Earlier this week, we took a delegation of education, law enforcement and government leaders from across Canada on a 10-day Compassion to Action journey through Berlin, Krakow and Israel, going from the darkness that is the Holocaust to the light that is Israel – the country that millions of Jewish people call home.
The week started with a two-day trip in Berlin where the group visited sites such as Ravensbruck – a concentration camp located 90 minutes north of Berlin that included some 130,000 mostly female prisoners. Participants were surprised to learn about the brutality of the female perpetrators, including their murder of many infants born in the camp. Most of the perpetrators melted back into German society, establishing their own families and never facing justice for their evil crimes. Ravensbrook is nestled on a beautiful lake with many vacation homes, a juxtaposition to the profanity that took place on those grounds, not unlike the House of Horror – the House of the Wannsee Conference, which the group visited as well, in addition to the monument to the Holocaust in Berlin and the Canadian embassy.
The House of the Wannsee Conference is set in a picturesque setting. Its gardens are manicured, as it looks into a beautiful lake with sailboats passing it by in the afternoon breeze. It's the perfect setting for a garden party. In January 1942, Nazi leadership came together to firm up the "final solution to the Jewish question." The 90-minute meeting's main task – as the minutes of the meeting attest – "was to purge German living space of Jews by legal means." At this meeting, in this beautiful villa by a lake, the Nazis "legalized" and plainly reaffirmed they intended to murder the more than 11 million Jews who were scattered throughout Europe at the time. A "civilized" meeting took place over breakfast to organize and legalize the biggest genocide and most heinous crime of all time - the Holocaust.
A visit to Krakow followed, during which the group spent an intensive and emotional two days learning about the horrors of the Holocaust while visiting sites such as Plaszow concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Oskar Schindler's Factory. You could see two beams of light break through the sky on Auschwitz as Holocaust survivor Max Eisen recounted, retold and reaffirmed his promise to his father: "tell the world."
We are now on our final stop in Israel where the leaders are being introduced to Israel, both learning about the history as well as the current state of the country. Most participants had never visited Israel before and are excited to learn about this wonderful country and absorb its culture. Today, following an emotionally draining week in Germany and Poland, we arrived at the gates of Jerusalem and performed a Shehechiyanu prayer at dawn to give thanks and appreciation for being here at this special moment.
Afterwards, the group had the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem and the Old City – including the Western Wall – in Jerusalem and will continue their journey through Israel with visits to Masada and the Dead Sea, the Knesset, Israel Museum, Palmachim Airbase, Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee before heading back home with newfound knowledge and empowered to counter antisemitism, promote Holocaust remembrance and stand for human rights for everyone.
Since the inception of the program, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center has sent 300 Canadian leaders on this life-changing experience, creating a network of advocates across Canada. Each year, this program is made possible through the generosity of our donors.