Saturday, July 2, 2011

On the Eve of Change

On the night before I begin a three week journey, which I've been assured will forever change me as a person and an educator, a sense of purpose has settled within me.

Just minutes ago, I finished Vladka Meed's book "On Both Sides of the Wall" that explorers her involvement with the Jewish resistance in Warsaw before, during and after the Ghetto Uprising. Vladka's work as a young woman was truly remarkable, and like many survivor narratives, luck played a primary role in her survival of the Holocaust. As Vladka wrapped up her story, she recalled the trip to Poland that she and her husband took in 1978--their first time returning to their homeland since they left in the wake of war. Vladka and her husband traveled around Warsaw and then ventured to Treblinka. In Vladka's reaction to the memorial at the site of the Treblinka death camp (where the Germans took meticulous effort to destroy evidence of the exterminations and gas chambers), Vladka explained, "What remains is this vast and empty field, covered with 1500 pointed stones that rise toward the heavens with a silent but piercingly eloquent accusation." What a description!

Less than three months ago, I stood where Vladka stood. To her the stones represented loved ones, close friends, and her community which was torn apart at the hands of various "enemies." I cannot fathom the emotions she must have felt. When I stood there with 14 teenagers, I went through my own wave of emotions. How could the Germans (in the midst of war) take the time to so explicitly cover their tracks? How must terror must have taken place here? How did people bear with the reality of camps such as Treblinka after the war?

Tomorrow I will begin a journey, one that was originally conceived by Vladka and her husband, Benjamin. By creating the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teacher Program, Vladka and Benjamin ensured that countless educators would have the opportunity to bear witness, study the events of the Holocaust where they occurred, and bring knowledge of Jewish resistance and determination to generations of young people. Although I cannot yet estimate how the trip will change me, I know with certainty that Vladka's passion and strength will unify all of our discussions, camp visits, and memorial moments of silence. I am immensely grateful for this opportunity, and I can only hope that I rise to the challenge Vladka has put in front of me.

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