Browsed by
Author: Robert Desmond

Xbox One: Review – Don’t waste your money!

Xbox One: Review – Don’t waste your money!

I decided to splash out and get the new Xbox One with the intention of playing Halo: Master Chief Collection to re-live part of my childhood. The console has been out for well over a year now, but I didn’t see the need to get this newer console since my Xbox 360 does pretty much everything this new box does, and there are not (m)any games that you can only get on the One. This new Halo managed to convince me.

Once I finally got the console setup and spent hours and hours downloading the new Halo game to the console from the disc, I launched into hours and days of struggling to find things that work on the console, and in this shiny new Halo game.

Firstly, for a next generation console that has been out for over a year, the graphics don’t look great and the interface is slow and unintuitive (maybe that’s just Windows 8 in general). It gave me a bland black background to start with and the user experience is poor when trying to load anything (e.g. settings, friends list, party – they also removed some simple features like putting voice output to the tv so people in your room can hear what your online friends are saying).

Once I finally managed to get into the game (after several hours of waiting) I found that I couldn’t play online just yet (not even campaign co-op); I had to play solo Halo 1 campaign until the full game finally downloaded. The solo campaign was good fun but I wanted to experience it with friends! My hopes were that this new console, together with my annual subscription for Xbox Live, would be the best experience yet, but it was already falling short.

After literally hours of waiting for stuff to download to the box itself, I could supposedly play multiplayer to enjoy abuse from and to ADHD American kids who are clearly high on sugar. Alas, the game wouldn’t let me join my friends, eventually we worked out a hack to get us in the same game (not by use of the integrated Xbox friends list that takes a while to load up, but the in-game one that seems to work inconsistently). We launched matchmaking and got nothing for ages. We backed out to try again, nothing. We all restarted our boxes and somehow eventually got a game, only to find the 5v5 playlist not only didn’t have the supposed limit of 10 players, but also somehow managed to make it an uneven 5 vs 6!

This experience has continued for weeks now and everyone I speak to is frustrated by it.

So, I have given up with Halo. Supposedly 343 Industries (who make it) aren’t going to fix it anytime soon as they are focussing on Halo 5 (the beta of which seems to need a fair bit of work too – e.g. menu issues, weapon balancing, not being able to run whilst holding the score up etc…).

I decided to try the free game I got with the Kinect (Dance Central Spotlight); which seems to have only downloaded a trial version…I didn’t even want it, but hey, if you are going to give it to me as a freebie, don’t just give me a trial – especially when I just spent more than £400 on this whole thing!

This was topped off when over the christmas period, there was a supposed hack to the Xbox Live servers – meaning that we couldn’t even get online in any sense. But, before and after this supposed hack, I have had endless problems. I appreciate that there are security issues in the world, but this is Microsoft and a console that is supposed to be at the cutting edge – especially as it has had over a year to get rid of these teething problems.

I am extremely disappointed with the whole thing and will probably take it back for a refund this week.

The public has come to expect an incredible user experience now – fast and responsive – probably thanks to Apple. We do care about graphics, but it comes secondary to functionality; as an example, look at Minecraft – a huge success built on terrible graphics, but fantastically simple rules that work and provide a decent experience!

Detoxing

Detoxing

I recently saw an article being shared through social media that spread like wildfire. It was a comment piece about “detox” diets and it claims you can’t “detox” your body; it suggested that the word “detox” was a marketing word created by corporations and individuals to make money from an unsuspecting public. The images that accompanied the article were all about fresh fruit and vegetable juice. The premise of the article was that you can only “detox” when close to life’s edge whilst on hard drugs. I think this completely misses the point and is very close-minded.

I want to also say that I am no medical doctor, but I do have a keen interest in this area of health and wellbeing.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

The article suggests that there are no “toxins” that the body accumulates and cannot get rid of on its own; this sounds pretty reasonable, the grease from fast food can be cleaned up by your body’s incredible system, villi in lungs can clean up some of the effects of smoking too (given enough time and resource).

The criticism from this article is towards companies marketing “detox” products, diets and other lifestyles; suggesting that no product can actually do this.

