New Milford—The Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County is planning, for the first time, to take its 8th graders to Poland on April 23 as the culmination of their multi-year Holocaust education program. Their day in Warsaw will include a guided tour of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and visits to Mila 18 and the Umschlagplatz. They expect to be met by Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, who recently visited Schechter and spoke with the 8th graders. He told them about recent trends in the resurgence of Judaism in Poland. The idea for the trip was inspired by Sigmund Rolat, activist survivor and grandfather of a Schechter student.
The Umschlagplatz was where the Nazis daily gathered the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto for selection to deportation to the Treblinka death camp in tightly crowded freight cars. An estimated 300,000 Jews were transported from there during 1942-1943. The railroad tracks used for this purpose were fenced off from the rest of the train station, which continued to be used for its normal functions. When the Jews discovered the true destination of the trains, they resisted getting on them. This led the Nazis to decide to liquidate the ghetto on Passover in 1943.
Mila 18 became the headquarters of the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB). It was located on one of the liveliest streets of pre-War Jewish Warsaw. When the bunker was attacked by the Nazis, in May 1943, there were around 300 Jews inside. Troops threw tear gas into the shelter to force them out. Mordechai Anielewicz, commander of the uprising, and many of his staff committed suicide rather than surrender. Others either perished or managed to escape. Mila 18 is the resting place of over 100 fighters. In 1946, Anielewicz Mound was erected from the rubble of the houses destroyed. In 2006 a tall obelisk was added to the memorial. Mila 18 became widely known after the publication, in 1961, of Leon Uris’ book of the same name.
The students will also be shown Nathan Rappaport’s famous Warsaw Ghetto Memorial. It is located across the square from the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which has not yet officially opened, but is fully prepared to greet visitors. These students have visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, which focuses on the experiences of those who suffered the Shoah and how they rebuilt their lives after the war. The museum in Poland uses hi-technology to trace the centuries-old history and culture of the Jews of Poland, and how it has been revived in recent years. Inside the museum, they will see a built-to-scale fully-detailed hand-painted roof of the Gwoździec synagogue ceiling a 17th century wooden Polish synagogue.
From Warsaw, the class will fly to Israel for their now traditional 10-day visit throughout the country, and will then observe of Yom Hashoah at Yad Vashem.
This trip is the high point of the students’ comprehensive and age-appropriate Holocaust education designed to give the students a sound understanding of the culture that was attacked in the Shoah and to want to learn more about the Shoah and that culture as they progress into high school and beyond.
This phase of the program is preceded by a Heritage Fair organized by the 5th graders, and which the other classes are taken to visit. The decade old fair has always consisted of artifacts the students find in their own homes that tie them to Judaism. Often these artifacts belonged to Holocaust survivors in the student’s family. The artifacts may be ritual objects, books, photos, or even poems. This year each exhibit will be enhanced by a recorded narrative delivered by the student and backed up with appropriate music. The fair is a Living Museum that is very educational and very popular with students and their families.
During the course of their Holocaust education, students are shown movies and photos of pre-War European Jewry, including those of Roman Vishniac. This year they will also attend a performance of Itzik Manger’sMegillah at the Folksbeine National Jewish Theater in New York.
Photo Credit: Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
By Stephen Tencer