Jack Resnick, a Fall 2016 student is a junior from San Diego, California. He spent six weeks in China for a language study and travel program.
Waking up on Wednesday morning, the ground covered in sheen of ice and snow, I felt an immediate irk in my stomach. We were told the day would be the coldest. We were told the day would be one of the most intense. We were told to expect nothing.
The morning, in comparison to the rest of the day, was a blur. It began with an exploration of the old town of Lublin including the region that was the Jewish quarter. Although the Jewish population within the old town had significantly diminished following World War II and the Holocaust, remnants of the people and their impact remain hidden in the cities’ walls. Scatterings of Hebrew words and menorahs litter the walls of the city proving a thread of Jewish life existed in the timeline of Lublin’s existence. Although the devastation of the Holocaust was horrendous among the population in Poland, efforts to revive the culture of the past are being made, such as the establishment of a Yiddish theater under the Jewish quarter’s gate. The theater is run by a group of actors and the existing Jewish population of Lublin serving as a tenant to resilience within the post-Holocaust community and as a continuous theme throughout our journey; that regardless of the limb that our society lost, we continue to flourish.
After exploring the Old City of Lublin and receiving a brief introduction to the imminent frigid weather, we traveled to Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin to explore and understand the strength of the community prior to the War. Founded by Rabbi Meir Shapiro in 1924 with a grand opening in 1930, the orthodox Yeshiva was founded on the basis of both Jewish studies and interpersonal relations. Rabbi Meir Shapiro had two great innovations within the Yeshiva world. One being the founding of Daf Yomi, the study of one page of Talmud on a daily basis in unison with all those who choose to follow, and the second being making Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin the modern equivalent of Harvard. In commemoration of the Daf Yomi’s founding, Rabbi Loren Sykes conducted a Talmud study session in the old synagogue on the subject of the importance of Mishna study. Come the Nazi rise to power and the invasion of Poland, the Yeshiva was used as a military hospital and, today it is used as a hotel.
Post-lunch marked a stark turn for the day. The drive to Majdanek began with giggles on the bus which soon took upon a tone of silence when the bus glided past the grounds of the camp. From backyard to killing fields, the bus pulled up to the death camp. Bundled up and ready to bear the freezing, sleety weather, we began to follow the footsteps of Helen, a survivor from Majdanek. Whether it be at a stop in the gas chambers, a room filled with rows of shoes from those who bear witness to the active death machine, or in the dormitory bunkers that reeked with hay used to fill the mattresses, the entire afternoon was a blur. Fingers frozen and group morale at a low, we entered the crematorium and payed homage to those that could not exit the gates.
Although much of the day was in the constant realm of death, I have found myself holding life to a higher standard. I have found myself valuing the time I have alive and being the best version of me possible; one that my relatives died for and the one that the population of millions of minorities died for. Throughout the day I found myself repeating the mantra of “how can I not be my entire self when eleven million died for being themselves?” and in light of this, I will hold myself to a higher moral standard and live my life to be a better me.
-Jack Resnick, Fall 2016