My question is, if our bodies are so good, then why are 70% of diseases preventable with lifestyle choices? (Healthy People 2000, DHHS, 1991, #91-50213, National Center For Health Statistics, DHHS, 1992, # 92-1232)

Surely you can’t just pump your body full of fast food everyday forever in the knowledge that it will clean itself up? You need to let your body recover. You need to distract yourself from the unhealthy stuff (processed fast foods, smoking etc…) by focussing on things that will not hinder or prevent your body from doing this “clean-up” itself. This is what the “detox” word means to me – eating and drinking “cleanly”; not just to give your body more resources to clean itself up, but also to give it a break from the bad stuff.

…but maybe I’m just a sucker for the “detox” products myself and so want to defend my personal perspective…

Fresh Juice
The 6 influencers of life: How Joe Cross will make you happier

The 6 influencers of life: How Joe Cross will make you happier

Want to feel happier? Want to have more energy? Want to feel and look better? Then keep reading, and if you like the sound of it, watch the movies.

Our health is incredibly complex, but it is made up of 6 main factors:

  • Whether you smoke
  • What you consume (food and drink)
  • How much you exercise
  • How much sleep you get
  • How much stress you have
    and last, and definitely not least:
  • Your network and sense of belonging

Joe Cross has just released his second movie (Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead 2) which I cannot recommend more (but watch both!). In the first instalment he went on a juicing journey losing a load of weight, in the process he came off all of his medication and became happier, more energetic and started to think more clearly. The story is about happiness, something we can all relate to. The theme of weight loss can be off-putting for many who can’t relate to being “fat”; but for me, the whole experience shows how important diet is related to happiness.

Before Joe’s first movie, a statistic that stuck in his mind was that 70% of illness is caused by lifestyle choices. This means that 30% is just bad luck: genetics; wrong place wrong time; you can’t do much about it. But wait, a huge amount of illness is caused by those 6 factors – so he said lets see if life improves by sorting out some of those external factors for at least a few months.

After an extreme 60 day juice fast (consult a doctor before attempting anything like this), he lost a load of weight and was already seeing clear improvements in his medical conditions – weening himself off of all his medication after just a few months of more good eating. He felt better, looked better, and most importantly he was clearly happier! What a fantastic and inspirational journey.

This second movie shows many more success stories, and it follows what happens after you lose the weight…then what? People say you look great, you feel fantastic and most important – you are healthy…job done right? Well, not quite. There isn’t an issue of people losing weight in the world, but it is keeping it off and staying happy that is difficult. It is difficult because life still gets in the way – stress, work and relationships can play a huge factor. This is where it is more obvious that the movie isn’t about a diet, it’s about life.

Joe’s method of documenting is “fly on the wall”, he shows what the world is like, what people say and think without “preaching” a certain perspective. Joe confesses to not being a doctor and not knowing enough about science to make claims, but he can share his personal experience, he can exhibit other success stories. He wants to promote the “When Harry Met Sally Moment” – I’ll have what she’s having.

Over the past few years, I have shown his first movie to about 50 people and watched it over 10 times myself. Almost everyone being inspired by it, but there are some more skeptical reactions, e.g. “a juice diet can’t be good for you”. If you watch the movie, you will see case studies that show how it has worked for a load of people – but you yourself obviously don’t have to go to such extremes. The main lesson is that increasing more fruit and vegetable intake is clearly good for you.

Joe is a great advocate because he has experienced the whole journey first hand, he used to live the unhealthy lifestyle, and of course still desires it. He doesn’t preach that everyone should eat vegan all the time, he knows that isn’t achievable for most people, and its not fun! In fact he himself enjoys spending 20% of his life in the “fun part of town” whilst maintaing a diet that promotes an increase from 5% to 40% (of calorific intake) from fruit and vegetable to boost the body’s micronutrient intake.

Still unconvinced? On social media I have seen and heard so many testimonies of people curing their clinical depression through diet, curing migraines and curing arthritis. Many regular pill takers are now clean off their meds. Simply from increasing their fruit and vegetable intake – helping to boost the power of their body.

