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Birkenau, Poland

The End of the Route

For hundreds of thousands of European Jews, the route ended here, life ended here. Hundreds of thousands arrived here and within minutes were sent to the gas chambers. For the majority of the boys in the group, this was also the end of the route. Only a few of the boys in the group, 39, had the luck to be liberated from here alive. The boys in the group arrived here on August 1, 1944, and for some reason that remains a mystery to this day, they were not immediately sent to the gas chambers. Consequently they were sent to have a number tattooed on their arms and then they were taken to Lager [camp] A, the transit camp at Birkenau. Two selections were carried out in September 1944, one on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and the second on Yom Kippur. Thirty-nine boys were left alive after the selections, and were sent to forced labor in Lager D, another section of Birkenau.

This is the entrance gate to Birkenau. For hundreds of thousands of people it was the gate of no return, the gate to death. The trains entered one after another, filled with men, women and children, and departed empty. Their human cargo was murdered here, in the largest killing field humankind has ever known.

The living conditions were impossible. Eight or more children slept on each of these bunks (on each tier). Crowding. Disease.  Hunger. "The smallest injury was a death sentence because the lack of food prevented it from healing," one of the boys related. Death was a constant shadow. Every night there was a roll call in which the children were sorted – who would live and who would die. The "sentence" was always only carried out the next day. Immediately after the roll call, all the boys were sent back to the barracks, those sentenced to life and those sentenced to death. "You were sleeping in a bed with people who were already dead," they testified. The group spent the longest period of time in Birkenau, until close to the time that the camp was liberated. Then, on January 18, 1945 the Death March began.

The Roll-Wagen, the transport cart. The children of the group were put to work dragging this cart. Eight boys dragged the cart, which among other things moved corpses.

A group photo: eight of the survivors from the group who took part in the journey in 1999, against the background of the monument in Birkenau, on the ruins of the crematoria, which were the end of the road for most of their comrades. From right to left: Moshe Kravetz, Dani Hanoch, Moshe Shoham, Dani Labanovski, Meir Gecht, Yaakov Viz, Zundel Gordon.

 

"…and you sit there, across from the inferno,

look it right in the eye, and have trouble believing it.

Find it hard to grasp the Ninth Fort, Ponary

Stutthof, Treblinka and Birkenau.

You sit with what is considered

the greatest atrocity created by humankind,

and see the greenery, the sunset,

bite your lip, look at your friends,

some crying, and still find it hard.

Your heart finds it hard to grasp

what your mind has long since understood."…

(From the diary of one of the students)

 

 

 

 

One of the members of the delegation from Har Vagai School sitting beside the ruins of the crematoria. September 1999.

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Stuthof Camp, Poland
Landsberg, Germany
Dachau, Germany
Mauthausen
Gunskirchen