Our day in Lublin started off light and easygoing as we made our way to the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva. Since we had all gone over the schedule in our sourcebooks and discussed the future plans in Poland, the thought about being in the Majdanek death camp later that day loomed over our minds in the morning. We managed to set these gloomy thoughts aside for a couple of hours while we focused on the richness of the yeshiva and the great Jewish minds that had once studied there.
This room featured an entire wall picturing the yeshiva in its infant years. Here, we learned that the yeshiva was first opened in 1930. Sadly, during the war, the building was vandalized by the Nazis, and it was closed until 2003 when the Jews in Warsaw decided to restore and reopen it. After a short lecture from David on the history of this place, we settled in the next room where we revived the life of learned Jews that once studied there.
Rabbi Loren Sykes was our Talmud scholar for a little while as we studied Tractate Kiddushin 40b of the order Nashim in the Babylonian Talmud. This portion focused on cleanliness and practice versus theory, in particular the question of what is more important, study or action. It was interesting to discuss this topic, just as the scholars during the Yeshiva’s best years would have. After reviving the life of this prestigious educational center, we piled into the bus and prepared for the death we would re-witness at Majdanek.
Having just learned about all the people and happiness of Torah studies, it made Majdanek even harder since it gave more perspective to what exactly the Jewish people were losing. The idea of our people being the victims of an attempted extermination was hard enough, visiting one of the actual sites made it almost unbearable. Since Majdanek was a death camp in addition to a concentration camp, many of the people sent there were immediately sorted to their fate of death.
In one barrack, there is an exhibit with only shoes. Rows that extended far back to end of the building, piled up with worn out shoes. This was the point that hit most people. The realization that each pair belonged to someone. Women’s shoes, men’s work boots, and children’s sandals. If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing these shoes in the camp is an infinite amount of words describing the significance of the lives lost to the cruelties in the war.