My husband, for a long time, has had a deep desire to travel to Poland in order to visit Auschwitz. Now that he has reached the age of 80, we came to embark on this journey in January this year. In many ways it was a pilgrimage. We knew we would be challenged so we felt that we were going prepared, but nothing could truly prepare us, not even the cold temperatures and snow!
As we travelled I began to ponder how could anyone… men, women, parents, children, have maintained hope throughout the incomprehensible inhumanity and suffering inflicted upon them. This kept going round and round in my mind.
Our first excursion was to the historic Jewish Quarter at Kazimierz where we browsed around a Jewish bookshop and one book in particular caught my eye – the title was ‘Hope is the last to die’ – could this help to answer my burning question? That night I felt compelled to read this book all through, maybe the answer would be found in its pages as I wondered how I would react to the scene at Auschwitz.
The owner of the bookshop was also a tour guide and he guided us around the WWII ghetto and the film ‘Schindler’s List’ area. My question about ‘hope’ stayed with me the whole time ‘how could they possibly maintain hope in the midst of such anguish, such agony?’ Surely in time, when everything has been stripped away, even vain hope, false hope, is cast out by coming perpetually face to face with horrific reality and ‘hopelessness’. Yet some did.
The next day, at Auschwitz-Birkenau, there were no words sufficient to describe how we felt but one thing I knew was that we could never, ever, even begin to identify with what they went through those decades ago. As we stood there, looking out across the bleak landscape of wooden huts, railway track and piles of masonry that were the last remains of gas chambers and crematoria, all wrapped up in our thermal clothes, how could we when after a few hours we could walk away and go to eat a hearty meal and sleep in warm comfortable beds.
I didn’t come away with a definitive answer to my question, only those who suffered in that way have that, but I did have a deeper understanding of the promise made in Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know what plans I have in mind for you,’ says ADONAI, ‘plans for well-being, not for bad things; so that you can have hope and a future.” (CJB)
And so, this is the reminder once again of the preciousness of every Holocaust Survivor, and the miracle of the modern State of Israel.
by Jan Biswell, Adopter of Yehudite, a Survivor of Auschwitz