> The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom
The Hull Reform Synagogue - Ne've Shalom


HULL DOES AUSHWITZ & BIRKENAU _ 23-25 September 2016


23-25 September 2016


The following article is a personal account of the recent Northern MRJ weekend trip to Krakow for the guided tour of Auschwitz & Birkenau and an opportunity to experience the local Jewish history on which the film "Schindler's List" was based. On behalf of the group, I would like to thank Sarita and Aimi for all their organisation in making an idea of a trip into a reality.

I've been told on many occasions that a visit to Auschwitz and Krakow was not an experience to be taken lightly and that the experience was unlike any you have ever done before or will ever do again. 


For the above reasons, I had been putting off such a trip for many years. I'd always felt that it was something that I needed to do, but I always found some excuse not to do it. I knew that I couldn't do it alone and it wasn't until Aimi suggested booking onto a guided tour of Auschwitz & Birkenau that I thought, 'this is the way to do it'.


Aimi mentioned it to Sarita. Sarita then suggested that we find out if people not only from Ne've Shalom, but also from other MRJ Shuls in the North would be interested in coming with us. We sent out an invitation and, after a few weeks, we had 15 confirmed bookings (8 from Hull) for our weekend journey to Auschwitz & Krakow.





I must admit that even at Doncaster airport, I still had some trepidation, but travelling with Aimi, Sarita and Henry meant never a dull moment.


We arrived at the Krakow hotel at about 3.00am on Shabbat morning and our coach was picking us up at 7.00am for the guided tour. Luckily, breakfast was available from 6.00am, as the hotel had very kindly packed us individual breakfast 'bags' containing sandwiches with a variety of interesting 'fillings' and other foodstuffs.

Arriving at Auschwitz, I was amazed at the number of tours and multi-nationality of the people on those tours all taking pictures. If I was being honest, it felt more like a tourist attraction than a place of Jewish historical significance.


Walking through those gates, however, with that over-arching sign reading "Arbeit Macht Frei", promising that "work sets you free" took the phrase 'living museum' to another level. In fact, walking down that street with a group of other Jews really brought home the horror of the place.


Much of the camp retained its original buildings, accommodation and 'facilities', but being a 'living museum', there had been some additional redesigning to accommodate the exhibitions and display of artefacts. Regardless of this, I felt that every building, every exhibit and every picture made some connection with me and the horrors that my ancestors experienced in that place having been transported there from all over Europe.



There was a huge glass display case filled with hair cut from the heads of an estimated 140,000 victims. The hair appeared to be deteriorating badly, and most of it had turned the same shade of dark gray. This was a truly disgusting sight and one that many of us there won't soon forget.


Another huge glass case contained a display of shoes  which was taken from the victims on arrival. The shoes seemed to be deteriorating and were mostly the same dark gray colour, except for a few women's or children's shoes that were made of red leather. To me, the red shoes stood out from the rest in a similar manner to the red coat worn by the little girl in Schindler's List.


A further display case, contained the suitcases brought by the Jewish victims to the camp. The Jews were instructed to mark their suitcases for later identification and I could still see the names written in hope on the leather cases in large letters.


We walked through many other exhibitions. The enamelware dishes brought to the camps by the victims, as well as display cases of eyeglasses, brushes and even a display of the lids from cold cream jars and flat cans of shoe shine wax. The blue and gray striped uniforms worn by the prisoners. A typical day's ration of food: a chunk of coarse whole grain bread the size of four thick slices and a large, red enamel bowl of gray looking soup.


One of the buildings, Block 7, depicted a typical barrack consisting of three-tiered bunks crammed together, warmed by a small stove. The floors in the barracks were made of concrete and the stairs of granite had been worn down by the footsteps of those who had walked on them over the years.


Eventually, we arrived at the part of the camp I was dreading. Apparently, the original gas chamber had been converted by the Germans into an air raid shelter in September 1944 and the gas chamber we entered was a re-construction, but used the original walls on which I could see the nail scratchings of those trying to escape their fate. Being there and seeing that brought it to life and when we moved out of the chamber and into the oven room, where they cremated the dead bodies, I just 'died' inside. How could they?





We all walked back to the gate in a sombre mood. Some were crying, some vented their anger, some tried to lighten the atmosphere, some locked in their own thoughts. It certainly wasn't an experience to be taken lightly.


The next part of the tour took us to Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, which could best be described as Auschwitz on an industrial scale.


The camp could accommodate over 200,000 and there were four gas chambers. The majority of Jews arriving by train, who were deemed unsuitable to work, were marched straight to the gas chambers. It had been estimated that some 1,500,000 Jews were killed at Birkenau alone.




Due to its size, Birkenau had a different atmosphere to Auschwitz. What was striking however, was the lack of birdsong. There was an eerie silence about the camp and I felt a completely different emotion to that of being in the gas chamber.


We walked around the camp, seeing very similar exhibitions, but on a much bigger scale.


When we arrived at the site of the gas chambers, which had been destroyed by the fleeing German guards, there was a series of memorials written in Polish, English and Hebrew. The inscriptions read as follows:


"To the memory of the men, women and children who fell victim of the Nazi genocide. Here lie their ashes. May their souls rest in peace."

 This location seemed the obvious place to light the six yahrzeit candles that we had brought with us and to recite some prayers. Sarita had put together some short appropriate poems and readings which was read by members of our party. In the deafening silence that followed, I had the honour of singing the "Eil malei rachamin", the memorial prayer, following which we said a communal Kaddish. Sarita's comment about 'reciting the Kaddish for those who no longer have anyone left to say it for them', struck a chord with everyone who has ever heard this said during the Erev Shabbat Service.





We had just spoken the last "amen", when we heard a lone birdsong piercing the silence, as if to say, there is always hope.


I've been to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and to Beth Shalom, near Lincoln, but the emotions I felt being there in Auschwitz, following in the footsteps of the innocence going to their death will live with me forever.


Yes, it was experience unlike any I had ever done before or will ever do again. 







Ne've Shalom
Great Gutter Lane
HU10 6DP



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