HOLOCAUST HORRORS AND HEALING
To prepare for their Poland Heritage Trip, 37 of our 11th and 12th graders studied the Holocaust and history of Jewish life in Europe for six months. The one week trip – where they visit death camps, ghettos, and previous Jewish communities from the Holocaust – is always emotional. This year, however, the trip provided something else for some of our students – the ability to cope with and heal from their own hardships.
As Principal Yehudah Rosencrantz explained, “A large number of students on the Polish trip have either lost parents, have parents who are divorced, or are estranged from a parent. We certainly didn’t dream that Poland could become the backdrop for healing for some of these boys.”
Two students in particular were noted for their experience. Alon,* an 11th grader, has never spoken of his mother’s death from a decade ago. The youngest of three brothers, Alon keeps his emotions tightly pent up. Aviad,* a senior, is the son of a businessman whose high-pressure job involves long hours and a great deal of travelling. Even when he’s home, Aviad feels completely estranged from his dad.
On the fourth day of the journey, the students reached “The Children’s Forest” where 800 children were slaughtered by the Nazis and hurled into a mass grave. Says Rabbi Rosencrantz, “Here we focused on the fierce bond of love and the superhuman efforts parents made to save their children, up to the second they were wrenched from their arms. We spoke, too, of the lifelong suffering of children whose parents had been murdered. Later that night as we gathered to discuss the day’s events, we gave each boy a letter from their parents that we’d asked to be written beforehand.”
Alon read and re-read his father’s letter. Then quietly, painfully, for the first time he began to speak of his mother’s death. “I now realize what a gift it is to have one parent alive,” he said.
As for Aviad, he opened his father’s letter with trembling hands, and wept. “This is the first time in my life I got a letter from my father. It’s the first time he ever said he loved me.”
Rabbi Rosencrantz admitted, “On every journey to Poland, we see this powerful experience mark a humane, religious, Zionist turning point in the life of each student. Now we see how the groundwork was laid here for personal resolution and healing.”
*not their real names