'There but for the grace of God go I'

 

Pam Kancher, Executive Director

This is the phrase my mother often used when talking about the Holocaust. I wish I could tell her that I finally truly understand what she meant and how she felt.

This past July, the Holocaust Center sponsored its first Jewish Heritage Tour to Poland and Prague. Thirty people joined me on an emotional 10-day journey of reflection and remembrance. At our recent reunion we each shared a memory that stood out from all the rest. By far the most meaningful experience I had was visiting the Treblinka memorial.

Treblinka was the site of the Nazis' second-largest extermination camp after Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is estimated that from July 1942 through November 1943 between 870,000 and 925,000 Jews were killed there-on average 2,000 men, women and children were gassed each day and their bodies burnt on huge, open-air cremation pyres. Treblinka was not a work camp. It was built as a death camp. Jews were deported there from the Warsaw Ghetto as well as from other areas of Central Poland, primarily Warsaw, Radom and Krakow. Following an uprising by the prisoners in August 1943, the extermination camp was demolished and abandoned.


The Treblinka Museum of Struggle and Martyrdom, dedicated in 1964, was built in the shadow of the gas chambers, the original buildings having long ago been plowed and planted over. The only thing left were the ashes and memories. The outdoor museum is a symbolic Jewish cemetery made of 17,000 boulders of varying shapes and sizes-some say they represent the lost Jewish communities of the Holocaust. One hundred-forty of the boulders were engraved with the name of a town or village from which the Jews were deported.

As I silently walked amongst the stones that stretched as far as the eye could see, the first engraved stone I came to was one that read Ostrowiec. Suddenly I understood on an emotional level what my mother had tried all those years to convey. My mother was born in Ostrowiec, a town in which 8,000 Jews lived, worked and raised their families. In October 1942, 11,000 Jews from Ostrowiec and the vicinity were deported to Treblinka. My mother and her immediate family had all left Poland by 1932.

"There but for the grace of God go I."

During this High Holy Day season, please remember the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust and who have no one left to recite the Mourner's Kaddish on their behalf. 

- Pam Kancher

Executive Director

Mark Freid, President

Mark Freid, President

 

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