I wrote nothing in my notebook since my last post. Now I am home.
People say the most common feeling after visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau is numbness. People are right.
My head is full of facts and figures, images of physical evidence, stories told by survivors and thoughts and ideas shared by the wonderful people I have met.
Thursday was Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. This is different from International Holocaust Memorial Day, which is held earlier in the year, on the date of the liberation of Auschwitz. Yom HaShoah marks the half way point between passover and Israeli Independence Day.
The culmination of the visits and tours that have been taking place all over Poland the past week was The March of the Living.
I am struggling to process many of the things I have seen on this trip. Watching as 12,000 people marched from beside the bullet-hole scarred ‘Wall of Death’ of Auschwitz I’s notorious Block 10, out under the infamous, ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI’ sign and towards the iconic railway entrance to Birkenau, something started to make some sense to me.
For me, the march was not about history. This was about the present and the future.
I struggled to take photographs as the five survivors I have had the privilege to meet this week walked arm in arm out of that gate, under that sign. I cried as I saw Renee, Freddie, Mala, Eve and Harry take a deep breath as they smiled for the hundreds of cameras in the glorious sunshine. I wasn’t crying about what they had been through. I wasn’t crying that the holocaust had happened. I was crying that it had ended – that people had been freed and saved. That unimaginable evil had been defeated. That people from all over the world had come back to where this all happened, to march against indifference, racism, injustice and prejudice.
Someone calculated that with around 12,000 people marching, we each carried with us the memory of approximately 450 victims.
Students, educators, survivors – people from all over the world lit candles beside the train tracks that line the Judenramp at Birkenau. Some laid wreaths on to the last remaining cattle cart. We stuck memorial signs with messages of remembrance and hope in to the railway sleepers before a ceremony attended by ambassadors, liberators, victims and dignitaries.
I marched for my family, murdered at Treblinka. I marched for the pride that Renee and her fellow survivors take in being able to tell their stories. For victims. For freedom. For education. For the future.