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Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 11, 1980     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 11, 1980

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nlnl i ia[, rlui lUll lllwliln NOW&, lpllll I n, I  rllyo i s and in themselves. I faces. There middle-aged and some the faces they know? during the through the pavilion to was all the : was needed... The of eye The piles stacked with es and children the suitcases lost all be going with neatly k addresses and there was no Maidanek and Suitcases rep- measure of in the human not yet burned to flames of the lost forever of crumpled, the floor of Steiner, Cohen, name Dare I look find my and the ,. the suitcases of father. to fall and higher, the first snow That was what us in Warsaw In Cracow. We before we brought the s, we said. The group. But the added to the that !ry ground we Jewish we walked on that we could on every that damned glad it was )mehow the le weather was to feel the to struggle We wanted never make the Jews of Would never pain, their their their death. But it brought spirits, mechanically building. The tourists sometimes sometimes mixing for just a US SUS" obviously they also we were Jews shame? Pavilion was a were ) English signs audio-visual ither not work- skipped and The door open to the average day tourL, would locked door Jews Jews died in Jews are for the (f our visit to we saw a film on the Jew was as an after- to say, "They we re o [/e groups whose bodies became rings of twirling smoke rising up from the chimneys of the crematoria. Only one of the many groups whose bodies froze in the harsh winters of Poland. Only one of the many groups who breathed in the Zyclon B gas in the crowded gas chambers. They too died here. More than one and a half million Jews met their deaths in Auschwitz, but they "too" died there. The visit to Auschwitz was over. It was time now to travel the few miles to Birkenau, the sister camp down the road where most of the real death and destruction took place. The snow had not let up... the bus labored on. We passed the railroad depot where Jews were selected by the infamous Dr. Mengele. You, Jew, to the right and labor. You, Jew, to the left and death. Neat words. No emotion necessary. You, mother and child, to the left. You Jews, sickly and weak, to the left. You, Jew, look healthy enough to last a few more weeks, to the right and a small chance to live. "Work makes men free." Snow, snow everywhere. It whirled around the bus and beat against the windows making visibility difficult. The bus came to a stop. We had arrived in Birkenau. Here there was no parking lot to be seen. Either it was beneath the snow or perhaps few came to the real scene of death, The gate was locked, A lone guard sat in an office in the camp's main entrance building, Our guide told us it was im- possible to talk the half mile to the memorial to lay the wreath and say our prayers. The snow, he said, was too high. Perhaps we would be satisfied sirnply climbing to the top of Ire watch tower and viewing the camp from above.., not attempting the long walk to the memorial. We said no. NO! We would not be satisfied. We had come too far. NO! We would not return to the bus. We would not accept the verdict. We would not turn our heads. We would not let the blizzard deter us. We would walk if necessary.., in the snow which was now up to our knees. Our guide finally agreed to ask the guard for permission to drive into the grounds of the camp so we might take the circuitous path that led arround the camp to the memorial. The road, he said, was open. But first we climbed the steps to the tower Stretching before us, barely visible in swirling snow flakes, were the barracks that housed the inmates. Some were intact. But many had been destroyed and only their chimneys remained standing in eerie silence, each alone in a mound of snow... ,like disembodied buildings .... like monuments to the dead.., like a child's i'irst attempts at build- ing.., brick piled on brick, with no distinctive shape. Only these chimneys were not made by children. And they had been surrounded by real buildings made of wood, too fragile to keep out the winter winds, the freezing tempera- tures, the harsh realities of death next door. We walked to a nearby barracks to took inside, Again the horrible feeling of deja vu. There stood row upon row of three-tier wooden bunk beds, primitive by any standards, And suddenly a picture of emaciated inmates hanging over the sides of these beds came into focus. Was I really here? I sensed a distance between myself and what I wa.s seeinq.,, a distance caused by a telrible fear spreading through my body like a fever. The beds were empty, but in my mind's eye I filled them up with emaciated Jewish bodies.., filled them up with the hopeless and the doomed- for-death. We examined the chimney and heating