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 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.
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.
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.