A Trip to Poland – Lest We Forget – Deborah Shulton

In May of this year I together with around 40 other people went on an unforgettable journey to Poland through an organization called J Roots.

The journey we went on took us from incredible highs down to the most desperate lows, but most of all made each of us appreciate the importance of our Jewish history, heritage and identity.

What made this trip so meaningful was that we didn’t just visit places and hear stories about them. Instead each location was bought to life through different experiences that we were encouraged to take part in.

Let me try and describe some of the things we did to explain what I mean.

In Lancut we visited a Shul that was built in 1761 that had not been used as   a Shul since the second world. During the visit a Chazzan (who was a member of our group) moved us all with his beautiful singing and Simchat Torah – something that we all joined in with. It was as if we were bringing a Shul back to life in defiance of those that had tried to destroy the Jewish community here.

We went to Belzec – a death camp where nearly one in ten Jewish victims of the Holocaust was murdered in the gas chambers of an area that measures less than fifteen acres. A memorial now commemorates this area following the Nazi’s attempt to erase any evidence of the camp. On the walls are inscribed hundreds of Hebrew names. We were each asked to stand by our Hebrew name on the wall and in unison shout it our loud – we wanted to ensure that the names of those people who had been murdered here were never forgotten. ‘Earth, do not cover my blood. Let there be no resting place for my outcry’ is inscribed on the walls by the names.

In Lezajsk we drank a L’Chaim and then danced around the tomb of one of the great founding Rabbis of the Chasidic movement, Rabbi Elimelech (we were assured that this was not only not disrespectful but a great honour!). After which we were given the opportunity to pray for a loved one, or someone that we knew to be unwell.

Shoes

Shoes…….

After hearing about the massacre of hundreds of beautiful Jewish Children in the forest of Zbylitowska Gora, we were read a letter written by a mother to her child. His mother hid the letter in the lining of his coat before she sent him away to a non-Jewish family. The mother knowing that she would never see her child again, wanted to explain in the letter why she had sent him away. We were subsequently asked to imagine ourselves in that situation, and try and think of what we might say to someone that we loved knowing that we might never see them again. We were then told to write this letter using our phones, or I pads (in recognition of the fact that all too often these devices often get in the way of us communicating with our loved ones face to face) and then send our letter to that person.

One member of the group took us to visit the grave of his Great Grandfather who was buried in Lodz cemetery. He had died 6 months before World War II, and consequently, having been buried, his family had never had the opportunity of consecrating his grave with a stone setting. J Roots had helped to locate the grave a year before the trip, and the granddaughter of the deceased (the mother of the boy who was in our group) was able to hold a stone setting. Since then, no one had visited the grave, and so it was fitting that 40 of us were each able to lay a stone on the grave of this boy’s Great -Grandfather, after whom he had been named.

In Auschwitz we were able to hear first-hand the experiences of a survivor Leslie Kleinman, who accompanied us throughout our journey. Leslie lost his mother as well as his sisters and brothers in Auschwitz. We found the point at which he was separated from his family, having just alighted from the horrendously overcrowded train truck. This was the last time he saw his mother and sisters alive. Leslie was never able to sit Shiva for his family, and so it was at this spot that we were all able to wish Leslie Long Life and he was able to light a Yahrzeit candle.