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Highlights from the Holocaust Voyage to Poland
Summer 2014
Julian Tzvi Rubin
BA, Social Sciences and Humanities, Open University of Israel

This page is not meant to offer a full summary of the Holocaust events that took place on Polish land and even not a complete outline of this particular voyage since the Holocaust is a vast sea of venues and occurrences of many aspects. Here are suggested a limited number of subjective highlights that have attracted the attention of the writer of this page and sure that the personal experiences of the other members of the voyage may lead to other preferences as well - all in the eyes of the beholder.

Among the Nations - Zionism and Anti-Zionism
Mass Graves - Warsaw Ghetto
Silent Witness - Synagogue of Tykocin
The Road to Hell - Lodz Ghetto
Remember - Every Man Has a Name
Righteous Among the Nations - Schindler's List
Eichmann is Me - The Banality of Evil
Death Machine - Auschwitz-Birkenau
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - The Power of the Spirit
The Polish Tragedy - The Warsaw Uprising
Revival - Ilan Ramon: an Israeli Astronaut in Space

Among the Nations

The Bund monument at the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw

The Holocaust took place against the backdrop of the presence of large populations of Jews in the Diaspora and the inevitable friction with their neighbors. Many Jews shared the opinion that it was possible to live among the nations as assimilated Jews or as Jews who maintain their identity (as opposed to Jewish communists who supported a totally assimilation among the nations). The Bund party's (a Jewish workers' party in Eastern Europe) ideology embodied this trend. Bundists believed in the future of Jewish socialism in Europe and opposed Zionism. Marek Edelman – a prominent Bundist and one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - even after the Holocaust did not change his anti-Zionist attitudes. After the war, unlike most Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, Edelman remained in Poland, practiced cardiology, was a member of Solidarity and a member of the Polish parliament.

Mass Graves

One of the four mass graves at the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw

In these mass graves were buried around 80,000 residents of the Warsaw Ghetto during the years 1940-1942. The grave is bounded with white headstones with a black stripe – resembling a tallit. The consequences of the ever-growing number of the dead in the ghetto - from hunger, cold, overcrowding and illness - were that regular burials ceased and the Jewish community began to bury in large mass graves that were dug in the cemetery and nearby.

On these mass graves wrote Chaim Kaplan (a Jewish educator from Warsaw) in Hebrew in his Scroll of Agony, The Warsaw Diary: "That is man and that is his end? A day will come when the Jewish people will set up here, on these mass graves, where all our brothers were buried forever, a monument. The single graves of the privileged in their lives and death will be forgotten while the huge mass graves will remain as the nation's legacy forever. Here are buried our anonymous soldiers that we should remember and cherish."

Silent Witness

The Great Synagogue of Tykocin

The Tykocin deserted synagogue and the orphaned prayer pews illustrate more than anything else the tragedy of the Holocaust - a vibrant culture that perished. The synagogue was built in 1642 and is extremely luxurious and decorated with scriptures from the Bible and prayer and illustrations of animals and plants. The synagogue survived the Holocaust since during the Nazi occupation it served as an arms warehouse for the Germans. The synagogue today serves as a museum of Jewish heritage displaying authentic Jewish accessories such as tefillin, tallit, the book of Esther and Torah decorations.

On 25 and 26 August 1941, the Jews of Tykocin - men, women and children - were taken to the Lopuchowo forest near the town, required to sing under whip threats. The unfortunate victims were machine-gunned to death and dumped into large pits dug in advance. That day were killed over 1,400 Jews of Tykocin. Poles covering the pits told that the earth moved from death convulsions and that the earth got a red blood hue.

The Road to Hell

Death freight cars at the loading platform (Umschlagplatz) of Lodz Ghetto

In the picture, authentic cattle cars used at the Lodz ghetto for shipping tens of thousands of Jews and others to the death camps of Chelmno and Auschwitz. Many Holocaust survivors describe the journey in these cars as worse than the death camps themselves. 120 people crowded in a carriage that has become one big toilet when children see their parents and grandparents relieving themselves in public, the sick and the dying stacked one on each other and other horrible scenes due to overcrowding.