Joe has simply saved many lives.

So, if you are interested in having a happy life worth living, then you should watch his films: Fat Sick and Nearly Dead 2 is now out on iTunes.

Joe Cross, my friend Ata and myself at a talk in London 2014 by Joe
Joe Cross, my friend Ata and myself at a talk in London 2014 by Joe
A Mysterious Underground City and a Jewish Polish Wedding

A Mysterious Underground City and a Jewish Polish Wedding

I got back late last night from a Jewish wedding in Wrocław in Poland. This was the first (or maybe second?) wedding between two Polish Jews at the White Stork Synagogue there for 50 years. Unfortunately, after the Holocaust and during the communist period, there wasn’t much room for Jewish life in this town. Today, Jewish life in Poland is not what it was before the war, but there is a strong community that is continuing to grow. This wedding is a fantastic show of the religious freedom and modern day society that we now live in here in Poland.

Jewish Wedding in Wroclaw
Jewish Wedding in Wroclaw

It was a really fun and enjoyable day which was a contrast to the day before.

My girlfriend and I drove down a day early, in search of an “Underground City” that the Germans supposedly built during the war. Wanting to learn everything at the location, I simply looked up where to go and drove there. We arrived at the Ksiaz Castle where this city was meant to be underneath. Immediately I got a horrible feeling from just standing there. I have only felt like this before in the Nuremberg trial rooms. It is hard to describe, but I just didn’t want to be there, it just wasn’t right.

Ksiaz Castle
Ksiaz Castle

Only now, after the visit, do I realise that this castle was meant to be one of the major Nazi headquarters for Hitler where a lot of the decisions would be made throughout the reign. A really evil place. This was the centre of the Nazi project Riese, the main purpose was to create a main site of control in the Owl mountains of Lower Silesia.

We eventually discovered that this “Underground City” was in fact 30km away. This was just one of at least 9 underground structures built. After a short drive we arrived at a hillside forest named Osówka. Underneath there was a vast, multi-layered system of tunnels and halls. The Nazi’s got Jews (mostly Hungarian who were sent to Auschwitz) to build this place over the course of two years. They estimate that if the war had not have ended, they would have completed the structure in another year.

Original weapons and helmets
Original weapons and helmets

Nobody really knows what these underground constructs were for. Potentially nuclear shelters, weapons storage, a treasure location, a secret laboratory…but there is no sufficient evidence for any one in particular. What is known, is that the workers were treated just as inhumanely as elsewhere in the Nazi regime. One bowl of soup a day, barely 200 calories, and long working days. If they were lucky, they would survive a few weeks. Many would die. Only a few would survive until the end of the war when the Red Army would free them. At this time, so malnourished that the Russians told them not to eat too much at once, but of course given food and not having eaten in weeks, people ate as much as they could – unfortunately their bodies couldn’t take it and 50 were recorded to have died from “overeating” after liberation.

The multi-layered incomplete underground structure
The multi-layered incomplete underground structure

This learning experience was contrasted with the happy environment of a wedding the following day. A joyous celebration of the union of two Jewish people. Finally, we wandered back to the car via the picturesque main square. A sunny day with lots of tourists, families and children having ice-cream and sweets. Inevitably however, we were reminded of the history just before we reached the car, there was a memorial plaque for the Jews killed in the ghetto of Wrocław during World War II.

The history is incredibly important and necessary to remember, but current life in Poland is as modern as anywhere else in Europe. The Jewish community is unbreakable and we will continue to enjoy such pleasures as weddings. A big Mazaltov to Katka and Sławek!

Ride for the Living 2014

Ride for the Living 2014

In October 2013, I spent 25 days alone with my bike, cycling a WWII liberation path from London, across Europe, to Auschwitz. (See articles here)

It was a deeply meaningful trip, I did not want to dwell solely on the painful memories of this time in history, instead I wanted to look at the positive side of liberating Europe, the good that came with stopping the Nazi regime and celebrating the freedom we have today. Inevitably there were parts of the trip which were overwhelmingly emotional, wandering alone through the Flossenbürg concentration camp was certainly one of them, but the message of the trip was to enjoy the freedom that we now have.

