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Updates From the KMS Trip to Poland - July 4 -5

David Makovsky

The KMS trip to Poland is currently underway.  Approximately 40 people are visiting sites across Poland that speak to the history, strength, and resilience of the Jewish people. They will stand and mourn in places of unspeakable tragedy and destruction contemplating the horrific loss that we endured as a people. Some participants are visiting places where their families lived and where their families died. Those that made the trip are representatives of KMS and its members.  They carry upon their shoulders the many neshamot of relatives who died and of those who survived.

KMS member, David Makovsky, is on the trip with his wife Varda.  He has been sharing some of his reflections on his Facebook page, which we have reprinted here with his permission.

July 4, 2018 - It was very moving to me to visit the Synagogue of Tykocin (known by the Jews as Tiktin) in northeast Poland. It is a community that was founded in 1522. I can date Makovsky members there since at least 1828. It was located near famed rabbinic seminary called Lomze where my great grandfather studied—where I am told the poor students even slept on school benches. My great grandfather Abraham Osher Makovsky left Tykocin/Tiktin in 1904 where he set sail for America and lived in St Louis as a religious figure until he died in 1948. His father urged him to remain religious and gave him five pairs of tefilin and indeed he had five boys who donned them faithfully growing up in the US. Tragically, the Nazis destroyed the Jewish community of Tykocin/Tiktin on August 25, 1941 when they demanded that all 1400 Jews gather in the town square. Women and children were taken away and men were taken on a forced march to the Lopuchawa Forest a few kilometers away. In the forest, they were murdered by the Nazi SS mobile commandos in open pits. The community established in 1522 was destroyed.

July 4, 2018 - July 4th is a great festival of freedom as America is dedicated to the the proposition of the inviolability of human dignity. Therefore, the contrast could not be starker as now visiting Treblinka — one of the worst reminders of human depravity where 900,000 are killed. Killing on industrial scale not known to man.

July 4, 2018 - Didn’t realize extent of how Holocaust denial started during the Holocaust itself. Thought Treblinka would look like Auschwitz. However Nazis after killing 900,000 (think of equivalent of almost twenty packed US stadiums—hard to comprehend) at this death camp in northeast Poland just off the main rail line from Warsaw to Bialystok, the Nazis tried to cover tracks. They dismantled the camp entirely in 1943 as if it genocide didn’t happen. No buildings there —just a moving memorial of stones representing communities in Loland but also beyond. Overall, Nazis destroyed some 950 Jewish communities in Poland. (2,000 gypsies killed in Treblinka as well.) Most of the killing of Polish Jewry is in 1942. (Most of Warsaw Jews deported in summer of 1942 to Treblinka.) At start of 1942, 80percent of Polish Jewry reportedly is alive and 20 percent dead. By March 1943, figures are reversed. Auschwitz killing goes on through the war. Human depravity reaches horrific nadir. Never again.

July 5, 2018 - Visited Majdanek camp today, just outside Lublin in central Poland (southeast of Warsaw). Striking how Nazis pursue killing of Jews and others even as they are losing the war. By November 1943, four of the six Nazi death camps are already closed. Most of Polish Jewry has largely been exterminated. Nazis have lost Battle of Stalingrad in January 1943. 

Yet, with fanatical obsessiveness, Nazis do not stop. In November 3-4, 1943, 42,000 Jews in the Lublin district are shot to death (including at least 18,000 at Majdanek). Biggest one day massacre of direct shooting of Jews during WWIi—more than at Babi Yar. (It is the mopping up of Operation Reinhardt, killing Jews of Poland—names after the death of Reinhardt Heydrich.)

Majdanek gas chambers kept open until mid-1944 (total of 78,000 killed including 59,000 Jews) when liberated by Soviets who bombed the camp. (Killing of Jews of Hungary occur In 1944 and Auschwitz stays open to the end.)

Bottom line: Despite the Nazis are losing the war, their obsessive fanaticism is so great that they are willing to have less slave labor (and kill them instead) and divert resources of personnel to keep up their killing at all costs. Historian Lucy Dawidowicz sae the Nazis as pursuing two parallels wars: one against the allies and an eliminationalist one against the Jews. Nazis thought they were were losing a military war but nonetheless, still prosecuted the ideological one—regardless of the costs.

Tue, September 22 2020 4 Tishrei 5781