Day 4 – Yad Vashem, The Dead Sea – Log

Jacob Anthony Amaro, Staff Writer

We started our day by having breakfast at our hotel.

After breakfast, we drove to Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. We began first by watching a projection of a short video in which Jewish people were waving happily at cameras somewhere around 1933. This was the year when many Jewish families who had emigrated from Europe to the United States returned to their roots, with cameras to take pictures and videos of their loved ones. This video is especially sad and eerie because these Jewish people did not know that soon they would be subject to the most horrible acts of evil. They didn’t know that they would soon no longer be smiling. Our tour guide interpreted the waving as a “goodbye” to the life which they once lived. Watching this video made some of us very emotional.

After the video, our tour guide explained to us that the museum was built in such a way that we would “travel” through the events of the Holocaust. The first exhibit illustrated a time from the end of WWII, after the camps had been liberated. We saw several items that belonged to known victims. Our tour guide said that the reason the museum began with the personal items of these named victims was to remind us to not look at victims like statistics but to recognize each and every person, and to really identify with them. The guide quoted Stalin, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” to help us understand.

After that introduction we began to walk through the maze-like museum. Certain exhibits would pull us to the left while others compelled us to the right. In this way, we meandered through the museum until we made it to the end. We learned a lot during our tour. We learned about how Hitler, along with his diabolically effective propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, were able to trick people into believing Hitler’s twisted perception of the “Jewish race.” We learned about how Hitler rose to power. We also saw several caricatures of “the Jews.”

View from from atop Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center

We learned about how on one day everything was all right for the Jewish people but on the next everything changed completely. We learned about how the Jewish people were forced into the terrible ghettos where more than 150 people died each night due to cold temperatures, lack of food and water, and how they were crammed into very small spaces. We learned about the process by which the Jewish people were gassed — the way it all unfolded. First, they were transported by train to death camps. Then they would be sent underground to locker rooms and forced to undress. Nazi soldiers would tell them to remember their hook numbers so that it would be easier to retrieve their belongings later (the Nazi’s goal was to lie to the Jews to the very end); after they undressed, they moved into the shower room. When everyone had made it inside the shower rooms, the Nazi soldiers would lock the door behind them. Immediately people would begin to scream, fearing what was to come. After the doors were shut, someone would proceed to drop zyklon B canisters into the gas chambers through the chimneys. The gas chambers were were the right temperature, 26 degrees Celsius, to transform the pellets from stone-like structures to gas. The gas would then fill these chambers up. Within 15-20 minutes, everyone was dead. The person dropping the canisters into the chambers would never have to see the horrors he was committing. Nazi soldiers employed certain Jewish people to clean up the bodies after each slaughter.

We also learned about how over a million people were executed by method of mass-shootings. People arriving at camps would be given a shovel to dig holes; they never knew that they were digging their own graves. When they finished digging the holes, Nazi soldiers would line up several people and shoot them. Their bodies would fall directly into the holes. From there, the bodies were burned. There was absolutely nowhere to run to in a situation like this. Nazi soldiers were all over, watching everything unfold, and waiting eagerly to shoot at anyone who would try to run away.

One wonders how it was possible for these Nazi soldiers to commit these treacherous acts. Indeed, it’s inconceivable in our minds. But even to them it was, at times, difficult. They were given cigarettes and lots of alcohol to help them be immune to repercussions of the immoral acts which they were committing. We also learned about the “righteous among the nations” — 26, 000 non-Jews who risked their lives to save the Jewish people. 

We also learned about certain people who, although they worked for the Nazis, tried to minimize the amount of damage they were doing. One such person was a man named Dr. Samuels. Samuels worked under the “angel of death,” finding ways to sterilize women. We watched a video of a victim of Samuels who recounted her story with him. Samuels had been tasked to perform a sterilization on her, and he did. Strangely though, he told her, at the end of the operation, to do her best to stay alive. She didn’t understand why he would say such a thing, but she continued to live life knowing that she would never be able to conceive a child. She made it through the war, having done everything she could to survive — she had been in the selection lines many times, and she would jump from line to line to avoid being singled out.

After she was liberated, she decided to marry. Her husband wanted to have a baby but she didn’t feel the same way. She had heard too many babies and children cry and scream during her time in the camps. It would be too traumatizing for her to hear those terrible cries and screams once again. But one day, several months later, she started to feel something strange; she felt…different —so much so that she was forced to see a doctor. Her doctor told her that she was pregnant. Surprised, she asked her doctor how it was even possible if she had been sterilized. The doctor explained that someone certainly performed surgery on her but did their best to minimize the damage. It was then when she remembered the words of Samuels, “stay alive” and she now understood why he said such words. But still, she did everything in her power to harm the baby. She recounted how she lifted anything that she could and how she took towels, placed hot irons on them, and pressed those towels on her stomach. Luckily, she was never successful in her mission. The baby survived through all her efforts to kill it. When he was born, she recounted how terrible she felt for what she had done. She would repay him, she thought, by telling him about the horrors that she faced in the Holocaust. But she never did. She was too scared. Such was the case for many Holocaust survivors. They couldn’t speak of the atrocities they faced. Some of the Holocaust survivors went their entire lives without ever saying a word about their experiences; others were able to do so after a while, like this victim of Dr. Samuel.

When we made it to the end of the museum, we saw several newspaper articles, in many different languages, about the defeat of the Nazis. Our tour guide told us that everyone except the Jewish people rejoiced. This seemed very strange to us and we asked why. He explained that they could not rejoice because they were in the state of, “Now what?” Many Jews were left with absolutely nothing — no money, no family, no home. They didn’t know what to do next. Some eventually moved on, marrying and having children. Our tour guide’s own grandfather was one of these people. Telling us the story of his grandfather, he said that he felt we had an obligation to make the world better for the future generations. We all agreed. And on this note we concluded our tour of the museum.

From the museum, we went directly to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth!

On our way there, we saw a camel “chilling” and we took pictures with it. The deserts nearby were astonishingly beautiful.

Cass by camel.

When we made it to the beach, we had, once again, a very tasty lunch: falafels, schnitzel, French fries, salads, and onion rings.

After lunch we changed into our swim wear and made our way to the breath-taking beach.

The shore had this dark-colored mud that was extremely slippery. We saw many people covered in this dark mud. At first, it was very funny, but we came to learn what it was for.

When we got in the water, slipping and falling a couple of times along the way, our bodies were floating effortlessly. Since I naturally float easily (I have very good buoyancy) it was actually very difficult to control my movement in the water (my body was simply floating in the direction that it wanted to go). I found this very interesting and funny. We all eventually discovered that underneath the water was the source of the black mud that everyone was wearing. We too started to rub it on our skin. Dr. Cassidy put the mud all over himself. (There may be a picture of this on his blog which is soon to come). We did this for about an hour. I even took some with me! I noticed that in the shops they were selling a mere 250 grams for $13. Instead of buying it at that price, I simply took some and put it in a Ziploc bag 🙂

The result of rubbing mud on our faces was worth it. We all came out with very shiny, smooth skin.

After we washed up and changed, we headed to the Amal School to be picked up by our hosts. The drive back was quite long. Now, we are all resting for the day to come tomorrow!

Our trip/pilgrimage so far has been amazing! There are no words to describe it completely! We got to see the land where our religion has its roots, we got to walk the same paths which Jesus himself walked, we got to rub mud on our faces without being laughed at!

We can’t wait for what tomorrow has in store for us! Goodnight all the way from Israel.