Indifference is the Enemy: Day Two, March 26, 2012
We began our day with a local specialty of current juice and a bountiful breakfast. A late start was due to a mix up with our luggage and an easily resolved conflict with hotel security surrounding the Israeli soldiers staying at our hotel. Once our bags, with the lovely purple laced ribbons, were separated out correctly, we were on our way to the city of Lublin.
Our drive through the Polish countryside offered visions of bucolic pastures just beginning to green with spring. Our guide Jacob pointed out the wooden houses that will soon be a thing of the past as the Jewish families who lived there are no more. The farms have no young people left to work them and small homesteads are being absorbed by large corporations. The farms require irrigation which is available but requires expensive electricity. The graying of this area is very similar to what we experience in the Midwest where our young people are also moving into the cities.
As we travel, a few people share their personal reflections which beautifully tie our expedition to today’s destination. They remind us of the sustaining power of story, the power of place and the importance of honoring family. Sondra punctuated these feelings by emphasizing the importance of our group’s support for one another through this difficult and important exploration.
Just a few hundred yards past the city of Lublin our bus pulls into the entrance of Majdanek, a death camp with the highest death rate of all the camps. Jacob reminds us that human words do not exist to describe the horrors or depths of evil and cruelty of the Holocaust. We entered this turn key facility where humans were considered economically useful and toured silently and sadly through the gas chambers, the barracks and the crematorium. Especially moving to us was the mound of human ashes and bone that has been memorialized with the words Let Our Fate be a Warning to You. Somber teachers filed back onto the bus.
To remind us to celebrate Jewish life, our tour took us to The Yeshiva of the Wise Men of Lublin, an academic institution dedicated to religious studies. This impressive building represents the value the Jewish people place on education and how this thirst for knowledge throughout history has improved our world. This loss, as there are no Jews left in Lublin, stresses for us the tragedy of what could have been if the world had intervened to stop the slaughter of innocent humans.
With these ideas fresh in our minds, we naturally turned to thoughts of activism. In small groups we compared notes and discussed plans for our satellite seminars to be held this summer. The somber events of the day spurred us to take action through education; reminding us of the importance to compel our students and fellow teachers to engage in discussions and actions which will prevent us from climbing the ladder of the pyramid of hate. As survivor Irving Roth often chides us: be mindful of the signposts on the road to Auschwitz.
Buoyed with some hope, despite the grimness of the morning, we drove on through the beautiful countryside to the historical city of Krakow where we shared a lovely dinner and debriefing session led by our brilliant guide Jacob. This session confirmed the importance of sharing this journey with like-minded champions of social justice and we are privileged to be counted among their ranks.
Faithfully submitted by Katie Elsener and Jane Connealy
Photos courtesy of Amy Laitinen