Preface: I was invited to join a group of soldiers going to Poland. My son, Shahar, was killed in the helicopter disaster (4.2.1997) while doing combat service in Lebanon.

 The First Thing I Did – To Identify Myself

It may sound strange but the first thing I did after returning from my trip to Poland was to run to the chest of drawers in my bedroom and take out my identity card and plastic Kupat Holim (medical insurance) card and put them both deep inside my wallet. Yes, it was like a ceremony done to witness my return to the living. This came after my trip to Poland "Edim beMadim" (Witnesses in Uniform), a journey taken with fighters who are currently taking a course to become battalion commanders in the IDF.

 

Pictures of the Holocaust

Don't look at what happened in the Holocaust from the perspective of today backwards but from the point of view of a refugee who has no idea what is going to happen in a few minutes!!

Because of a great characteristic of our guide, Ariel, we were able to delete in our minds the perspective of time. He succeeded in making us feel as if we were there, refugees getting off onto one of the ramps at one of the "lagers" (as the concentration camps are called in German), some of us seeing ourselves going through the selection process, those to life and those to death and all happening with the noise of loud shouts and the running of groups of people while around everything the barking of dogs and the shrieks of whistles.

A building, inside an open space, enclosed in glass, full of hair / shoes / artificial limbs / food vessels / glasses / suitcases – hundreds and thousands, no end to the horrific sight.

A picture of a woman coming from Holland, elegantly dressed, not understanding that within moments, at the most, she will be killed. This woman insisting on "tipping" the Jew helping her descend from the train, and although he declines she persistently continues to try and tip him, fitting her European upbringing.

At the beginning man loses his identity, they took all his possessions but still asked him to write his name on the suitcases and in return giving receipts for his baggage. After that man lost his dignity – humiliated, tortured and starved. At the end of the process a number was printed on his arm and the number became his identity.

 

Poland = Germany

Poland – Germany – the same responsibility, simply different names of countries, other countries' names could easily appear as well.

 

The Shooting Pits in the Lupochova Forest

After visiting Tikotin (the German name) where 2,500 Jews were brought to the city square and that morning were marched towards the Lupochova Forest where they were massacred and thrown into three large pits. I decided I didn't want to use the Polish names for all the places I was going to, so Tikochin is Tikotin and Auschwenzen is Auschwitz.

Following the 160 Israeli fighters entering the forest in an orderly military march I can see from the corner of my eye an Israeli soldier, called Grisha, playing on his horn the melody of "The Town is Burning" that is known as "Brothers Help Burning".

Looking terrified at the pits, the tears pour out of my eyes, my throat burning with rage – helpless.

How did this happen to my people? Or maybe I should say, how did these horrors happen to my people and my family?

I remember the story of the only survivor of the Tictin community, Abraham Kepirche, whose father had sent him a few moments before the "Actzia" in which the Jews were removed from the town centre (in Yiddish - the shteitl) to bring something of value from home, a diamond or gold coins. That run home saved his life.

Back to the ceremony at the Lupochova Forest – a thick forest, slender trees waving in the wind from side to side as if saying "we are witnesses of what happened here". There is no chirp of birds in the Lupochova Forest.

 

Treblinka – "Lager"/ Camp of Destruction

While visiting Treblinka all one can do is to use one's imagination because Treblinka is a museum and monument for the 860,000 who were murdered. The figure is horrific and we as human beings find it impossible to understand what happened at this "lager".

We sat down for a group discussion, about 20 officers each one taking his turn to express his opinions and his feelings, some of them obviously don't feel as if they were refugees or maybe they were unable to comprehend that each day trains with 60 wagons each were arriving at the "lager", each time the engine would stop at the entrance, 20 wagons would enter, 2,000 Jews killed quickly, and then another 20 and so on – God where were you?

Some of the young officers get excited and heatedly say that it is better to die climbing an electric fence or by the shots of the Gestapo soldiers / or their Ukranian helpers.

And I – I want only to keep silent, angry, in pain, helpless and useless.

 

Maidaneck – three stains of color

A sad walk around Maidaneck. Afterwards, at the group discussion, I turn to them as if they were my own children, I want to take them to another world, I was taken with three stains of color.

A stain of color on the ceiling of the gas chamber, the last remaining gas chamber. The gas has a quality that no matter how many coats of color you cover it with at a certain stage green stains appear on the ceiling of the gas chamber at the Maidaneck "lager". Within myself I think how necessary it is to bring all those who think that the Holocaust is a figure of our imagination here and shove their faces in the stains of color!

The second stain of color – the building holding shoes – as you enter a strange stench fills your nostrils, hundreds and thousands of pairs of shoes, dark colors mostly but my eyes were caught by a woman's blue shoe. It may have belonged to that elegant Dutch woman who tried to "tip" the Jew who helped her off the train moments before she was killed.

The third stain of color. I went looking for a toilet, the cold and damp had done their share, so there at the edge of the camp, near the fence, I stood and pissed, on the other side of the fence the houses of the city of Lublin were so near and just in front of me a large greenhouse full of flowers bursting with color. I could see orange and yellow and red and purple. Polish people – under your noses the extermination took place – where were you?

