Wanderings: Diary of an Ambassador’s Journey
Elie Wiesel once said that without memory there is no culture. The memory we inherited throughout this journey we shall carry with us to the end of our days, and hopefully pass on to future generations so that they may share and carry on for eternity. This is a small glimpse into the journey of memory and teaching Israel Forever’s Executive Director Dr. Elana Heideman took with Ambassador Ron Dermer.
In just a few hours, I will embark on yet another March of the Living International experience. I have led youth, adults of all ages, survivors and their children and grandchildren. I have sought, each time I walk again on these grounds, to do justice to the memory that it possesses. A memory that cannot be translated so easily elsewhere, although we continue to try. A memory that I am humbled and blessed to be passing on again.
It is with great honor that this journey should be made as the educator for Ambassador Ron Dermer and his delegation, and to experience together a new understanding of this history and its relevance to our people, our destiny, our future.
We march together in the face of the growing hate, denial and indifference to Jewish rights and historical truth. We remember and make a commitment to our future as Am Yisrael.
On Yom HaShoah, or anytime in the year, please explore our extensive collection of content and resources to help you and your family and friends experience this day of memory in a personal and meaningful way.
Warsaw - encounters with remnants of the past and remembrance of its destruction.
In the Polin Museum we traced 1000 years of vibrant Jewish life, discussing the concept of power and powerlessness and the Jewish future.
On our walk through what was once the Ghetto, we examined the momentary survival so unique to the Jewish experience in the Holocaust and its impact on their humanity, choice, action.
On Mila 18, we heard the words of Mordechai Anielewicz leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and inherited their message - that Jewish self-defense be remembered beyond the walls of the bunker of the final battle.
At the Umshlagplatz we closed our eyes and heard the cries of despair as the Jews made their way toward the unknown.
The end of the first day in Poland are never simple, always eye opening, and just the beginning of our journey. We carry on with us today the spirit of Januscz Korczak and his children of the ghetto orphanage and all the Jews of Warsaw as we head to the sites of their destruction.
How can I describe the power of a single day?
From Warsaw we traveled Northeast to the small shtetl of Tykocin and its incredible synagogue so full of spirit and stories of a community that thrived since 1522.
We walked silently into the woods, in their footsteps, toward the pits where the Jews were senselessly murdered at the hands of the Einzatsgruppen killing squads in the Lupochowa Forest.
We heard the echoes of their cries in our hearts as the wind passed between the trees, and the birds sang all around us as we recited "Shtiler shtiler Graves are growing here" - the anthem of the mass graves written for Ponar by Vilna but which is a fitting testament for each of the thousands of killing pits that fill this region.
We joined hundreds of Jews from around the world in becoming heirs to the events and memories of the witnesses of the systematic extermination in Treblinka as we wandered among the 17000 stones that serve to commemorate the 17000 communities large and small destroyed by the Nazis and their "Final Solution".
And we walked out - carrying with us the deep and profound questions evoked by this site of destruction of nearly 900000 Jewish lives with only 71 survivors.
As we pulled away, we could still hear the cries of the young teens so heavily impacted by their experiences here, and the songs of memory, of honor and of hope that echoed through the vast landscape of those hallowed grounds.
A day like today has a power all of its own. A power that cannot be encompassed in any classroom or museum. A day like today reminds us of why we must keep coming back. For these graves deserve our presence as we remind the buried souls - we remember you. And we are here to return to you your dignity through that memory.
They did not know where the trains would take them. Because we know, this is our obligation - to affirm their truth, to unbury the silence, and to cry out for the justice of Jewish rights and Jewish life.
No one shall ever take that away.
Majdanek. The stark reality encompassed within the expanse of 667 acres of this labor and death camp came to life today through the voice of Halina Birenbaum - her experience escorted us from the present into the past, from the moment of arrival to the showers and separation from her mother, to the tortures of daily life in the hell that witnessed the death of over 300,000 prisoners and the extermination of over 60000 Jews by gas.
The blue stains of the walls I saw here at the young age of 14 still remain, and all I can do is hope to succeed in sharing the truth of what transpired within those enclosed spaces and the open fields of excruciating suffering of forced labor, roll calls, and the pervasive despair perpetually in battle with the desire for some tiny glimpse of hope.
One stop on a long road trip toward Krakow, and its power is undeniable. The mound of human ash still echoes of the souls buried within, begging the questions, again and again, how? Why? What now?
NEVER FORGET will never be enough.
The culmination of this day was for me awe inspiring when I heard the eloquent Ambassador Ron Dermer address the March of the Living International adult delegations with one of the most brilliant speeches that touched on the meaning of not only Holocaust Memory but of the significance of a.journey to this place that is so embattled by the debate over its value.
We Jews will never stay silent in the face of attempts to distort or diminish our suffering or the facts surrounding the individual and collective responsibility shared by the Nations who stood idly by or took part in making them possible. And the speech delivered tonight, amidst music of the Holocaust, is a masterpiece that I believe each of you and all the world should hear.
What an honor to guide this leader of our people who follows in the footsteps of so many great Jewish leaders of our history. Somehow I feel that here, now, we are making history ourselves. A most fitting manner to enter into Yom HaShoah before we March 13000 strong in defiance, in pride, through the gates of Birkenau tomorrow.
May you all find a way to mark this day in your own way. Please come explore our incredible resources here where there is something personal and meaningful for everyone.
לזכור ולא נשכח. לעולם לא.
From the incredible experience of honoring Yom HaShoah on the March of the Living to a walk through the remnants of Jewish life in old Kasimierz of Krakow, From the sadness of the mass grave in Dzialoszyce to the awe of seeing the ruins of its synagogue, finding the undiscovered mikveh in the neighboring house, and reaching the former home of a relative of Amit Cohen's family, before racing through windy back roads and sleepy towns of Poland toward Warsaw, today has been an incredible Testament to what once thrived here and another reason we come back.
Elie Wiesel once said that without memory there is no culture. The memory we inherited throughout this journey we shall carry with us to the end of our days, and hopefully pass on to future generations so that they may share and carry on for eternity.
As I taught of the leaders of the old Jewish World, it did not surpass my awareness that I was guiding one of our great leaders of the Jewish people today. It inspires me further in my continued work.
And as we watched the amazing Cast a Giant Shadow on the road before our journey to the homeland after Shabbat, it only emphasized what Ambassador Ron Dermer emphasizes again and again - that it is The Sovereign power of the Jewish people that is most essential to preventing any other atrocities such as this or of any other kind that might befall our Jewish people.
Am Yisrael Chai! עם ישראל חי The Jewish people lives and breathes and thrives and we shall do so forever!!!
Dr. Elana Yael Heideman, Executive Director of The Israel Forever Foundation, is a dynamic and passionate educator who works creatively and collaboratively in developing content and programming to deepen and activate the personal connection to Israel for Diaspora Jews. Elana’s extensive experience in public speaking, educational consulting and analytic research and writing has served to advance her vision of Israel-inspired Jewish identity that incorporates the relevance of the Holocaust, Antisemitism and Zionism to contemporary issues faced throughout the Jewish world in a continuous effort to facilitate dialogue and build bridges between the past, present and future.