Poland Day 3: Vered Kaplan


First, we went to a farm house in Markowa, near Lancut. The farm house originally belonged to a Polish family. They hid seven or eight Jews throughout the war. Eventually, someone ratted them out, and the Nazis killed everyone. People risked their own lives to save others. They could have easily said, “That’s not my responsibility,” but they were willing to help save someone, even if that meant possibly getting killed for it.


We stopped by a beautiful shul in Lancut. There are lots of writings and imagery inside. We all brought the ascent of Jewish life back there. We sang “Torah G-d Temima” and we danced. Then, Rav Goldfischer put a chair in the middle and motioned for me to come sit. I was hoisted by my classmates–it was like my Bat Mitzvah part two. It was really meaningful.


Afterwards, we headed to the town of Tarnow. Jews lived there centuries prior to the war. We walked inside the remains of the ghetto. How can a town that Jewish people lived in and thrived in for centuries have none left? It’s really sad knowing that since there were so many Jews before, lots of windows would have had the Shabbat candles visible. Today, there is not one. There is no essence of Shabbat there anymore. We saw the only remaining piece of the magnificent shul that stood in the center, which was the bima. Since no Jews are left, we brought the essence of Shabbat back. We all sang Shalom Aleichem and Am Yisrael Chai. I felt a ton of pride helping to bring back Jewish life there.


Next, we headed to Zbylitowska Gora, a forest where thousands of Jews were slaughtered. Some religious leaders were slaughtered, too. Most of the Jews slaughtered there were children and babies. WHO WOULD EVER DO SUCH A THING? There are two mass graves just full of children. A testimony by a witness says that he saw a truck dump the babies into the pits like garbage. All those kids would never be able to continue their families’ legacies and live a normal childhood life. They died for one reasons: they were Jewish. Another testimony we heard was about a kid running away from the Nazis, thinking that he was simply playing a game of Hide and Seek. He “hid” inside a garbage box. The innocence of a child is sacred. He just wanted to play. When the Nazi “found” him, the boy was offering him his reward for finding him, a red lollipop. The Nazi shot him on the spot. We also heard a letter from a mother who had to give up her child for his own safety. No parent should ever have to give up their children. This child was too young to remember her parents, so her mother wrote her a note describing what she was like, the horrors of the situation, and to tell what happened. They gave up their child out of love. In the letter, the mother letting her know how much her parents love her. Just the words “I love you” meant so much more than the words–that’s when I started to cry. Just knowing that someone loves you and constantly reminds you of it is so important. The children buried did not get to hear that before their terrible fate. At that moment, all I wanted to do was hug my parents and tell them how much I love them. Each parent sent their daughter a letter. Each letter contained different things, but all of them had one thing in common, reminding their daughters how much they love them. I was bawling while reading some parts. I really missed my parents, but they reminded me how proud they are of me and how much they love me. I wiped the tears and held the letter to my heart. We then did something that the children would not experience with their parents. We blessed them with the blessings before Shabbat–one for the boys, and one for the girls. We also listened to “Offen Prefichick,” which I had not heard for years. Then, we sang “Hamalach Hagoel.” It was hard to sing some of it because my voice kept cracking. My parents always sang that to me. Hearing it again was powerful. We said it for the kids so they could have some things they would have done if they lived a normal life.


We then reached Krakow, another town where Jewish life thrived centuries before. There, we visited two shuls. One shul has a gorgeous interior. It was transformed into a storage place during the war. The other was more run down, but had beautiful paintings. The streets of Krakow have Jewish writings and remains of Jewish life hidden, including menorahs on walls. We also went right outside of the cemetery where R’ Moshe Isserless is buried. Then we went to a monument for Sara Schiener, the woman who made it possible for Machon Ma’ayan and other places for women to learn. I spoke about the importance of Sara’s life and her drive which made learning for women the norm. We then sang “Torah G-d Temima” again. Then, we had dinner right by the Krakow ghetto. We also saw a memorial of the ghetto, which sufficed of chairs. Krakow is split by a river of water. Jews lived on the other side. During the war, Jews had to cross over with chairs to the ghetto. At our hotel, we talked about how we felt about our emotional but powerful day.


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