It is now day 11, and we are nearing the end of our unforgettable trip. Some days have been physically tiring, but every day is emotionally draining. Each of us has relived the horror, atrocities and seen the effects of evil on a scale that is unimaginable — 11 million people murdered, including 6 million Jews.
We have walked on the same cobblestones, climbed the very steps and stood on the same wooden floors as hundreds of thousands of innocent people did before they were starved, tortured, and slaughtered. We observed the same trees, churches (both near and far), and towns that the prisoners at some of the camps saw (and must have prayed for rescuers who never arrived).
We have witnessed images that will forever haunt us: the three levels of bunks in the barracks, photographs of emaciated bodies, mountains of luggage from the victims, two tons of human hair, and a heap of children’s shoes.
With our visit yesterday to Auschwitz/Birkenau, we have now seen 10 different camps (with one to go tomorrow). By my calculations – although the numbers will never exactly be known – those camps accounted for some 5,240,000 deaths.
The 21 of us mourn the victims in our own ways. Some of us cry openly. We console each other. At each site, we light a candle, adding to the memorials of expired candles, withered flowers, and piles of pebbles. Yesterday, as a token symbol of our solidarity with the victims and survivors, several of us consumed only 250 calories (i.e., thin soup and some bread), the same amount of food allocated each day to many prisoners.
We probe our guides and listen to survivors for stories of goodness and humanity in the face of such evil. There are some: Polish citizens hiding Jews, prisoners sabotaging their work in German factories, and multiple acts of sacrifice and heroism.
Finally, we vow to remember. Not just the Holocaust, but we remember that genocide has not ended. And we now know that we all must be vigilant about other manifestations of human rights abuses. It is then our responsibility to speak out about them and educate others.
We will not forget.