On completing the trip, I spent the Shabbat in Krakow at the JCC. This centre was created thanks to Prince Charles’ ideas and WJR’s support. A place where everyone is welcomed to learn about the thriving Jewish life, in modern Poland.

Speaking to the director, Jonathan Ornstein, I realised that the bike ride should not end at the death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau; instead, I should finish the journey on a high note with the welcoming, friendly and growing Jewish Community in Krakow.

On Friday 6th June 2014, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I set out, with 14 other people from the UK, USA, Israel and Poland, to complete the journey from Auschwitz to the JCC. We began the day with some very memorable tours of the camps,then got ready to set off on the bike ride, ready to see the current strong Jewish community of Krakow.

The riders at the gates of Auschwitz Birkenau
The riders at the gates of Auschwitz Birkenau

A moving ceremony in front of the camp gates involved a member of the Krakow community, Pani Zosia, speaking about how she had lost family here; she is grateful that there is a place for her in Poland to experience her Jewish identity now.

We set off on the relatively flat 90km ride along the river Wisla. We meandered down small country roads with little traffic and surprisingly beautiful scenery as the sun shone down on us. We contemplated the freedom we have and reflected on the horrors of the camp we had just cycled away from.

A great sense of camaraderie was amongst the group as we made our way across the southern part of Poland.

Eventually we came into Krakow and began to see the Wawel Castle overlooking the river. We knew we were nearly there. A wave of relief came over us after several hours of cycling. We all rode into the JCC as one cohort, welcomed by local members of the Polish community.

90km later at the JCC!
90km later at the JCC!

After celebratory hugs and pictures we quickly showered and changed before we were kindly welcomed to join the community for Friday night Shabbat dinner. Not only did we hear some older members of the community singing Yiddish songs that used to fill the area before the War, but we met young members who were discovering their Jewish identity and what it means to them.

We spent part of Shabbat walking around the beautifully modern town of Krakow, everyone exclaiming that they didn’t expect Poland to be this beautiful; suggesting that we could be anywhere in Europe.

The evening saw thousands of people (mostly Polish) coming together to experience all of Krakow’s seven synagogues open to the public in an event called 7@nite. A great bonding had occurred between our group, and we ended the unforgettable weekend experiencing the synagogues of the town that once were overflowing with Jewish traditions and life. Unfortunately only the small community still remains today, but they are still here singing the songs and reciting the prayers.

Despite expectations that it might be difficult to ride such a long distance after seeing the horrors of Auschwitz, every rider came away with an extremely positive experience and will no doubt encourage their friends to participate next year.

Please support the cause: http://www.mywjr.org.uk/dezzymei/

March of the Living 2014 (The March) – UK Group – Day 6

March of the Living 2014 (The March) – UK Group – Day 6

Finally we took part in the March today in order to commemorate and remember the losses of the Holocaust; and just as importantly to show the world that we are still here. Just a short 3km walk from Auschwitz 1 to Birkenau with 12,000 other people, mostly Jews, was an incredible sight.

Walking through the gates of Auschwitz 1
Walking through the gates of Auschwitz 1

Many of the survivors completed the walk too which was amazing. Their determination, despite their age, to complete this act is a sure sign of revenge. To stand where the Nazis had tried to kill them just 70 years ago, but now freely walking out of the camp at the end of the day.

I am extremely glad that in our closing processing session that everyone seemed to get something out of the trip. They learnt something that will stick with them forever and will hopefully encourage their friends, family, and even strangers to go on a trip. It truly is valuable to visit and I encourage the reader, if they haven’t been yet, to try and make the journey. For those that have, remember your journey and how important it was.

The Ceremony at Birkenau
The Ceremony at Birkenau

We need to learn these lessons, and there is no better way to reinforce them by setting aside some time in your life to remember.

<< Day 5 – Auschwitz and Birkenau

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 5

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 5

Today we visited Auschwitz. This was my fourth visit to this camp but for many in my group it was their first. The expectations were set for this place to be the most intense on our trip and for many it was, including myself.

