still going strong today and so we studied the daily Daf Yomi as a group together in the Yeshiva. Here, staff member Yusuf shared some thoughts on the piece of Talmud that we learned in chavruta style.
Our first difficult visit of the trip was that afternoon. We went to the extermination camp of Majdenik, where tens of thousands of Jews were killed; we walked in through a large monument that was built in the Soviet era, meant to depict the doom and destruction of the camp. We saw the horror of the camp through the gas chambers and rooms full of thousands of shoes that had been taken from the Jews. It was heart breaking to see the variety of shapes and sizes of the shoes, remembering that they once belonged to people who were stripped of their individual identities.
We observed the close proximity of Polish houses to the camp, which sparked interesting conversations about the Polish bystanders of the war and what they could have done to help or stop the atrocities as well as our roles as bystanders of the genocides taking place today. This difficult visit finished with the crematoria and a large monument; a mausoleum, which holds the ashes of the thousands of people who died in this terrible place.
Our day ended with our bus survivor, Harry Olmer bravely sharing his unbelievable story of survival with us. We sat and listened in shock at the hardships he has faced and the loss he has endured, which are a testament to his courage and strength and the amazing positivity and light with which he views the world despite having lived in its darkest moments.