This journey has left me speechless. I am in awe. I’m in awe of the lack of humanity during the Shoah. The millions of people dehumanized, worked to death, starved to death, and murdered in the most inhumane ways suffocated me as I walked through labor, concentration, and extermination camps. The blue stained walls from the Zyklon B and the scratches in the gas chambers gave me goosebumps I couldn’t get rid of. As we passed the mountain of ashes in Majdanek, you could picture the black smoke coming out of the crematoriums. The forest in which a whole town was murdered changed the word “forest” and “trees” for all of us forever. The stones representing whole cities, towns, and villages completely wiped of their Jewish culture in Treblinka was unfathomable. Walking through these places in Poland and learning about the Shoah was one of the hardest things I’ve done. But with my family I knew I was not facing these horrors alone. These young men, women, and adults have been my backbone; they’ve held me together through our journey through Poland. I am proud to say I have 30 new family members (including Peppi, Boaz, and Omri) who have been through hell with me. We are witnesses to the horrors of inhumanity. And because of this, we must never forget and always remember.
The day we arrived in Israel, we climbed into a crowded bus. I woke up to Roman arches and the beautiful Mediteranean Sea. The warm breeze blew the weight off my sorrows and anger off my shoulders. I had a smile from cheek to cheek and couldn’t have been happier to be in the Holy Land. I have seen more beauty here in Israel than I ever have anywhere else. The places, the history, the food, the markets, and most of all, the people. From a week of hell into a week of heaven truly brought everyone together as a community. We conquered Masada at 4:30 am and watched the breathtaking sunrise. We covered our bodies in the mud of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. And we guided each other through the underground water tunnels of the City of David (of course bumping our heads many times). I would not change anything about this journey. Not the places, nor the people. Through our tears of extreme sadness and happiness, we and 10,000 other people from around the world have connected in such a special way. I couldn’t be more grateful for this life changing experience. I will always remember.
-Gracie Groene, Mount Notre Dame High School