Home » Blog » A Journey of Memory and Reflection: Our Mission to Poland & Amsterdam
Follow by Email

A Journey of Memory and Reflection: Our Mission to Poland & Amsterdam

The Holocaust is one of the darkest parts of our history, but a tragedy our Federation knows must never be forgotten. That’s why we invest in caring for survivors — and why we traveled together with our community on a Federation Mission to Poland and Amsterdam from May 2nd-May 10th.

While many Federation Missions unite our community to shine a light on the inspiring work we do with our partners in vibrant Jewish communities around the world, this particular experience was conceived with a different purpose.

“Going to visit Poland is the only way to truly ‘feel’ what survivors went through,” said Andrea Cayton, daughter of a Holocaust survivor and a driving force in bringing this mission to fruition. “We only have a short time left to be with survivors, but it’s important to educate the world and keep this tragic part of our history alive.”

The journey began in Warsaw, Poland, where Scholar in Residence, Kostek Gebert briefed participants about the history of Poland and its people, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Gebert is both a scholar and an activist and his stories illuminated the entire journey.

Following an enlightening visit to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, our community commemorated the somber occasion of Yom Ha’Shoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, with a deeper understanding of Polish Jewry before, during and after World War II.

“Commemorating Yom Ha’Shoah in Poland was a powerful experience that reinforced the significance of what the Federation does,” said General Campaign Chair Jesse Sharf.

The Mission also ventured to Krakow, Poland, where participants were guided through the Ghetto and learned about the vibrant Jewish life that existed there for hundreds of years before the Holocaust.

The following day the group made their way to Auschwitz and Birkenau where they saw the tragic remnants of the death camps:  the guard towers, the chimneys, the suitcases, the shoes, the tallit. This encounter was even more poignant for Corrine Sands and Ken Kahan, who both had parents who survived Auschwitz, and for Andrea Cayton and Jesse Sharf, who also had parents who lived through the Holocaust.

Corrine especially was moved by this experience. “When my father was at Auschwitz he was in Barrack 2, which normally isn’t open to the public,” she said. However, our leaders were able to gain exclusive access to this area. “Seeing the mats they laid on and the beds they were in, we saw the scope of what they had to live through. It was very emotional. But the good news is, my dad survived and was able to establish a life.”

Sylvia Weisz Women’s Philanthropy Chair Debi Graboff, who was on the mission with her husband and two of her three children, shared the following: “It is indescribable. There are no words and one cannot imagine it even when seeing it. How did the survivors go on? Why did it happen? Why wasn’t it stopped? Can it happen again? These are questions we asked ourselves.”

Ken Kahan, Chair of our Federation’s Real Estate & Construction (REC) Division, was moved to learn about the active preservation going on at the camps. “I was at Auschwitz with my mother fifteen years ago,” he said. “At the time, the camp was in decay. Now, one hundred years from now, no one will be able to deny its existence.”

That same evening, Debi Graboff described seeing “light and hope” at the Jewish Community Center in Krakow where the group celebrated Shabbat. “We met amazing people dedicated to reviving the Jewish community,” she said. “We prayed for the souls of our people who perished and whom we hold in our hearts forever.”

Mission participants then flew to Amsterdam, the infamous city in which Anne Frank wrote her diary. They had the honor of visiting the Anne Frank House as well as Amsterdam’s Auschwitz Memorial and Jewish Historical Museum.

“This journey to Poland was incredibly meaningful,” said Jesse Sharf. “It not only brought the participants closer together, but it underscored the significant work the Federation does with Holocaust survivors, and reminded me why the Federation is so important to the Jewish people and the communities that the Jewish people are a part of.”

Said Ken, “There is very little time left. We need to know these folks and their stories and preserve them for eternity.”

“It was an amazing and meaningful trip for me,” said Corrine. “I hope this mission will inspire others to go.”

Want to experience the power of a Federation Mission for yourself? Our King David Society Israel Unparalleled Mission is September 18th-26th. For more information, please contact Mitch Hamerman at (323) 761-8133 or MHamerman@JewishLA.org.

Captions: Top – Andrea Cayton at a monument donated by her family to the 18 Pillars of Remembrance Auschwitz Memorial; Bottom – Debi Graboff and her family in Warsaw.


Related Posts