Learn more about April 2020 trip at info session
By Sharon Wisch-Ray
I remember about two and a half years ago, I asked my niece Rosie Bernstein, a frequent TJP contributor and then-Yavneh senior, to write a recap of her experience on the school’s annual March of the Living trip. “I can’t,” she said. “There is not a way to express what I experienced in words.” I accepted that at face value but didn’t really get it. Rosie has never been at a loss for words.
Fast-forward to today, and I completely understand. In April 2018, I traveled to Poland with 40 others on Dallas’ first Adult March of the Living trip and I haven’t really talked a whole lot about it to many people. I’ve kept my experience to myself and am still processing it.
However, with the next adult trip is in its planning stages, I want to encourage anyone who is interested to check out the information session next week, at 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, in the Yavneh Library at Akiba Yavneh Academies on the Schultz Rosenberg Campus, 12324 Merit Drive. At the hourlong session, you will learn procedures for application, cost of the trip, and the tentative itinerary. There is limited space on the adult bus and if it’s anything like before, it is likely to have a waiting list.
I always thought I was reasonably well-educated about the Holocaust.
I remember when my mom, of blessed memory, talked with me about the survivors of our community.
These folks — among them Abe “Abela” Friedling, Max Pila, and my Sunday School teacher Livia Levine — were among many beloved survivors in my hometown of Fort Worth. I remember them vividly as kind and hard-working and part of the backbone of the Jewish community.
I remember being a teenager and walking into my parents’ room one night. There my dad, Jimmy, was sobbing in my mother’s lap. He was a sensitive man, and wasn’t afraid to show his emotions during a touching movie scene.
He had just watched a documentary on the Holocaust and it hit him. This World War II veteran who was worldly and knowing and seen his share of horrible things. It hit him, the enormity of the loss of life of the Jewish people — of man’s inhumanity to man. So incomprehensible, it hit him.
I thought I was reasonably educated. I’d read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Night” and other books. I’d taken a class on the Holocaust at Wash U. I told the stories of Holocaust survivors in the TJP on more than one occasion and I was a proud Upstander, not afraid to stand up to others when they crossed the line of humanity.
I thought I understood. But I didn’t.
Sure, I knew that of the 6 million Jews wiped out, 3 million of them were Polish Jews. This was half of Poland’s population at the time. But I had no idea of the depth and breadth of Jewish culture in Poland.
It felt like the Jews WERE Poland. We visited many historic synagogues, davening morning and sometimes evening prayers alongside the Yavneh students and teens from other Dallas-area schools who had joined the Yavneh bus. The energy brought the synagogues to life and you could almost hear the bustling voices of prayer and activity from life before the war.
It didn’t take long for me to get it as we traversed the country, visited cemeteries and other landmarks, learned the stories of what happened there.
It seems as though each cemetery had a more gripping, terrifying or heroic story than the next.
We visited forests where children were taken from their parents and murdered, and learned of the great lengths parents would go to try and save even one of their children. Impossible choices they had to make.
We visited Auschwitz and the enormity of the destruction of our people came into even sharper focus. There were many remnants (children’s shoes, housewares, human hair) of the Nazi killing machine and this was just one camp. Then we went to Birkenau, just 3 kilometers down the road from Auschwitz, and we saw how the engineers made their killing machine even more efficient, sterile and ruthless.
On Yom HaShoah, we participated in the actual March of the Living. Walking shoulder-to-shoulder with some 10 thousand others reaffirming that this wasn’t a death march, but that the Jewish people lived.
As we waited for the procession to begin, I visited with OUR Holocaust survivor who joined us on our trip, Max Glauben. This was his 13th March. Max is a survivor of many things, in addition to the Holocaust. When I asked him how he has survived to be the vibrant, kind nonagenarian he is, he said, “I have 6 million angels sitting on my shoulder.”
As we returned each evening to our home base of the Jewish quarter of Krakow, we were in a microcosm of what Jewish life was once like in Poland, before it was so cruelly taken away.
At each carefully chosen stop on the trip, there was a story that brought the catastrophe home.
I’ll say it again, you think you understand, but until you are there, it’s hard to conceptualize.
It reminds me of going to Israel. It can be hard to describe to others the overwhelming feeling of belonging as a Jew when you step off the plane, touch the Kotel or journey up Masada. You have to be there to feel it.
We heard countless stories from Max, who shared many deeply personal stories, and at Majdanek, he told us about his experience there and we said Kaddish with him on the steps of the memorial of ashes of the camp’s victims.
Like Rosie said, too powerful to adequately put into words.
As our week in Poland closed, I prepared to head back to Dallas while most of my fellow travelers went on to Israel for the second leg of the trip.
To experience the birth of Israel and be there on Israel Independence Day, I can only imagine the sheer joy of that feeling of elation in juxtaposition to what I had experienced in Poland. I highly recommend the whole two-week experience.
So I’m not sure if I have convinced you that this is a trip that is worth taking. If not, consider this sobering story.
Not long after I returned from Poland I visited my doctor.
“How was your vacation to Poland?” she asked.
I explained that it wasn’t really a vacation, and shared some of my experiences.
This well-educated and gifted healer’s response? “You mean they killed women and children too?”
I was a little dumbfounded. How could someone so smart, empathic and well-educated not understand the Holocaust?
So, why should you go?
To bear witness and be able to tell people what you saw, what happened.
If not you, then who?
For more information about the second Dallas Adult March of the Living trip, contact Laura Fine at email@example.com.