My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Jerusalem, Prague and Krakow. We knew it would be filled with history, some of it terrifying and sobering. And yes it was.

So what can I say about Auschwitz and Birkenau? Deep sigh. We always hear about Auschwitz yet the size of Birkenau, the killing machine, is beyond imagination. You just have to go and be there and see it to experience the vastness. I could not keep walking it was unimaginably huge.

Birkenau
Birkenau

I definitely smelled the fire/ash/burning of flesh. How is this possible? I do not understand it but it is the truth. In fact, I dreamt about the smell for the first 6 nights I was home. It permeated my being.

I could also smell the human waste walking past the latrine areas. I wish I was able to adequately describe this for you. I think smell is my strongest sense. I noticed someone else who also smelled it. We both had our hands over our noses and mouths. It was like we were in another dimension while everyone else was in 2014.

As we walked around, I kept praying and saying I’m sorry and I forgive you. It was painful just walking around. I keep thinking about the human spirit and how it strives to survive. Why? How? How is it possible that one group of humans can look at other humans as sub human? How did they stand in role call? In the freezing freezing cold weather? How did they survive just not showering, no toilet paper, brutality, starvation, hangings, shootings, rapes, medical experimentation on their bodies, torture, waking up to dead people all around you, freezing, sweltering, infestations, losing your family, on and on and on?

Train tracks leading into Birkenau
Train tracks leading into Birkenau

I bought a book on how hope stayed alive because I want to understand, how does the human spirit continue and why did they want to live? 

A quote at the end stayed with me… Something like can it happen again? Yes because it has happened! And even AFTER it happened, 2\3 of the survivors went to Israel but mostly because other countries, such as the US, turned them away.  Today, we are reading the news that many Jews are fleeing France and other European countries due to anti-semism. One country ordered Jews to sign in to a registry. Conditions are similar to the 30’s in Germany. While I do not want to sound like a “victim” I have to say that it seems that the under-current in so many nations is that it is ok to hate/discriminate against the Jews. And this war between Israel and Gaza is fanning the flames of anti-semitism.

At Auschwitz there was one building that was set up as a memorial by Israel’s Yad Vashem and it was soooo well done. There was footage of Jewish life before the war (WWII) in countries all over the world. Innocent fun joyful sacred life. I have to share this picture with you, it is the book that contains 4,000,000 names of Jews that perished in the Holocaust. 2 million of the names were unknown as no one was left from those cities/towns to remember them. 

This book was the entire length of the room. I have to admit, we both cried here!
This book was the entire length of the room. I have to admit, we both cried here!

In Prague and in Krakow we went to the Jewish Quarters where we can see remnants of Jewish life, 65000 taken from Krakow, 80,000 from Prague. I found myself saying they did nothing wrong, why did the world turn away? And of course we can say that about many groups that were almost exterminated… Like Native Americans in our own country, the Tutsi’s in Rwanda, etc. Genocide. And what scares me most is not the killers, but the bystanders, the ones who do not stand up, who do not speak up. This picture is from the wall of a synagogue in Prague that had the names of the 80,000 members of the community written wall after wall. I found my name. Could these be ancestors? 

Prague Wall
Prague Wall

We were in Israel the first night the missiles came  to Jerusalem. As we sat in the bomb shelter, we thought there must be a mistake, there are no bombs that can reach Jerusalem from Gaza. We expected maybe they came from the West Bank? No, they did come from Gaza. We felt very safe in this hotel that had a super organized bomb shelter and audio system. The energy in the hotel was zooming the entire night, even though we were there less than one hour.

Western Wall
Western Wall
Beautiful Jerusalem. We did not go to the dome as protests were expected that day
Beautiful Jerusalem. We did not go to the dome as protests were expected that day

I took a note from my peace group and placed it in the western wall. Yes, prayers are good. But as a forgiveness teacher, and actually my entire life, I wanted to work as a mediator or something, in some way, to bring peace to the middle east. I’m sure that many have this dream.

Yet, I find myself totally aligned with Israel, defensive of Israel, and while my heart just pours out for the innocent ones, on both sides, I’m NOT peaceful. And I understand that part of the not feeling peaceful is feeling like a victim…when you blame someone else you can not feel empowered. I know this and I teach this.

I see this and I’m taking responsibility for my piece in not feeling peace. Please stay tuned because I am going to work through this. Feeling my feelings of dread for the Jewish People world wide is where I am right now, and I need to change that.  Peace, Shalom, Salaam!