The Academy at Penguin Hall
Boston to Berlin is approximately 3,702 miles, and Boston to Poland is roughly 4,010 miles. If anything, these numbers do not discourage me, or clearly any of the other teens who I had the absolute pleasure of going on this journey with—they motivate us to do better. Because, in all honesty, we can all do better. When you truly feel passionate about something, you will do whatever it takes for your voice to be heard, and that is exactly what this group of high school seniors did. We embarked on the opportunity of a lifetime, knowing what to expect, but not knowing the extent of what we would see, and most importantly, how it would affect us in the moment, but for the rest of our lives, too.
When we landed in Berlin, we got off the plane, gathered our luggage, and waited for our tour guide, Sara, and bus to arrive. Hungry and tired, we eventually filed onto the bus, and Sara began to introduce herself to us. I vividly remember her telling us that every time she receives the gift of a new grandchild, she says, “We won.” This phrase really stood out and resonated with me throughout the entire trip. Those two, small words hold so much meaning and power to them; they signify that although the Jewish people were dehumanized during the Holocaust, we are still here today. Our victory is life itself.
There are two moments on the trip that will forever be ingrained in my mind, one of them being when we visited Treblinka. I sat on the grass, looked around, and saw all of the stones ranging in different shapes and sizes. It was the strangest day—at times it would get really cold and windy, but suddenly the wind would vanish and then it would arrive again. It almost felt like I was receiving a sign from the victims, as if they were there with me. Sitting there, I thought that all of the stones represented the individual victims, but I was quickly informed that they did not symbolize those killed, but rather the number of communities affected. At this moment my heart dropped, and that was when I realized how low society will go to tear this world apart, how cruel people can truly be, and how you lose your humanity when you take other people’s humanity away from them. The other moment was when we were at Majdanek. As we exited the crematorium, we approached a dome-shaped figure. We walked up the steps, only to look into it and see that it held the ashes and bones of those killed at the camp. Sitting on the ledge, I saw things that I never imagined to see. Looking into the pile, the innocent souls lay there while the world keeps moving. I kept looking at the mound, hoping it would change—but it didn’t and it can’t. What’s done is done, but we will never forget or allow this to happen again. Ever.
Being a part of Holocaust Legacy Fellows has changed my life forever, and this whole experience is one I’ll never forget. What we accomplished in just nine days together is astonishing, and I feel so fortunate to have been given this experience. Personally, I have grown tremendously. I learned how to confidently use my voice, work hard toward ending anti-Semitism for good, and got on the flight home feeling increasingly more educated than I was before. It’s hard to witness the atrocities that our people had to endure, and a common theme that arose throughout the trip was that yes, we were all upset, but if anything, we were more angry than saddened. No matter how hard we all tried explaining it, nothing seemed to express and convey our frustration and anger. In times of darkness, when it seems as if the world is moving in a constant downward spiral, I am reminded that this group is the light. We are the light that will shine ever so brightly not only today, but in the future generations, too. Our voices demand to be heard, and we will never accept anything less. If anything, this is just the beginning of a horrific ending.