An excerpt from a journal entry written during my trip to Poland in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Not the kind of cold that gloves or a hat can fix. The kind of cold that shakes your entire body and that no number of layers can shield you from. It’s the sort of cold that pierces straight into your heart.
My first day in Poland.
As soon as I flew over Poland early this morning, I knew right away that this wasn’t going to be a normal trip. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience during this week. I have traveled to many European cities by now, but none will compare to this. This will be a journey – one that directly follows in the footsteps of my ancestors. How lucky am I that I will be able to walk out, while years ago these footsteps would have led me to my end.
This is real.
It’s not just the stories I’ve been told since I can remember. It’s a survivor telling me these stories and watching the pain take over his body as he recalls the horrid memories. It’s not just looking at photographs, but actually seeing them come to life.
I touch the wall of the Warsaw Ghetto.
We stand outside for hours, learning and re-learning about what happened in the places that have now become the grounds for apartment complexes. Life is normal here. At times, all I could think about was how cold my toes were. Am I selfish? The people who stood here before me endured the impossible. If not for them, I would not be standing here. I am grateful for the cold.
One by one we file into a cattle car.
Darkness. I can’t see anything around me, but I can feel the bodies pressed up against mine. My toes are nearly numb. But this is a small pain to feel. I picture what it would have been like to be separated from my family, to see my brother pulled away from my arms. This is the real pain.
Tears stream down my face, the first warmth I’ve felt in hours.
My heart is pounding. I’ve never been so afraid, and yet so full of gratitude knowing that I will be able to safely walk out of the cattle car.
A voice begins to sing the tune of the Jewish people. For in times of despair, we always sing.
We’re not cattle.
We’re human beings full of pride that can not be taken away from us.
More voices join in. Soon the cattle car is filled with the sweet notes of life. A wave of calmness passes over me, warming my body. For a few moments, I stop shivering. I am not alone.
I grab the hand of the person next to me as we exit the cattle car.
We walk towards 6 large tombstones. Engraved in the stones are hands, reaching out, begging and grasping for a few more moments.
Leslie says Kaddish for his family. A man who suffered the worst kind of pain and still manages to walk around with a smile on his face.
I watch our breath swirl up into the cold air, becoming one voice. We are still standing here. The Jewish people are still standing here. Together, we are standing here as one family. And we will never forget.
My toes feel a little less cold.
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Abigail is our 2016-17 IES Abroad Blogger of the Year! Abigail studies Economics and International Studies with a minor in Business Administration at Brandeis University—where she is also an IES Abroad Ambassador. As a Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 Blogger, Abigail illustrated her year abroad in Milan through her insightful posts and candid photography that navigated her growth in the historical city of Milan.