The ceremony near the enormous heap of ashes at Maidaneck, last preparations being made, loudspeakers, flags, a Polish film team and I stand there with a storm of feelings inside of me, in a few minutes I will be talking to the representatives of our army at the memorial ceremony at Maidaneck, my personal loss tied with the national loss, who can say how much is mine and how much is of my nation? It doesn't matter anyway, I was full of excitement, grey skies above pouring out heavy rain and I begin to talk in front of the Heap of Ashes surrounded by the memory of my small child, my Shahar.

 

Plashov

A "lager" of destruction close to Krakow, the closeness makes you want to scream, how close, how blind, how close, how deaf, how close, how dense? Is it because we are Jews? – YES!

Yanek, a dear Jew from Kfar Saba, a hard person, a survivor of the hell of Plashov, tells us on the green hill the story of the Plashov camp. He, himself, was a zonder-commando, in other words he had to carry the dead bodies to be burnt. This was how he survived the Holocaust. In a steady and certain voice he describes the horrors that had I heard them somewhere else I would have turned away, shut my ears and closed my eyes, but no, I listen but how could this have happened amongst civilized people?

A systematical extermination of a nation, but these words sound so clean.

Yanek, in his own language, described blood and injuries, rape and abuse, screams and cries, diseases and infections, horrors. And all – the deeds of man!

 

Auschwitz 1

Entering through the gate of "lager" Auschwitz 1 as a group of soldiers, a military march. Above the gate the famous words "Arbeit Mach Frei".

We split up into groups to hear a live testimony from a survivor named Hedva who was in Block 10, the children's quarters belonging to Mengele.

We continue on to the wall of death, in my ears I can hear the guards, the screams of those about to be killed and the barking of the dogs. We go into the block where people were tortured, how can a human being do such things to another human being? There is no need to call them monsters because most of the Germans . Poles or whatever nationality you choose to say, they performed such deeds with pleasure. There are even people of our own who lost their Jewishness! In the House of Names the members of our group light candles, each time mentioning names of those who didn't survive. When it came to my turn my voice trembled as I mentioned the names of my grandfather – Hirsch Leib, of my grandmother – Pesia, their four children all from the town of Borislav in Galitzia, now known as Ukraine.

My mother's parents, Zigmund and Chaidina Furman and their five children from the town of Yaruslav in Galitzia which is now part of Poland.

My voice breaks as I light the candle, I feel a hand on my shoulder, Mario, the officer in charge of the whole group stands up to light a candle and says, for years I have accompanied groups but this is the first time I have heard the name Galitzia, my own family of the name Feldman from a small town in Galitzia – may their memories be blessed.

In the background the prayer "God be merciful" (El Malei Rachamim) can be heard, I don't know who the singer is but I do know that the prayer entered through the tips of my toes up to the ends of my hair, the same hair shaven off my grandfathers and grandmothers, men and women, girls and boys.

 

Auschwitz 2

Walking along the rails that enter through the gate of "lager" Birkenau, the soldiers entering with an impressive military march, I stand to the side greatly moved to see the Star of David/the symbol of Israel leading the group with the national and military flags. Above in the quard tower Grisha trumphets out the melody of "If it could have been" (Lu Yehi), I was able to see many wet eyes amongst the tough military men.

Unable to constrain myself I look around for some flowers to put on the rails, the same rails that united the Jews and brought them to destruction from Norway /  from Holland / from Belgium / from France / from North Africa / from Hungary / from Germany / from Greece / from Yugoslavia / from Czcheslovakia / and from the Russian Soviet countries.

I found two wild flowers, yellow and purple, and laid them ceremoniously in memory of my people that had been destroyed.

In the muddy tunnel that leads down to the gas chambers Udi is praying with such intention that his body movements bring him almost down to the cursed and bitter ground.

I walk between the remains of the buildings and do not understand how it happened and come to the knowledge that the term anti-Semitism should be changed, simply to what it truly is – "anti – Judaism".

 

Poland

To summarize – a few personal words.

In front of the heap of ashes at Maidaneck ashes that even the Wisla River can't contain, I stand and want to address you – officers and commanders.

 

In Poland you are thrown backwards in the tunnel of time

In Poland you are bared to your real identity

In Poland you ask and are asked

In Poland you join the past with the present

The Jewish identity joins with the Israeli identity

The questions are many – many stay unanswered

 

Before you leave for Poland you pack your suitcase but no packing will prepare you for the tightening in your throat, for the trembling of your voice, for the tears in your eyes.

The traveler to Poland does not know how he will feel – how he will react.

A person after traveling to Poland becomes another link in the chain of rememberers from now on he is a "graduate of Poland".

 

Officers and commanders – you are the living continuation of our wonderful people, the Jewish people lives on – and the memory of the Jews who died in the Holocaust lives on – the memory of those who died in the wars of Israel lives on – the memory of my son Shahar lives on.

 

(Ashash)

Abba shell Shahar

(The father of Shahar)

www.Shaharozenberg.co.il