As I look back on ten days in Poland, without question one of the most powerful, emotional moments for me was what occurred when we walked out of Auschwitz.
As we were walking towards the main entrance, about to embark on the short walk towards our bus, I heard tremendously beautiful songs being sung by a group of 5-6 Chassidic young men. They were huddled up in the cold, singing in triumph after their day in Auschwitz.
Our group of 27 immediately joined them, and the singing and emotion intensified.
The first song we sang was “Ani Ma’amin.” There are reports that as the Jews were on their way to Treblinka where over 900,000 Jews were murdered, slammed in cattle cars like sardines, there was a group of individuals who began singing “Ani Ma’amin.” “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Moshiach— and even though he may delay, despite this, I will await for him every day until he arrives.” These were the words being sung by our great grandparents 80 years ago. As we sang those sacred words, under those circumstances, I started sobbing. The experience was simply magical. I reflected on the fact that our group was there, commemorating our ancestors 80 years later. I realized that our continued existence and survival is a testimony that this momentous day will still yet come.
The next song that we sang was “Gam Ki Eilech.” The well known, exceedingly powerful words uttered by King David: “Even as I walk in the shadow of death I will not fear because You are with me. Here we were— literally in the shadow of death. As I looked up to see the front gate of Auschwitz-Birkanau , declaring we will not fear because G-d is with us. Never has that psalm felt more real. Things can be challenging, and life can be difficult. But we must never forget that the Almighty is always by our side– always with us. Even in the shadow of death, like Auschwitz.
Finally we sang Acheinu: “Our brothers, the entire house of Israel who are going through difficult times and captivity, whether by the sea or dry land: The Almighty will show compassion on them and will remove them from their sorrows … from darkness to light from captivity to redemption, immediately!“ Singing this song about Jewish unity and sticking together as we await deliverance from dark times was special. Here we were- a group of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated Jews alongside some Chasidim, basking in each other’s presence in the shadow of Auschwitz.
None of our differences mattered to Hitler–they shouldn’t matter to us either.
Leaving this Kumsitz filled me with hope and optimism as we departed from the cursed gates of Auschwitz.