A lot of visitors exclaim how unbelievable it is, you can’t truly think that anyone would take part in such hideous crimes. A holocaust survivor on our tour mentioned that “this was the gas chamber I entered and managed to walk out of alive because of pure luck”.

Entrance to Auschwitz with the phrase: Arbeit Macht Frei - work will make you free (with the sadistic meaning of death)
Entrance to Auschwitz with the phrase: Arbeit Macht Frei – work will make you free (with the sadistic meaning of death)

Many people have asked why I keep coming back to a place like this. For me, I am still searching for some meaning in this horrible period of history. I find that each time I go, despite everything still being unbelievable, it becomes more believably unbelievable – if that makes any sense at all.

I genuinely can’t understand how the German Nazis could complete these disgusting actions, but I become less surprised by new revelations. The period of visiting gives me a time to reflect on my own life and inspires me to make sure I make the most of the opportunities I have.

One story that stands out from history, a survivor who documented his account fully after the liberation in many books for which he won many awards. However he succumb to his emotional wounds and killed himself in 1951. This idea than not only were people murdered in the camps mercilessly, but, should someone be lucky enough to survive, the damage lasted a lifetime.

This gave me an even deeper respect for the survivors, especially the ones I have met on this trip. I can only imagine giving up in their situation, and yet here they are today, walking beside us, teaching a new generation. This is an inspiration.

Gas chamber 2 at Auschwitz
Gas chamber 2 at Auschwitz

I noticed whilst walking through the gas chamber another group that seemed to be speed touring through the whole camp without much explanation of what they were witnessing and why they were there. Without a decent explanation of the site and no time for “processing” the overwhelming information, there is little meaning. The visit needs to be taken seriously.

There is much controversy over school children visiting from Poland, Germany and Israel for example. Suggesting that they could be too young at 15/16 to properly understand; in practise many kids will be messing around/not paying attention to the details and they may miss quite a lot. However, this age is the latest age that you have a state education to enforce everyone to visit. It is much better to get them to visit than to simply hope they will when they are older.

<< Day 4 – Shabbat in Kraków with survivors stories and the JCC     Day 6 – The March >>

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 4

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 4

Today was the most powerful of the trip so far. We spent a good part of the early afternoon touring the Kazimierz part of Kraków, the old Jewish Quarter.

After visiting the old, we went on to see the current Jewish Community Centre in this modern and trendy city. Firstly we heard from one of the survivors, Marla, who now lives in England. Her story is a horrifying first hand account of life in the harsh ghettos of Poland; she described the beatings that were given and the losses of friends and family, the deportations from one horrible place to another and then the unfathomable conditions within the death camp from where she was liberated by the British: called Bergen-Belsen. I have tremendous respect for the survivors for continually telling their story to many groups year after year. It cannot be easy re-telling difficult stories, let alone the energy needed to travel regularly across Europe. I thank them for joining us and I take it upon myself to ensure that their testimony isn’t forgotten going forward.

Following this we heard about the future of Jewish life here in Poland, specifically in Kraków. Members and volunteers of the current Jewish Community Centre spoke. These are young Jews who have been brought up Jewish in Poland or have discovered their Jewishness. One girl googled her name when she was 12 and found lots of Jewish content; she questioned her mother who confirmed it. She then set it upon herself to discover Judaism through the JCC and she is now a key member of the community. Another non-Jewish girl, Kinga, came to the JCC to learn about Judaism, only to discover that her Grandmother also kept milk and meat separate in the kitchen. Rabbi Avi Baumol pointed out that she is probably Jewish and is now part of a conversion class with him. Everyone here engages with Judaism in a positive way, in an open and welcoming context; a fantastic contrast to the history of the Nazi occupation. A discussion about current levels of antisemitism showed that the young people living here in Kraków feel very safe and extremely positive about a strong Jewish future despite the relatively small size right now.

