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  • In 1996, at the age of 16, I went on a trip, spending a week in Poland visiting concentration camps, and a week in Israel being indoctrinated and brainwashed. I can't say that I would recommend this kind of a trip to anybody at that age. I also can't say that I regret it. However, the impact that the trip had on me was such that I think it's the kind of trip that should wait until you're older. I left my town in NJ a sheltered teenager with no strong religious beliefs. I came back from the trip a sheltered teenager who had decided he wanted to be an orthodox Jew and move to Israel to join the army after high school. Luckily that didn't last very long - the religion or the army.

    The trip through Poland was almost too cliche. The weather was grey and rainy most of the time, the people gruff and unfriendly, and the food was not good. We were traveling by bus across the country, and spent many hours going from one city to the next. I saw Warsaw, Krakow, Katowice, Lublin and I'm sure several other cities that I cannot remember. We visited Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka and Majdanek. Each of these camps was different. Treblinka was gone - the Nazis bulldozed it under before they fled, to cover up their crimes. Auschwitz and Birkenau were like museums, everything was behind glass. And then there was Majdanek.

    If you ever wanted to see a concentration camp that could, in theory, be re-started in 48 hours, Majdanek is the one. You've probably never heard of it - I hadn't before the trip. Everything had been left intact. There were rows of barracks. Some were empty with cots. Others were filled with glasses, shoes, children's clothing, etc. Imagine an entire barrack filled with shoes or glasses. It's a disturbing sight. You can go into the gas chambers. You can see and touch nail marks in the steel walls. My hands are shaking just typing out a sentence like that. What more can you say?

    At the end of the tour, there is a dome. Underneath the dome is a mound of human ash. They estimate about 280,000 people. Our group was 6,000, and the main point of the trip was to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day. But here we found ourselves holding hands around the mound of ash, singing songs of triumph and freedom. It was the most uplifting scene you could imagine at quite possibly the darkest place on Earth.
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