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Our Day at Majdanek

Posted on 04/29/2014 @ 09:12 PM

After an emotional two days visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau and then participating in the March of the Living, BBYO's National Teen Delegation spent a meaningful day in Majdanek. For Michael Hirsh, "this experience has allowed me to feel feelings that I have never felt before."

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Today, Majdanek is a chilling reminder of what transpired in the Holocaust. The teens walked through the gas chambers and crematorium and seeing the blue residue from the gas and scratch marks on the walls was when reality really set in for many of them.

"As my fingertips brushed against the walls of the gas chamber, I could feel the energy of my ancestors seeping through my veins," Sophie Levy said.

Majdanek is one of the six death camps built by the German/Nazi occupation forces and the SS in occupied Poland, located in the city limits of Lublin, Poland. The camp's official purpose was to destroy enemies of the Third Reich, help carry out the extermination of the Jews and to take part in the deportations and "resettlement" of Poles. Originally a POW camp for Soviet prisoners, camp authorities started using Zyklon B gas to murder prisoners there, and the camp continued to serve that purpose until it was liberated by the Soviet army in July 1944.

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Among all the death camps, Majdanek is the best preserved and could be in full operation within 48 hours. The number of victims is estimated to be 78,000, including 61,000 Jews, 12,000 Poles and 5,000 Soviet prisoners of war. Majdanek covered 667 acres of land and housed 45,000 prisoners at one time, with the plan to expand to house 250,000 prisoners (which never happened). More than 500,000 people of 54 different nationalities and 28 countries were sent through Majdanek, including U.S. soldiers.

The experience has been meaningful and emotional for all involved. "From the first step into Auschwitz to the last step in Majdanek, the whole experience has been very humbling, and lots of other emotions that could fill up multiple pages if I wrote them down," Ben Sass reflected.

Seventeen tons of ashes are openly displayed in a Mausoleum at Majdanek. The seventeen tons of ashes is the equivalent of 68,000 bodies. The ashes were found in barrels during the camp's liberation and were to be sent to Germany to be used as fertilizer. Instead, the ashes are permanently memorialized and honored in a spectacular way.

A bathtub in the crematorium remains in its exact place, for the commandant of the camp who bathed there among the ovens because it was the warmest place in camp. Another terrible sight was the rolling hills containing the remains of 48,000 bodies, the result of a killing massacre by the SS as a retaliation for the uprising that occurred in the Sobibor camp.

At the end of a long day, the teens reflected upon their experience. Jamie Newman said, "It's impossible to wrap my head around the six million and all of the terrible things that happened at these camps."

Olivia Resnik added, "Never have I been so devastated by what's around me and what happened, yet, proud of my people."

"Hearing stories from my peers and true survivors is inspiring, but, physically being in the camps is a life changing experience that will remain in my heart forever, as I spread what I learned about the Holocaust to generations to come," Jillian Lindenburg said.

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"Today at Majdanek I saw family photos of the victims at that death camp," Laney Sheffel said. "Seeing those photos that greatly resembled my own family photos truly humanized and solidified my perspective of the Shoah."

While it has been difficult for some of the teens, it is inspiring to see the teens supporting each other. In addition, Trudy Album, a Holocaust survivor who has been accompanying the group during this difficult week, has served as a source of inspiration. "The survivors gave me the strength to continue today when I couldn't do it on my own," Hailey Wilson said.

Rachel Rickman sums up what many teens are feeling: "To experience what I have so far has changed me for the better."

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