Fortunately we had the opportunity to hear from another survivor, Renee. Her story involved many deportations to different camps. Each event seemed worse than the other; she mentioned the fear that overcame her when a man couldn’t get his wedding ring off when prompted by the SS on entry to a camp: he was threatened with the guards chopping the finger off but fortunately managed to squeeze it off. She mentioned someone who stole a small piece of bread that she was clutching whilst sleeping; she was saving it for her cousin but couldn’t believe someone could be so awful in the camp. Almost all of her family were lost to the Nazis and she spent time both at Auschwitz and finally Bergen-Belsen.

Renee and Me
Renee and Me

The camp was liberated by the British and the prisoners were treated extremely well by these soldiers. They had not been given any compassion for years, but the British did everything they could to make sure that the victims were looked after in the best possible way.

Our final “processing” session was extremely interesting. Focussing on the question of whether the world has a good Jewish future and specifically if Poland does. Our discussion took on many points, such as the prevalence of anti-semitism globally, but also about the validity of the small and powerful Jewish community in Kraków.

I raised a point from my personal experience with the JCC Kraków that I have been welcomed by the members, staff, volunteers and Rabbi for the last 6 months. We had a 150 person strong Seder night last week which was extremely powerful for me. The doors are open to anyone. This is a great statement, especially given the location. The key to a happy future is no doubt increasing education to everyone, no matter their background with Judaism. The level of observant Jews here is not going to grow overnight to the levels they were before the war, however this example of a strong Jewish open community here is immensely valuable and we all agree a fantastic attitude in making the world a better place.

<< Day 3 – Bełżec            Day 5 – Auschwitz and Birkenau >>

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 3

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 3

Another incredibly intense day seeing so much history in such a short space of time.

Bełżec was the first death camp set up during the Nazi regime, close to the border with Ukraine. It was constructed in the middle of a huge forest, surrounded by tightly packed Nazi planted trees and with an extra layer of leaves on top to hide it from aerial view.

Unfortunately again this place has a sense that the Nazis won here. They closed down the camp, dismantled it and hid all evidence well before the war ended. They had killed all the Jews they wanted in this area and got away with it. Hundreds of thousands of them. They proved that their Final Solution could be accomplished. The next step for them was to bring in Jews and other undesirables from further afield to larger camps like Auschwitz.

The view of chaos from the top of Bełżec
The view of “chaos” from the top of the Bełżec memorial

Fortunately Rudolf Reder was one of less than a handful of survivors and has the best reported testimony. Backed up by workers testimonies this really was a tragic site.

Interestingly, none of these death camps were actually set up in Germany, all of them in Poland. This was shown to be completely deliberate, to try to push the German Nazi war crimes away by a physical distance to try to absolve themselves from responsibility should anyone find out at the time of even after the war. When they realised they were about to lose the war, they tried to hide all evidence – e.g. by blowing up the gas chambers at Auschwitz whilst escaping.

Unfortunately their idea of pushing away the blame also seems to have succeeded today; it is common to blame and hate all the Polish, when actually very many of the Poles were victims too. There were many collaborators, but also many opponents and righteous. Anger is better served to the intolerant, the anti-semitic, of which we know there are still far too many worldwide.

Train tracks from Treblinka put on display at Bełżec
Train tracks from Treblinka put on display at Bełżec

Moving on, we stopped at another rebuilt synagogue in a small town called Łańcut. The town population, mostly Jewish before the war, was completely erased here; to zero. As we entered, we had the most incredibly moving sight of some Israelli kids (probably late teenagers) singing loudly, screaming at the top of their voices. Their energy was felt from before we entered. We were hit with the same feeling of strength in the knowledge that we are still here today. Together we are still singing.

A long drive across the country to Kraków saw us stop just past Tarnów in a normal forest. Another, unfortunately familiar, merciless mass killing site exists here in a public park. 10,000 people, many of whom are Jews or just ordinary Poles are commemorated here. In one day, 1800 Jews were taken here and shot. One by one with a bullet to the top of the spine, the base of the neck, as trained on a dummy by a local doctor. Children first. The mothers were then walked past their slaughtered children before also being killed. Finally the husbands would walk past both piles to the same fate.

