Hornstein Seminar to Poland 2017
Day Five, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Krakow

A song in Yiddish

By Tamar Shachaf Schneider

Today we went to Auschwitz – Birkenau, where more than 1,000,000 Jews and hundreds of thousands of non-Jews were murdered, during the Holocaust. It wasn’t my first time there, but my third time. It doesn’t get any easier. You don’t get used to it, no matter how many times you’ve been there. 

I’m trying to understand how human beings can be so evil. How they can do such horrific things to others? I want to say they are inhuman, psychopaths, insane. But saying so would relieve them of responsibility for these events, for murdering 6,000,000 Jews and millions of non-Jews because of racial hatred. I prefer to struggle with understanding than to absolve them of responsibility. 

Our day ended at the local JCC Krakow, with at least 100 community members and guests from all over the world (such as U.S. and Norway). One of the community members was M., an 86-year-old Krakow native and Holocaust survivor. He told us that he was 8 or 9 years old when the war broke in September 1939. He lost his sister and mother, and reunited with his father and other sister after the war. After that, he never had a family of his own, but I could see how the JCC is his family. He sang to us in Yiddish, "a special event," the JCC’s Executive Director, Jonathan Orenstein, said. I don’t think there was a dry eye when he finished singing.

After dinner, Rina, Daniel and I went to sit with M. (photo below), with broken Yiddish in our mouths, and he was so happy to share his life’s story with us. These moments with him, even without really understanding what he said, were the perfect ending to an extremely difficult day.

Hornstein students visit JCC Krakow, February 2017.

In February 2017, the Hornstein Class of 2017 traveled to Poland with Professor Leonard Saxe for an eight-day seminar to study contemporary Jewish life in that country. This is a blog post from that seminar written by a student or pair of students.

This year's seminar was supported, in part, by the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry and the Center for German and European Studies, both at Brandeis University.

For more photos, see our photo album at our Facebook page.