system. A crude Nazi joke. The heat would rise quickly through the chimney and leave the barracks, provid- ing little if any heat. Even sitting on the long cement platform encasing the pipes or huddling next to it would not warm the body in the ferociousness of a Polish winter, A Nazi mockery. Gas chambers that looked like showers. Chimneys that provided no heat. We left the barracks and got on the bus. The driver drove inside the gate. The bus moved slowly through the heavy snow along the roadway toward the memorial which could not be seen. The snow seemed to be getting higher and higher forming a natural barrier, keeping us from seeing the railroad tracks, the memorial, the camp itself. Finally, the bus stopped, unable to move further. We would indeed have to walk the rest of the way to the monu- ment. Ironically, the bus had stopped next to one of the cre- matoria.., its walls broken, its machinery stilled forever, no longer able to do its hideous work. We took our flowers and began walking slowly through the snow in mostly single file trying to walk in the footsteps of those who walked in front of us, like children at play. Only we were not at play. We were adults walking the snow cov- ered, blood soaked soil of Birkenau to lay flowers on two of the 19 plaques which describe the horrors of that place. Two plaques in Hebrew and Yiddish. The 19 plaques were covered with snow. Only Sam Abramson, our Polish expert from UJA who had been to Birkenau before, knew where to find the Yiddish and Hebrew plaques. We wiped away the snow, placed our flowers on the ground and proceeded with the brief service I had pre- pared. I had chosen the simple words of Gerda Klein, Holocaust survivor and author, to begin. "You are going to Auschwitz. The thought chills my being... My mother was only 42 years old... My father was kind, wise and strong... My friends were .gay, chattering, bubbly girls... That was my world... It perished there." The wind howled. The snow continued unabatedly. The cold bit and chaffed our faces and froze our tears. "1 want to remember them as I knew them. They would have been glad that you came, that you cared, that you wept for what we all lost there...'" After Gerda's words, a poem and then kaddish. We had come. We had seen, And we wept. We turned to walk back to the bus, our arms intwined seeking comfort together. We tried to follow that same path of lonely footsteps in the midst of virgin snow covering every- thing at Birkenau--even the crime of genocide. We climbed on the bus, It would not move.., stubbornly holding fast, resisting departure. The hour was 3:30. in the afternoon, Darkness was not too far off.., would come by 4:30. The 18Jews sat uncomfortably inside. Stuck in Birkenau, next to the broken wmains of the crematorium. [!if.lhteen Jews alone and top monied by what had happened iu this place.., on this wp,' s!xt ENTRANCE TO AUSCHWITZ... the m/ssion group passed under the famous arc/uay, of Auschwitz with its ironlc quotation in German, "Arbeit Macht Frle--Work Makes Marl Fee. t Though we wanted to leave this camp of death, leave the snow and the desolation, the barracks and the chimneys, the watch tower and the railroad tracks, we knew we would never be able to tear it out of ourselves. A part of it would rernain with us all our lives. But it was growing latel And no one wanted to spend the gathered at its sides. My beige gloves would soon be black. I grasped the arch of metal above the left front wheel with several members of the group, Others took their place on the right side of the bus. We pushed and pushed until finally the bus began to move. We were proud of ourselves and climbed on to the bus ready for departure. But the night in Birkeriau. We would . bus had stopped several yards have to push the bus. Of the 18, five men were not allowed to help. One was retired, three had recent histories of illness, strokes, heart problems and one with a high fever. That left 13 including seven women and six men. And our guide. We left the bus then and away and stubbornly refused to budge a second time, Once again, this time at the rear of the bus, we took our places and began to push. The bus rolled forward and backward, forward and backward, forward and backward again. We looked to our right and United Jewish  photo sewice saw the crematorium. We looked to the sky and saw darkness falling. We pushed harder. I thought of the Nazis and their Jewish victims, the horror of that place and the six rnillion who never had a chance to escape their destination of death, and I yelled "Jew power. Let's show those Nazis Jew power." We pushed again and again. The bus moved. It was free. So were we. Totally relieved, the group of 18, of chai, piled on to the bus. And this time, the bus moved, away from the crematorium, away from the desolation, away from the horror into the falling shadows of the night. r00iglac uaoROs gore hashoc /