Another merciless execution site in the forests
Another merciless execution site in the forests

Nothing like this is excusable in any way yet no-one was punished for this site after the war despite the knowledge of who did it.

We solemnly made it to Kraków for a Shabbat service. Deeply meaningful and moving given the past few days. A welcome break to the historical sites and a great chance to reflect. After dinner, our processing session saw the most incredible comments from my group. The young-adults, all between 20 and 35, opened up with passionate personal stories about their family history and what it means to them to be standing where their grandparents or great-grandparents once were.

The first time I visited Auschwitz I felt an overwhelming need to return to London and convince my friends to go. Excuses were given: it’s too far, I can’t leave work, I don’t want to be upset. So far I have failed, almost none of my friends have visited since my initial trip because of my inspiration. I undertook a bike ride from London to Auschwitz in order to document it; this was my way to try and educate my friends who have not been.

I had a very powerful realisation in this processing session. The 30 or so people in my group; the ones who I met in Warsaw airport on Wednesday; those who I have had many a lengthy and deep conversation with; those who stood next to me as we have said Kaddish far too many times; those who visited and experienced Majdanek and Bełżec with me and felt the strength of our presence at these sites: these are my new friends. I can no longer feel that I am alone in my experience, because now I have many new friends who have visited with me.

<< Day 2 – Majdanek         Day 4 – Shabbat in Kraków with survivors stories and the JCC >>

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 2

March of the Living 2014 – UK Group – Day 2

Today was a very long and difficult day. We visited the Majdanek death camp which was the most moving place I have been to.

To many of the group, it was their first visit to any sort of physical camp of this nature. Initial reactions from the main memorial overlooking the whole camp was that it was a lot smaller than they thought it would be. Several hours of walking later, they realised how big it actually was.

The camp sits in the middle of a field overlooked by a large monument. The camp always sat in an open area and on the top edge of a hill that can be seen for miles in all directions. The victims at the time walked the short distance from the drop off point to the front gates. The purpose of the camp was solely as a solution to the Jewish Problem by means of death. The majority of those arriving would not leave the first building. The initial gas chambers were just inside the gate because the Nazis wanted to get rid of them immediately. All women, children and the elderly were, without mercy, sent to their deaths here – after being shaved and undressed, humiliated for the SS soldiers to see as they poured cyclone-b into the chamber.

The Large Monument Overlooking Majdanek
The Large Monument Overlooking Majdanek

The crematorium is almost a thirty minute walk away at the other end of the camp, up the hill if you go directly. Inmates were forced to push their deceased comrades in carts up this hill for burning.

Currently the camp resides with many buildings surrounding it close by. Supposedly a lot of these buildings were not there at the time, but several accounts recall many being able to see the camp from houses.

Majdanek has a sad and horrible end. It feels as if the Nazis really won in this place. Many hundreds of thousands were killed here and when there were just 18,000 Jews left in the camp with no plans to bring anymore, they took them out to a hill and shot them all. This act was very common in many places in this part of the world, but it means to me that the Nazis were done here. They had killed the Jews they wanted to and this was the final Jewish torment.

The Crematorium
The Crematorium

Following this event in November 43, the camp was used as a POW camp by the Nazis.

A large mound of human ash is left as the final reminder. We said Kaddish (a memorial prayer) together in the group and reflected on this place. Extremely emotional.

The Pile of Ashes and the Crematorium
The Pile of Ashes and the Crematorium

To end the day we visited a rebuilt synagogue in Zamość. A town that was half Jewish before the war and only 3 now identify themselves as Jewish. Far too familiar a story in this part of the world. The synagogue will not be used for formal services, but will exist as a reminder of what was here before.

We finished with our “processing” discussion which was very interesting. Everyone always takes a different thing from their visit, some feel angry at the Poles, some feel confused by the whole thing. The overwhelming theme that I think we all agree on is the value of visiting here. To stand next to a place where “they” tried to extinguish Jewish life. Standing here is an act, an act to say fuck you to the ideals of the Nazi regime. We are still here.

<< Day 1 – Warsaw Ghetto and Uprising            Day 3 – Bełżec >>