Two weeks ago today, the Jewish Alliance commemorated Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, at our community’s Holocaust Memorial in downtown Providence. On that cloudy, cold, gray morning, I declared, “Never forget,” and I further spoke how appropriate it was that the weather made us feel uncomfortable.
How ironic that I would be traveling the very next night to Budapest and then Berlin on an Alliance Mission to Eastern Europe to examine the impact of the Holocaust upon the Jewish communities of both cities today.
The 15 of us on the Mission shared a week of incredibly transformative and moving experiences throughout the Jewish quarters, museums, and memorials in both Budapest and Berlin. Little, however, could have prepared us for our visit to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, which is located about an hour outside of Berlin.
Sachsenhausen was originally built to be a forced labor camp for “subversives” (including Josef Stalin’s eldest son) and a prison for those whom the SS deemed to be particularly treasonous. During the final years of the Shoah, however, the Nazis enlarged the Camp to accommodate a shooting pit and a crematorium so that their final solution could be realized.
Surreally, the weather last Friday at Sachsenhausen was sunny and glorious. The countryside surrounding the camp is lush. The town where the Camp is located looks like any other small town one would see here in America, complete with strip malls and restaurants. Yet there is nothing remotely familiar or bucolic within the gates of the Camp. The barrenness of the grounds, the foreboding of the watch towers and existing structures, and the stark outlines of those barracks and other facilities that no longer remain, were beyond unsettling. And then, as if we needed any further horrific reminders, strong winds suddenly and eerily arose and whipped gravel and sand in our eyes as we approached the entrance to what remains of the crematorium. What we viewed inside those walls defies description. One week later, I remain sickeningly numb from my visit to Sachsenhausen.
Mission co-leader Alan Litwin so poignantly asked when we exited from the memorial inside the Sachsenhausen Crematorium, “We and our generation won’t ever forget, but will our children’s and our grandchildren’s?”
We are obligated to the survivors to perpetuate their memory and educate future generations.
Jeffrey K. Savit, President & CEO
P.S. Look for more about the Alliance Mission in an upcoming issue of The Jewish Voice.