Photos of Jews sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau for extermination

The pictures are located at the Sauna building in the camp and were taken before the war. The pictures show family and personal life scenes like work, marriage, births and holidays. It took several years to identify the names and places seen in the pictures. Most Jews here are from southern Poland. These Jews murdered at Auschwitz and elsewhere in the Holocaust were not born victims and their private lives, as illustrated by the photos, were tragically stopped forever.

Righteous in Sodom

The sign on the front of the restored Schindler Factory in Krakow, which also serves as a museum of the history of Krakow during the war

25,000 Righteous Among the Nations, including the most renowned Oskar Schindler, saved the lives of thousands of Jews at the risk of their own lives. Despite the terrible atrocities committed against Jews by Poles like the villagers of Jedwabne that pogrommed and murdered their own town's Jews in July 1941, there must be considered that over 6,000 of the Righteous Among the Nations are Poles, and in fact they are the largest group by country.

In March 1944, in a village called Markowa in southern Poland, the Ulma family was executed by the Nazis because they hid Jews. Seventeen people, including eight children, were killed simply because they were of Jewish origin, or because they were Poles who dared to defy the Germans and helped Jews. Although the news about the German's cruelty spread by word of mouth, many farmers continued to hide Jews till the end of the war. Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Eichmann is Me

The Memorial to victims of the Plaszow concentration camp near Krakow, featured in the movie Schindler's List

Plaszow camp's sadist commandant, Amon Goth also featured in Schindler's list, was probably a psychopath. However, more disturbing is the fact that normative Nazis committed terrible crimes as well - a fact that casts a shadow on the values of Western culture which maintains that normal life and proper education also ensure morality – but regretfully this is not the case.

In 1983, in a television interview, Ka-Tsetnik (Yehiel Dinur) recounted the incident of his fainting while testifying at the Eichmann trial. Was Dinur overcome by hatred? Fear? Horrid memories? No! It was none of these. Rather, as Dinur explained, all at once he realized Eichmann was not the god-like army officer who had sent so many to their deaths. This Eichmann was an ordinary man. "I was afraid about myself," said Dinur. "... I saw that I am capable to do this. I am exactly like he."

Similarly, Hannah Arendt (a thinker and a Holocaust survivor) in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil based on her reporting of the 1961 Eichmann trial for The New Yorker claimed that despite all the efforts of the prosecution, everybody could see that this man was not a monster, but rather “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” And he became a war criminal because of circumstances that he was not responsible for – views that sparked controversy.

Death machine

Railways inside Auschwitz-Birkenau

The Auschwitz Death camp, in southern Poland, was the largest set up by Nazi Germany during World War II, in which were murdered 1,200,000 people including 1,000,000 Jews (91%), more than in any other site during the war. This extermination camp was operational for the longest period of time (from June 1940 to January 1945) in which the industrialization of mass murder peaked to unprecedented heights.

Auschwitz was carefully selected because it had been an important railway junction in central Europe, which enabled efficient mass transportation of Jews to the camp from all over Europe. Although Eichmann was not responsible for the operation of the death camps and gas chambers, he was one of the main architects of the Holocaust because he was in charge (following the Wannsee Conference) of the main component of the extermination industry – the transportation of Jews to their death.

The power of the Spirit

The backside of the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The front side of the monument depicts the armed revolt - a party of armed muscular fighters engulfed by flames while the central figure is this of Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the rebellion. Another character is a woman holding a baby. This figure symbolizes the granting of life on the one hand and on the other to sacrifice them if needed.

On the backside of the monument a group of Jews, including children, are walking with hunched backs and bent heads to death carrying a Torah scroll with them and German helmets are seen in the background.

The creator of the monument (Nathan Rapoport) celebrates the Jewish ghetto's armed resistance against the Germans. However, during the Holocaust, there were also manifested other forms of resistance, no less important and effective - to delay or prevent destruction or preserve human dignity in very difficult conditions.

