The mission statement of the Holocaust Legacy Fellows is to preserve and perpetuate the memories and lessons of the Holocaust for future generations. During the week and a half trip, starting in Berlin, Germany, and then going to Poland, I read, heard, and witnessed the stories of many different individuals, families, and whole communities. I did my best to take on the burden of being this vessel in which the memories of the people killed during the Holocaust can be held. But it was too much to absorb. I hate to admit that towards the end of the trip, the names of the people, whose lives were ripped from them in the most inhumane ways possible, started to fade and individual stories started to blend together. And to think that I struggle to remember 20?, maybe 30?, different stories while there are six million, an unfathomable amount, Jewish human beings who were killed. How can I hold in myself the memories of peoples whole lives when I, only 17, have a lifetime of memories to make for myself. I started to feel as if I would not be able to be a successful Holocaust Legacy Fellow. All of this made me think. I thought about what memories really are. Yes, they are names and stories, but they are also feelings and ideas, and feelings and ideas are where the most important lessons are found.
The most important values and lessons that I took away from this trip were found in the feelings that came from seeing the death camps, concentration camps, and mass graves. As I walked in the Treblinka memorial site, I felt horribly uneasy and strained because I knew I was most likely stepping on the ashes of people. I also felt angry and was in disbelief after learning that the train stop was designed to look like a town, complete with fake signs saying where the next train is going and a fake clock. Visiting the children’s forest made me feel disgusted in ways that words cannot explain. Children, younger than me, were shot and then thrown into a pit with grenades to make sure that they are dead. This affected me tremendously, especially after working with kids all summer at camp. Every place that we saw on the trip affected me in big and small ways and added to an understanding that I will take with me through life. In other words, learning about the Nazi party and seeing all of the horrible things that they did to people has left me with the understanding of what prejudice and hatred in its worst form can do. I now know that we cannot be afraid to show compassion, empathy, and to spread those values in order to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust can ever happen again.