Masa Poland - מסע פולין
“I know no other movement, other than the chalutzic movement, that had the courage to see things the way they are, the Jewish reality as it is. That was how we were educated in the Diaspora, in the Hechalutz chapter, in the youth movement – to strive to bring about change in the existing world order, both universal and Jewish.” ― Antek Zuckerman
In March, Workshop participants will embark on a week-long trip to Poland, where they learn about and visit many important historical sites from the Shoah. A large portion of this time is spent on learning about Jewish youth resistance and the role of youth movements during the Shoah. Both before and after their journey, seminars are run for the participants to prepare and gain historical background for what they will see, as well as to process the trip. Below is a sample schedule of the trip.
Drive to Krakow and visit the ancient Jewish neighborhood of Kazimierz. Learn about the aspects of Jewish life in Krakow and in Poland in general during thousands of years of history there. Discuss class inequality, richness of tradition in the community, and the constant feeling of outsiderness due to regular pogroms and discrimination. Visit the ancient Jewish cemetery and talk about important rabbis and scholars, and the roots of the early Zionist movement. Later, visit Plashov, a work camp on the outskirts of Krakow where much of Schindler’s List takes place. See the Soviet-era monument and talk about the role of work camps for both the Germans and the Soviets.
Visit Majdanek, and delve deep into the difficult moral questions - can the Nazi doctor whose family lived on site also be a good father to his children? How could the Polish people of Lublin know about
the camp and not do anything? Discuss Himmler’s speech where he says that killing Jews is moral, but stealing their possessions afterwards is not - how the Nazis created a backward moral code based on total dehumanization. End the site visit with a tekes, or ceremony. In the evening, read Albert Camus’ “Letter to a German Friend” to discuss despair as a cause for escalating violence in our society today, and how hope and believing in other people can resist that.
Visit Treblinka in the morning and talk about the differences between labor, concentration, and death camps, whose sole purpose was to
decimate people. Discuss the various forms of manipulation the Nazis used on the Jews to prevent them from resisting, and about the roles of the Sonderkommando. Learn about uprisings and escapes in death camps like Treblinka and Sobibor, and what made them
possible. Although the entire camp is destroyed, see the moving monument with many stones representing communities destroyed there. Later, return to Warsaw and learn from the words of Zivia Lubetkin and Antek
Tzukerman, the leaders of Dror and of the rebellion, about their dilemmas and choices. Ask yourself - what rebellion do you want to choose in the youth movements? How can we try to see reality and act within it like the
ghetto fighters? What is the legacy that has been passed to our youth movement today? After a tekkes with the entire 800-person group at the Rapoport Monument, travel to the airport and return to Israel.
Visit Birkenau and learn about how the camp was set up, and how prisoners were processed for work or death upon entry. Visit the crematoriums that were partially destroyed by the Nazis before the camp’s liberation. Delve into discussion on moral or immoral choices. Move on to Auschwitz I and speak about how an advanced society could have slid so far into evil, and whether we think it’s possible again today. Spend the evening processing feelings from the day, talking about what human beings’ capacity is for good and for evil, and whether there are boundaries of evil at which humans stop acting with humanity.
Visit the Warsaw Ghetto and deepen your understanding of the terrible conditions there, and the choices people made to survive and to help each other. Discuss how the Jews adjusted to conditions, creating a black market for
smuggling in essentials and trying to work to protect themselves their families. Talk
about poverty and class differences even within the ghetto, and the impossible dilemmas the Judenrat faced in trying to help people while being controlled by the Nazis. Continue learning about the youth movements, and visit a hachshara farm where members of Dror and HaShomer HaTzair prepared to make aliyah (even during the time of the war!). Visit 34 Dzielna Street, the apartment where members of Dror lived and ran the
underground movement - schools, a soup kitchen and publications. Talk about the
spirit of resistance, and how these young movement members were very similar to us today. In the evening, speak about the seeds of the youth movements’ armed resistance - what caused
them to understand that the Nazis planned death for the Jews, and to fight back?
Learn about the history of the Krakow Ghetto (a different neighborhood than
the Kazimierz), and the role of the Judenrat and Jewish police in the ghetto. Hear a story of a pharmacy owner who helped to save many Jews there. Discuss how the Nazis designed ghettoes to be close to train tracks for systematic deportations, and if the Jews
realized this. Learn the story of a youth movement called Akiba that ran underground educational
activity in the ghetto and eventually carried out the bombing of a Nazi officers’ cafe. Enjoy free time in the Sukenitze, Krakow’s main square, to eat lunch and explore. Travel to a small town called Bendzin and learn about a smaller uprising there, and about the role of the female couriers for the underground movements.
Visit the town of Jedwabne, where Polish townspeople murdered their Jewish neighbors after hundreds of years of coexistence. Speak about righteous gentiles, and why some people made the brave choice to save Jews and not
stand idly by. Travel to the town of Tycochin to visit one of the best-preserved
synagogues and learn about Jewish life in the shtetl. Later, learn how the
Nazis murdered the entire Jewish population of the town in pits in the nearby forest. Visit these pits, now a memorial, in the middle of the forest and recite the mourner’s kaddish with the group.
"...How did the world sit by and let this happen? How did these individuals get swept up in propaganda and hate, and how could so many other people turn their backs? This human tendency, to be bystanders, to only look out for ourselves, scares me so much. Because it wasn’t just a few people who tossed aside morality, who took our human ability to have choices and chose evil, or just didn’t choose anything; it was seemingly everyone. So the questions are: in a world that tells us we should be alone and independent, and encourages us not to look out for others, how do we fight the apathy within ourselves?
During this whole journey in Poland, and today in Majdanek, it’s hard to come face to face with the evils that exist within humanity. I know it’s hard for me to accept that. What gives me hope and comfort, though, is the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be this way- it didn’t have to be this way. Because in addition to the tendency to be bystanders, we have something more powerful. We have the power to be active agents in or lives and to care deeply about others. And that’s what I think we’re building in our kvutzot this year."
- Workshop 66 Participant
Closing Tekes (Ceremony) in Majdanak
Closing Tekes (Ceremony) at the Warsaw Ghetto
"Something else that means a lot to me, especially this week in Poland, is the history of the movement. Dror was born out of the rebellion of young Jews who had a vision for society and had the power to act on it. This movement was conceived by young Jewish fighters who did not succumb to the racism, dehumanization, and cruelty of the Nazis. When people like Tzivia (Lubetkin) and Antek (Zuckerman) were rounded up into ghettos, they did not let their movement die, but rather turned it into the fuel for a mass burning resistance – the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto. These youth refused to be led like sheep to the slaughter. They held on to who they were and their vision for the world, finding strength in their kvutzah, finding humanity in Dror. In the words of Tzivia Lubetkin, “The movement’s goal had always been to educate a new kind of man, capable of enduring the most adverse conditions and difficult times while standing up for the emancipation of our people, of the Jew, of mankind. It was our movement education which gave us the strength to endure.”
-Workshop 66 Participant