The FIDF was founded 30 years ago by Holocaust survivors who recognized the Importance of supporting the soldiers of Israel to make sure their fate would not happen again. This trip served as inspiration for supporters to sustain that commitment as well as to show soldiers the history that created their own nation.
From the second we arrived in Poland, the group’s emotions were challenged daily. We went to the only remaining wall from the Ghetto in Krakow where today is left standing in an apartment complex where locals live. The wall is no more than 10 feet high and 20 feet wide and is decorated with glass and barbed wire, with a tiny plaque commemorating its existence.
Our guide told us that the children would often sneak out but once out, they could go nowhere. They did scavenge for food and the rationing of the Germans was peculiar and cruel. They allotted themselves about 1,000 daily “calories” the Poles less, around 800. And the Jews, lowest on the totem pole, a mere 184. I had fear of going to the concentration camps and yet I knew I must go. Having studied the Holocaust and spent years working for organizations involved with remembering, I still found it to be unimaginable and devastating from afar. Seeing the concentration camps was overwhelming and I approached it with trepidation.
Auschwitz 1 was the first camp and it only had one crematorium. It was meant to isolate Jews and others sent there. We walked past the infirmary, which of course was not a place of healing but an experimental place used to inform the Nazis of ways to deal with genetics in order to create the superior master race.
We stood under the well-known sign at the gate, Arbeit Macht Frei, which translates into “work sets you free,” and passed nondescript buildings with no barbed wire. There are some chimneys, not from the crematorium, but chimneys of the laundries. It was one of a complex that comprises Auschwitz.
We came into a room with a huge display behind glass. Behind it, grey and matted pieces that we were told were human hair mixed in with all sorts of debris. They told us that there was two tons of hair recovered out of the seven million tons taken from the prisoners.
We also journeyed to the beautiful synagogue erected in 1642 in the village of Tykocin. A place of unimaginable horror. The synagogue, which you enter by going down stairs because it was not allowed to be higher than the church, is now empty, but its memories and spirit came alive again today because of our visit.
We were told of how people were lined up against ditches and then shot. First the women and children and then a second group, the men and disabled. And finally, perhaps most brutal, those few who had survived the first two massacres crawling out of the pile of dead bodies, were rounded up and brought back, this time to finish the job.
We took a long bus ride back to Warsaw and a commemoration ceremony at the famous Mila 18. This was the bunker written about by Leon Uris where the first resistance took place. Three hundred brave Jews who fought back against immeasurable odds, 100 were gassed, then burned to death.
The accompanying IDF soldiers told me this was important for them to see. That these people were fighters and they could identify with them. That Jews were brave and resisted.
The last night in Poland, Holocaust survivor Asher Aud spoke beautifully of what he felt when he came back to Poland and how important and empowering it was to be with the soldiers of the IDF. We began our journey back to Israel again on our Israeli Air force plane. The soldiers sang and laughed and we felt as though they were our children. And of course in a way they are.
After the difficult moments, the heartbreaking ones, the ceremonies with the Israeli flag and the IDF flag, the beautiful words and music, brought us from tears to some kind of resolution that we must remember but also, we must do more than survive. We must thrive and live full and enriching lives to honor the memories of those who sacrificed and died.
It became even clearer that all that stands between us, Jews throughout the world, and history repeating itself, is Israel and the IDF.
This group of the FIDF supporters vows to be there for them as they are for us. They will have our love and support forever and we will always honor their service for Jews no matter where they live. We have a homeland now. Never again! Never again!
Susan Silver, from New York, a former television writer is involved in projects related to Israel and the Holocaust. She has a weekly commentary on www.robinhoodradio.com