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A Rabbi in Auschwitz

July 25, 2012

So what does a Rabbi do for a holiday?  We can imagine traveling to find the best possible Jewish food sampling lox (which is in fact northern European cuisine), or perhaps traveling the globe to find the perfect plate of hummus (which is popular throughout the entire Middle East).  Or perhaps some excellent kreplach, though I have never actually tasted it-there must be a restaurant somewhere in the world that makes the very best. 

 Seriously, what did this Rabbi do – among other things, and the other things were pleasant and nice but this one not.  I visited Auschwitz.  And if that were not enough this Rabbi started out the trip spending three days in Berlin.  I will write about that next week.

 I must confess visiting Auschwitz was not number one on my list – in fact I didn’t even want to go but my lovely wife wanted to visit Kraków a beautiful medieval city, and being one hour’s drive from Auschwitz it was impossible not to – not really impossible but I felt forced to see it, dreading the visit for months.

 Can you imagine having a career as a tour guide in our Auschwitz?  Our tour guide was naturally Polish, meticulous dressed, organized, and a thoroughly unemotional speaker.  She presented the facts as though there was absolutely no feeling in her heart for what had happened.  Perhaps it was her way of coping with doing this on a daily basis.  I can’t imagine being a tour guide in Auschwitz for very many weeks and having a balanced personality.  The guide reported that more than 1 million people were killed in Auschwitz alone.

 Auschwitz was as terrible as you can imagine.  Worse however was the sister camp Birkenau, where more than 100,000 people were regularly housed as slave laborers or immediately sent to the gas chambers, and incinerated.  The camp was as large as one half of the population of the city of Mobile, Alabama.  The inmates lived in unheated wooden barracks that had originally been designed as stables, with the temperatures dropping in winter sometimes below zero Fahrenheit.  They were given food rations designed to allow them to slowly starve, and on average die within less than 90 days of working as slave laborers.  This allowed the workers who died to be replaced quickly with new camp inmates, and the process to begin again.  This great opportunity went to only to the healthy ones who were not selected for immediate death upon their arrival in cattle cars.

 It all really happened.  I saw it.  You can tell the Holocaust deniers.

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  1. My mom was in Berkinau. You can read part of my story on my blog.

  2. Hi Rabbi Kunstadt,

    I am so happy to have found your blog! You probably don’t remember me but several years ago I came to your synagogue to begin my conversion to Judaism. After Katrina, I eventually ended up in B’ham at Temple Emanu-El where my conversion was finally completed with Rabbi Miller, Tomorrow marks my 3rd year as a Jew!

    Anyway, your post is powerful, painful to read and eloquent. Thank you fr sharing.

    All the Best,
    Susan Shuman

  3. So nice to hear about your spiritual journey and your new home in Birmingham. Thanks for reading and all the best.

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