"From Moshe till Moshe, there arose none like Moshe." (famous Jewish folk saying)

Friday, November 26, 2004

The Day After Thanksgiving – 64 years ago

Before the holocaust, Warsaw was the center of Jewish life, Talmudic scholarship and culture in Poland. Warsaw's prewar Jewish population was more than 350,000. The Warsaw Jewish community was the largest in both Poland and Europe, and was the second largest in the world, behind that of New York City. The Nazi’s occupied Warsaw on September 29, 1939 and in October 1940, the Germans ordered the establishment of a 2.5 square mile ghetto in Warsaw. All the Jewish residents were ordered into the ghetto, which was sealed off from the rest of the world on November 26, 1940. There was an area of the ghetto called Umshagplatz. This was the staging area where up to 6,000 Jews each day were transported to Treblinka. The average life span for a Jew who arrived at Treblinka was 72 minutes. Over 850 Thousand Jews perished in the 18 months that Treblinka operated. If one tries to compares that number to the 2.5 million who perished over a 4-year period in Auschwitz, one still can’t begin to fathom the precision of Nazi cruelty in Treblinka.

During my tenure with NCSY, I had the privilege of leading 4 groups to Poland, 2 tours with JOLT and 2 tours with the March of the Living. These trips where emotionally grueling and excruciatingly painful. The death, destruction, senselessness and loss of potential are so heartbreaking. All of these experiences have led me to the conclusion, that visiting Poland, the Camps, crematoriums, the pits, the graves, the foundations of destroyed synagogues, the bones, the ashes and bearing witness to what happened there and what once was, must be considered one of the 613 commandments.

When you stand at Umshagplatz today, all that remains is a monument erected with 100’s of Hebrew and Yiddish names you would hear in the ghetto. Just a few feet from Umshagplatz is the main street where there is traffic, streetcars, and pedestrians walking to school and work or just taking a leisurely stroll. They nonchalantly walk past a this place where the laws of mercy did not exist. Where men woman and children were herded off to their deaths in cattle cars. People were shot where we stood. People died of starvation and disease just a few yards away. Children were separated from their parents.

If you close your eyes could you hear their screams and their cries? Can you see the blood stained on the pavement? It is not there. You cannot hear them. A paved sidewalk has replaced it. Commercial traffic drowns the echo! There is no sign of what atrocities occurred in this place. It is important that we are there because our presence perpetuates their memories. Our presence and our actions assure us that what occurred in that place will not be forgotten. It is not only critical that we never forget, we must remember. The monument of Umshagplatz and the many other stone monuments across Poland and Eastern Europe will not guarantee that these events and these lives will be remembered. So this year, on the busiest shopping day of the year, remember what happened on this day 64 years ago. Learn Torah, give charity and do an act of kindness. (chesed) Don’t allow inaction to succeed once again. May their lives be remembered, may their memories be blessed and may our lives be honored and sanctified as the lives they once lived.

A Poem to Remember.
They entered the camp with limited facts,
straight from the tracks,
just the shirts on their backs.
Selected meant living
or immediate death,
they watched and they waited,
with abated breath.
Left went for gas,
right went to hell,
no one there knew
and no one can tell.
Armed with Emunah, Betachon, Jewish pride,
this weapon would not burn,
no matter how hard they tried.
Ashes remain,
so it seems to be so,
that the Nazis succeeded sixty years ago.
Our will remained strong,
and the camps we survived,
and now to live Jewish,
is how we will thrive.
The past will remain,
forever a fact,
our future now dependent,
on how we will act.
So choose a life,
a Kiddush Hashem,
we will always remember,
never again.

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