Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center's annual 'Compassion to Action' mission to Poland, Germany and Israel landed in Europe yesterday and hit the ground running. Powered by Canadian sponsors, we are joined on this educational journey by top Canadian leaders, including high level representatives of law enforcement agencies from across the country, as well as school board superintendents and trustees from numerous Canadian school boards. On the first day of the mission the group learned about the Jewish community of Kraków and Poland, and visited a 16th century synagogue as well as Oscar Schindler's factory. We had an in-depth discussion about the origins of antisemitism and heard from children of Holocaust survivors who are also participating on the program.
The sombre and reflective nature of our journey intensified today as we toured the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with Holocaust survivor Max Eisen. Many members of our the group found the size and magnitude of the camp grounds (a zone covering 40 square km) overwhelming. Max gave moving testimony about his arrival at Auschwitz and of being separated from his mother and siblings, who were immediately taken to the gas chambers; Dr Fred Leitner spoke of the sadness he felt growing up as a child of Holocaust survivors. The deep sorrow was echoed in the cloudy skies above and the chills sent by the soft wind below.
There is no doubt today this is one of the most difficult days in our mission. It will likely be one of the most hauntingly memorable as well.
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