USY has created an unforgettable beginning of a summer sure to be full of memories. I am so lucky to have the privilege of participating in USY’s Eastern Europe and Israel Pilgrimage, First Departure. This particular program includes traveling as a group to different concentration and death camps, and this is the part of the trip that I am currently immersed. Each of the camps that we have visited left a lasting impact, making the stories I have read and heard painfully real. All of my newfound friends of just over a week, stuck by one another as what we observed became some of the most terrible visions many of us have ever experienced, bringing us closer as we supported one another. My group went to Terezin, Majdanek, and Auschwitz. Majdanek having the largest emotional impact on me was a brutal vision, completely preserved, making it way too real. Walking along the same path as many brave Jews before us, through the rose garden, the showers, and the gas chambers, was the hardest path I have followed, thinking back to all those lives lost right where I stood. Each terrible sight before our eyes held horrific memories, yet bonded all of us as together as we passed through the camp, each seeing the same sights from a variety of perspectives based on our own education and experiences. Those cruel surroundings that were created through hate left a piece of me broken and angry, but at the same time, I remembered all those who were forced into the camp 70 years ago, I remember that they faced death with dignity and hope for humanity. At the beginning of the tour, my group was led to the rose garden, a small field next to the entrance of the showers and gas chambers. When I first saw the field, my initial impression was that it was oddly beautiful, with long grass and flowering weeds sprinkled throughout. We were then told that it was not named for the blooming flowers. In the winters during World War II, Jews were brought to that same area, injured and weak. They stood there in the freezing cold, waiting to be sorted left or right. Sent one way to live through torturous days of constantly fearing death. The other direction was equally disgusting; people deemed too weak to work were sentenced to death and marched directly into the gas chambers; their futures, wishes, and prayers cut short. During the war, the snow in the area in which people were sorted, the rose garden, had patches stained red; not a beautiful red that represents the life of a flower, the ghastly red of blood from the broken feet of the young and the old, most without shoes. The rose garden was named for the blood of the brutalized. I stood there, heartbroken for the lives lost, beyond grateful that I was not there waiting to be sorted. At first, the field appeared to be some kind of beauty hidden in the dark and ugly surroundings, but together we learned that the ground beneath the grass holds the terror of those who were imprisoned, a ground stained by hate. Together we learned our own history. Together we faced sights that brought us to tears. Together we will pass down the knowledge and keep the truth alive. Together we will teach the story of our people. I have been provided with the incredible opportunity to dig beneath the surface of the Holocaust and the history of my people, arm in arm with my USY family.
-Sarah Yousha (BERUSY), MN, EEI 1st Departure