A Visit to Birkenau

For 2,000 years, everywhere Jewish people went, they have suffered. They have been discriminated against. They have been attacked. You can think of all the things that they’ve experienced, leading up to the Holocaust. For me, as a Palestinian, my engagement in nonviolence should also be to address the issues that prevent Israelis from being what they should be, to be able to see themselves as humans who have dignity, who should have respect in the international community.

It has not been an easy process for me to engage in this. It led me to Auschwitz and Birkenau, where I have visited twice. Once, outside of Birkenau, we were sitting in the grass in a circle and reflecting on our experience. Busloads of Israeli children came in, because every Israeli child of 13 to 16 years gets the chance to come and visit Auschwitz with his or her school. They got off the bus and began walking on the railroad track with their Israeli guides. They had big Israeli flags wrapped around them, and they were singing nationalistic Hebrew songs.
After they finished visiting the different sites, they came back and sat in circles, and they began talking about what they’d experienced. The Israeli guides were standing in the middle of the circles, and all of them were saying the same thing. They were saying, “See what happened to us? You see what the Nazis did to us?” Many of these children probably had their grandparents or great uncles and aunts killed in these camps. Afterward, when they’re sitting in the circle, you can see how the experience was very traumatizing for them. You would assume that these guides would take this as an opportunity to say, “Never again.” But their message was: “You see what the Germans did to us? Well, guess what? It’s not over.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2010
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