A week ago, I returned from the best trip of my life.
I could not have been luckier. The experience that I had on March of the Living 2008 is one that I truly will remember forever. I saw things that I have heard and read about for years, things that I never thought I would see, things that I will now never be able to forget. I met people, young and old, who, in the midst of what can only be described as hell on earth, showed me over and over again the good that is within every human being.
Six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Can you even imagine six million people? I can’t. I don’t think any of us could. But over the course of the two weeks, we weren’t asked to. Instead, we were encouraged to think “one by one.” One person. One family. One community. One town. One by one by one, six million Jews were wiped off the face of the earth. Innocent people, young and old, rich and poor, were murdered senselessly, simply because they were Jews.
“One by one.” This made sense to me. As I stood in each camp (four in all – Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majadanek, and Treblinka), I looked at photographs and I read diary entries and I imagined one person. One person, just like me. And then, when I thought I grasped that, when I thought I understood it, I imagined nother. And another, and another. And I have to say, when you are standing there, even though it is sixty years later, if you close your eyes, it is far too easy to imagine it happening to you.
I believe that the Holocaust is the type of thing where the more you know, the less you know. That might not make perfect sense, but that’s how I see it. Before I went on the trip, I thought I knew a fair amount about the Holocaust – I knew about the trains, the ghettos, the camps, the graves, the gas chambers. But when you actually stand in the middle of a room, facing a crematorium still filled with human ashes, you realize that you don’t really know. You simply can’t. It’s impossible for normal people, people who believe in good and evil and right and wrong, to ever truly grasp what happened during that time.
I want to stress that while it sounds like this trip was full of depressing, miserable stories, that wasn’t the case at all. Rather, I felt that everywhere I went, I walked tall and proud. I walked into concentration camps with 131 high school kids, 15 other staff members, and 8 Holocaust survivors – all Jewish. And what a sense of triumph it was to stand in Auschwitz with 10,000 other Jews from all over the world participating in the March, to know that we were doing this for the six million who couldn’t. It felt like everywhere we went, we were reminding the world that we were still here.
And that feeling continued and grew after we left Poland and traveled to Israel. I’ve been to Israel before, but this trip truly made me fall in love with it. For as much as I joked during the week we were there – I did inform everyone “I am now a Zionist!” – I can honestly say that I finally understood what it is that makes Israel so important and so special. The previous week, I had stood in places where Jews died simply because they were Jews. In Israel, I felt like I could put that all in the past – not forget it, just put it behind me – and relax in a country where almost everyone around me was Jewish, too. It was a feeling that filled me with peace and made me so much more aware of how important Israel is to the Jewish people. The night of Israel’s 60th anniversary, I danced in Rabin Square with thousands of other Jews. I sang Hatikvah – the hope, and I thought to myself, Am Yisrael Chai. The people of Israel live.
It may sound cliché, but I can honestly say that I have been changed forever. Already I can tell that I am different – I don’t believe there will ever be a day that will go by that I won’t think of the horrors I saw in Poland and the peace that I felt in Israel. The March of the Living was two weeks where I was not myself. I wasn’t Jordan Silverman. I was just a Jew, a Jew who was upholding her responsibility to see the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand, to imprint the images and places and stories in my memory.
When that time comes when someone says, “It didn’t happen,” I will be prepared. I will be the first to stand and say, “It did. It happened, and I was there. I saw it for myself.”
I will never, ever forget. I have six million reasons not to.