A group of 15 MTA Seniors, who are enrolled in our yeshiva’s Name, Not Numbers course, recently returned from a 9- day trip to Poland, led by the Names, Not Numbers organization, where they not only traced the roots of the Holocaust, but also experienced the re-birth of Judaism in Poland.  Participating in the Names, Not Numbers elective course enables students to learn about the Holocaust first-hand through the making of their own professional oral history documentaries. Travelling to Poland and seeing the places they have heard about when interviewing survivors, brings these stories to life.

The trip began in Warsaw with visits to the Warsaw Cemetery, the Polin Museum,  and the Lauder Foundation’s Morasha School, Warsaw’s only Jewish day school.

“Visiting the Warsaw Cemetery enabled us to better appreciate the life that was once here,” said MTA student Akiva Cooper.  “We visited the kevers of the Nitziv and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik and also paid our respects at the tribute to Janus Korczac, a Jewish educator who chose to stay with the children of the orphanage he founded, ultimately perishing with them, despite numerous opportunities to escape. We walked the streets of Warsaw and stopped at the memorial outside the Polin Museum, commemorating those who fought in the Warsaw uprising, as well as the bunker at Mila 18 where the bodies of the Warsaw uprising leader Mordechai Anylevitch and his comrades remain, and sang a song of kedusha in their memory.  We also learned, as we visited the Lauder School, that the story of the Jews in Poland is far from over.  A presentation by Forum for Dialogue, a gentile run, Poland-wide, organization whose goal is to raise awareness of Jewish heritage in towns desolate of contemporary Jewish life, furthered the understanding that our Jewish story in Poland will never be forgotten.”

From Warsaw, the group went on to Kazimierz Dolny, a small town with a rich Jewish history. “The town used to be a thriving Jewish community before the war,” shared MTA Senior Yaakov Lauer.  “Nowadays, it’s marked by a cracked wall made from Jewish tombstones that were used to pave the roads during German occupation, the only trace of Jewish life left.”  After, they visited the Majdanek concentration camp. “Words can’t describe the feeling of entering a gas chamber willingly,  feeling the faint scratches in the wall that we knew were left by our brothers and sisters who were slaughtered there systematically,” said MTA alumnus Yehoshua Szafranski, who accompanied students on the trip.  “Nor can they describe the powerful sounds of our voices as we sang ‘Rochel mevaka al baneha, Rochel cries for her children’, outside of the crematorium.”

The students also visited Yeshivas Chochmei Lublin, Belzec concentration camp, and the Zamosc Synagogue, the only Sephardic synagogue in Poland.  “We toured the preserved city, Zamosc, and took an in-depth look at the Zamosc Synagogue,”said MTA student Yisrael Katz.  “We saw parts of 18th century Torah scrolls that were still in good enough condition for some of us, myself included, to lein parts of our Bar Mitzvah parshos from.”

From Lublin, the group travelled to Krakow, via Lezansk, the famed city of Reb Meilich, also known as the Noam Elimelech.  They had the opportunity to learn about the re-birth of Jewish life in Poland by visiting the JCC and meeting with its Director, Jonathan Ornstein, a child Holocaust survivor and professor of law.  They also met with the Chief Rabbi of Krakow, Rabbi Avi Baumol, an MTA alumnus, who is serving the Jewish community of Krakow as it undergoes a revitalization as part of a resurgence of Jewish awareness in Poland.  Students experienced both the past and the present of Polish Jewry during the trip, which is a unique opportunity, as many trips to Poland focus solely on the Holocaust.

They spent Shabbos with Holocaust survivor Dov Landau of Israel, whose story is chronicled in the movie Exodus.  “Dancing with Dov Landau on Shabbos, as he waved the tattoo on his arm for everyone to see, while we sang Am Yisrael Chai, was an experience we’ll never forget,” said Szafranski.

Mr. Landau, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, accompanied the group to both Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, where he shared personal anecdotes at each exhibit.  After having already been to Majdanek, I thought I would be moderately prepared for what I was going to experience and see at the largest concentration camp.  I think some things in life however, are just impossible to prepare for, and this was one of them,” said MTA Senior Izzy Klavan. “We sang as we walked down a path towards mass graves of children and adults who were murdered in the crematoria.  Standing in the place where more than 1 million Jews were murdered, was a difficult experience and one that I will never forget. Afterwards, we davened Mincha at the entrance to the camp.  Being able to stand on the Auschwitz train tracks and daven to Hashem without any fear, reminded me that despite so much tragedy and death, the Nazis failed and I am here to prove it.”  Click here to view photos and videos from the trip.


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