April 10, 2024
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A Journey to Poland With Bnei Akiva

I had the privilege this past March to participate in World Bnei Akiva’s Poland Journey led by CEO Jeremy Kurnedz at Harova. My program, Mechina Olamit Garin, along with Kivun, two Bnei Akiva programs in Israel, went on this emotional roller coaster ride together.

Our journey started and ended in Armon Hanatziv with a promenade that has a lookout point of all of Jerusalem and shows the most beautiful expansive view of the Old city and Har Habayit. We did this to show that no matter how much tragedy the Jewish people have had to endure we prevailed. Our ancestors might not have been so lucky as to see the Jewish state, but we are fortunate enough, and we are living this dream for them.

Throughout our trip we traveled through Poland starting and ending in Warsaw. We visited many different cities and places such as Łopuchowo Forest, Treblinka, Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin, Majdanek, Tarnow, Children’s Forest, Auschwitz (including Birkenau), Krakow Ghetto, Piotrków, and more.

The entire experience was incredibly moving. However, I would not be upset if I never stepped foot back in Poland. I believe, though, this is a journey that all people should try to take. Since I have grown up with a strong Jewish background, including a strong Holocaust education, nothing I saw was new information. But, standing in the gas chamber in Majdanek, seeing the remnants of blue stains on the wall from the gas, or standing in the Children’s Forest in front of a mass grave for babies and children, I have never felt so proud to be Jewish. These were new feelings. Poland multiplied my love for Judaism, my appreciation for the life I have been gifted, and my yearning to be a better person who loves instead of hates. There is almost nothing in this lifetime that will compare to the experience of standing in a gas chamber, of seeing crematories, or mass graves of your people, of innocent children, of mothers and fathers, and there is almost nothing you will see or hear that will be as gruesome or horrific as stories from the Holocaust. I will forever be scarred and ingrained with certain stories Jeremy told us during our journey of the ghastly and monstrous acts of the Nazi regime.

The Poland Journey was something I had been wanting to partake in since junior year of high school. During that year I participated in a Holocaust Fellowship with the Schoke Jewish Family Service, and was paired with a Holocaust survivor named Sigmund Listwa, or Ziggy for short. I won’t go into the details of my fellowship, or Ziggy’s tragic, yet remarkable story, but I will say that my experience with Ziggy tremendously enhanced my experience in Poland. Ziggy once said to me, “It is much harder to forget something you have seen then it is to forget something you have heard,” and this was the basis of me wanting to go to Poland, to see the death camps, and experience it all through my own eyes. Ziggy ended every conversation that I had with him by telling me how proud he was of me because I chose to study the Holocaust.

I encourage you all to visit Poland to see the unspeakable and sickening tragedies of the Holocaust through your own eyes, so that you will be able to share with more vigor and passion the stories of the Shoah. We must continue to research and share because if we do not learn from history, we will be doomed to repeat it.


Julianne Katz is a former Jewish Link intern currently spending her gap year in Israel.

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