Resistance / Haim Gouri

To smuggle a loaf of bread
To teach clandestinely
To warn and tear illusions down
To sneak a Torah scroll
To forge a certificate
To smuggle from country to country
To document events and hide it
To offer help
To communicate between the besieged
To relay instructions and smuggle arms
To fight with weapons in your hand
On city streets
In mountains and forests
To uprise in the camps
To rebel in ghettos
Among falling walls in the most desperate revolt.

The Polish Tragedy

The Warsaw Uprising Monument

The picture shows the smaller section of the monument while the main part is in the back. In the front is seen a resistance fighter coming out of a sewer manhole. The municipal sewage system of Warsaw played a major role during the revolt. Polish underground forces made extensive use of sewage canals to move under the areas occupied by the Germans, and to enable communication between areas that remained under their control (the rebels had not almost any modern communication means). Sewers were also used as a means of escape from areas that should be evacuated.

The failed Warsaw Uprising that began on 1 August 1944 and lasted 63 days was initiated by the Polish resistance (Armia Krajowa) movement against Nazi occupation during World War II. The Suppression of the uprising by the Nazi army was very brutal, during which were killed at least 200,000 Polish citizens and the city of Warsaw was destroyed almost completely. The symbol of the rebellion - the letters PW (initials for Polska Walcząca - "Fighting Poland" in Polish) - is seen everywhere in Warsaw today.

During World War II were killed, according to accepted estimates, about 64 million people - more than in any other war in history. Among them 33 million civilians - including about six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.


Ilan Ramon: Israeli astronaut in space

One night in early 1944, a few days before Joachim Joseph's 13th birthday anniversary, was held his bar-mitzvah celebration in his hut in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. This was the idea of Rabbi Shimon Dasberg, chief rabbi of Amsterdam who was also a prisoner there. Dozens of prisoners woke up early in the morning, covered the windows so that the Germans could not see what is going on, and at the middle they set a table with four candles, two on each side, and between them stood a tiny Torah scroll. The participants began with prayers, and even Joseph's mother managed to sneak into the men's camp to be present at the ceremony, though the hut dwellers were afraid to let her in and she listened from the outside. Later Joseph read the bar-mitzvah sermon according to Rabbi Dasberg's teaching. Then the rabbi gave him the tiny Torah scroll that he had smuggled into the camp and asked him to keep it and when released from the camp to tell his story as a Holocaust survivor. A few months later Rabbi Dasberg died.

Years passed and Professor Joachim Joseph became one of the pioneers of the study of radiation transfer in the atmosphere. After making the decision to launch an Israeli astronaut into space, it was decided that the astronaut would perform a science experiment in space. In coordination with Ramon it was decided to choose the proposal of Joseph and Prof. Zev Levin to investigate dust storms in the Middle East, the phenomenon of lightning sprites and forest fires around the world.

In a preparatory meeting that was held with the participation of Ramon and the researchers at Joseph's home in Tel Aviv, Ramon was thrilled to see the little Torah scroll and to hear Joseph's story. He requested that the book would be one of the objects that would travel with him into space. During the flight, Ramon held a press conference from space, with the participation of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and many other senior figures. During the press conference, Ramon dedicated a few minutes to the tiny scroll telling briefly the story of Rabbi Dasberg and Professor Joseph's as a teenager during the Holocaust. He emphasized that Joseph headed an important scientific project and how this demonstrated the strength of Joseph and the endurance of the Jewish people. By this Joseph fulfilled his promise to the rabbi in front of billions of people.

Regretfully, the tiny Torah was not found among the ruins of the Space Shuttle Columbia, apparently it was burned in the atmosphere.

The story of the tiny Torah scroll is the story of the Jewish people: from the depths to the heaven - from Holocaust to revival.

Voyage Movie (in Hebrew)

Video: Nehemiah Hassid

Source: Wikipedia
Read this Page in Hebrew

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