Going to the Death Camps with my Kids and Maintaining my Sanity
Moti Cohen, our assistant congregational leader at Tiferet Yeshua, participates in a ministry called Hand in Hand, that unites Messianic Israeli youth and young people from German-speaking countries. They travel both in Israel and Germany, and even visit the Death Camps in Poland.
I don’t know how to start this journal. It’s true that this trip started and ended in Israel, but as the trip progressed so many things happened. I remember the warm welcoming we received in Germany. It was late at night, we entered this big saloon where all the German/Austrian/Swiss youth’s families stood. There was excitement in the air even though we didn’t know each other! But we did know that we were going to go through this journey together in the following weeks: Germans, Israelis, Austrians, Swiss and One God who is with us all.
Shortly after we started, each family took a young Israeli to their home and under their wing. German families who love Israelis are happily having Jewish people in their houses. Imagine this happening during the Second World War? Except for a couple of righteous Gentiles who risked everything they cherished for the Jews they saved—most were turned away. Death was the penalty for hiding a Jew. There was a wall, a wall that we came to break in Yeshua’s name. To go hand in hand, Germans and Jews, in spite of our history, and let the power of forgiveness and the love of God conquer all the hate and anger.
To the Death Camps
After we spent a week together there came a moment in which we got on the bus and started driving towards Poland, to the Death Camps in Auschwitz. I’d already been to Auschwitz three times before. Though this was the first time I’d traveled there with my wife and our little children. This time my focus was on the kids of the Holocaust; those who were murdered and those who survived.
I still can’t find words to describe that moment when we all walked inside the camp. We were sad, horrified, filled with questions, and David, my three-year-old son, ran on top of the railroad tracks, where families arrived and then were divided. Children were ripped from their mother’s arms. Couples were separated forever. A little kid whose sole interest is to climb on the train tracks and make everybody smile arrived more than a half century later. At three he could not comprehend what took place on his new playground.
While everyone went with their partners I stayed with my kids (Also to let my wife go hand in hand with her partner from Germany). At a certain point the entire team stopped and all the partners from Germany started lighting candles in memory of the Holocaust victims. David and I also did that. We lit a candle in memory of all the children who were murdered there. Children who didn’t get a chance to grow old, make their dreams come true, live their lives… Standing there together with my son, David and my one-year-old daughter, Talia, over the ashes of those who were murdered, honoring their memories, was an moment I will value forever.
Another meaningful moment I recall was when Yulia, a girl from our youth group, stood there in the museum that was dedicated to those who were murdered. As she was looking at all the photos of the little children she saw that many of the boys shared the name David Cohen, with my son. I was in shock that so many David Cohens were murdered during the Holocaust. I thought about my son, and about what would have happened if we lived in Europe just 70 years ago? The Nazis surely would’ve separated us from one another in the selection area. How would I have reacted having my son taken from me? Had he been here then, his playground could just as easily have been his cemetery.
Those kid’s pictures won’t leave my mind. Were they rescued or murdered? Did they understand any of what was going on and what was about to happen? I guess I’ll never know. Yet I still have great hope. The enemy has tried to annihilate the Jewish nation, leaving no trace, and by God’s grace, 70 years later, a little child named David Cohen is playing right there on the railroad tracks. Out of such a horrid history comes therein lies our victory—a Jewish boy alive and free in Auschwitz.
In Israeli education, we teach every year on the Holocaust Memorial Day that “We won’t forgive and we won’t forget.” I’m so glad to be a part of a team who’s motto is “We won’t forget but we’ll do our best to forgive.” The Hand in Hand journey can only succeed with God’s help. For the purpose of all this is to forgive, to let go of all the horrible and horrifying things that happened during the Holocaust; to enter Auschwitz hand in hand, Germans and Jews, but also walk out together. We put our trust in God that He will help us guide the assembled group.
The friendship between the Israeli leaders and our youth and the German/Austrian/Swiss leaders and their youth is a true friendship. It is the unity that we have in Yeshua that leads us to defeat the evil, fear and hatred that so many survivors hold onto, and instead forgive.
During the church gathering we welcomed in the Shabbat together. Our partners’ families made us falafel, humus and other ethnic Israeli dishes. Their loving hospitality brought us together and we made plenty of friends—friends that, in spite of the long distance between us, will find a way to keep this friendship alive. I’m happy to know that in Germany, Austria and Switzerland there are believers who love Israel, pray for Israel and willing to go with us on a Hand in Hand journey in order to change our future, as well as our children’s.