After a 3 hour bus ride from Lublin, we finally arrived in Warsaw. We visited the immense cemetery of Warsaw which dates back to medieval times and contains hundreds of thousands of people. The richness of the ancient city’s Jewish community is outstanding. The cemetery is full of old monuments and tombs of famous rabbis, scholars, professors and writers. We toured the cemetery and read the incriptions, until we noticed a large empty space marked by black lines. The tour guide explained that this is a mass grave for those who died in the Warsaw Ghetto. 70 000- 80 000 bodies are buried in that little space, without even a tomb marker. They are nameless, without monument or identity, unmourned with no kaddish or shivah. I was asked to recite the El Maleh Rachamim prayer and a surge of emotion came over me as I pleaded with HaShem to remember and have mercy on those poor souls who died.Later on, we toured the ghetto, little of which is left. Only a few fragments of the walls survive. The ghetto best captures my feelings in Poland: constricted, restrained, trapped. I am not wanted here.
Walking into Umchlagplatz, the train depot from which 300 000 Jews were sent to Teblinka, I was in awe. It was the last stop for hundreds of thousands before the gas chambers, and I could walk out freely. I cried when the madrich said that we would not be going to our deaths but priviliedged to fulfill the dream of thousands: going to Eretz Yisrael.
It is astonishing to see Poles living in formerly Jewish areas. Next to the remaining ghetto wall are apartments and the Poles living there yelled at us for trespassing. At the heart of the ghetto, the Poles felt the need to erect a huge crucifix in honour of one of their saints, and a huge church sits on the main street. Not only were the Jewish bodies desecrated but the Jewish soul is spat upon. Cable cars with Kitkat advertisements run on the same haunted tracks as cattle cars used to. Have the Poles simply forgotten or chosen to forget? I think the little Jewish figurines holding money bags, sold at the hotel giftshop, answers my questions.
Treblinka means death. It is but a short distance from the trains to the gas chambers. Arrivals were greeted by an orchestra and were given postcard to send to their loved ones. Deceived, they were sent to the gas chambers.