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A Solemn Experience in Auschwitz

Posted on 04/27/2014 @ 08:00 PM

Our day began with first driving by a remnant of the Cracow Ghetto wall, then traveling nearby to view the entrance to Shindler's Factory. We also drove to the site of the Plaszow concentration labor camp and Trudy Album, a Holocaust survivor, told of the time she spent in that camp. The camp was plowed under when liberated and all that remains is an architectural monument memorializing the people who worked and died there.

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Our morning continued with an hour and a half drive to the Auschwitz complex.

Auschwitz was the largest Nazi extermination and concentration camp, about 37 miles from Cracow. One-sixth of all the Jews murdered by the Nazis were gassed at Auschwitz. The camp was established in April 1940 from existing army barracks. There were three main camps and 45 smaller sub camps. Auschwitz I held mostly political prisoners and criminals. An experimental gas chamber and crematorium were there, but most of the killing was done at Auschwitz II (Birkenau) from 1941-44. This was where the infamous Dr. Mengele would make his selections - a wave to the right meant death and a wave to the left meant slave labor. Only 10 percent of each transport was not killed immediately. Auschwitz III and the area sub camps were used primarily for slave labor. There was an uprising in October 1944, with the victims killing several SS men and setting fire to one of the crematoriums; 600 fled, but most did not survive. Gassing ceased in the camp and by the end of 1944, two and a half million had died there from disease, starvation, overwork, torture, gas, or were shot, hanged or injected with lethal drugs to the heart. Of all those sent to Auschwitz, only one percent survived. When the Soviets entered the camp in January 1945, they discovered more than 800,000 dresses, 348,000 men's suits, 38,000 pairs of men's shoes, more than 5,000 women's pairs of shoes and 7,000 kilograms of human hair. 7650 sick and exhausted victims were saved.

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Today Auschwitz is very museum-like with numerous exhibits in the original buildings. On display are actual belongings from the victims who were transported there - suitcases bearing their Jewish names, Talits, glasses, a room of their shoes and another full of hair. Standing in the gas chamber and the crematorium was when reality set in for everyone and the importance of this trip.

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Continuing on to Birkenau, we gathered in a barrack to hear Trudy's story of her youth, her family and her Holocaust experiences. She is truly an amazing woman and an inspiration to all who meet her. The teens are so kind and protective of her, all wanting to hold her hand when we walk great distances. Those special moments with Trudy are highlights of the trip each year.

To conclude our time there, the teens from Bus 1 led a ceremony of special poems, readings and song, as well as the Mourner's Kaddish and Hatikvah.

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