Holocaust Remembrance Day: A Cruise and a Camp

HOLOCAUST DAY is 21-Apr. If the guard was especially cruel, he won a visit to the camp brothel, made up of women inmates who were given more food...

2 min

Yehudit Channen

Posted on 18.04.23

It was the bathrooms that got to me. Although I hadn’t seen the gas chambers yet. We were just beginning our tour of Mathausen and I was already stunned despite my mental preparations. Everyone on the cruise had been bracing themselves before this day had finally arrived.

The bathroom was just a wooden room that resembled a cabin you might see in the Catskills. It had holes in the floor, a few feet apart and those were the toilets. There were no partitions of any kind between the holes, everyone had to go in the presence of everyone else, and be quick, no matter what their physical condition was. Only a short time was given for hundreds of prisoners to use the “facilities.”

In the next room were large cement basins for washing up in the mornings. The people had to fight each other to get a few drops of freezing water to clean themselves. There was a letter on the wall enclosed in glass. It had been written by a young woman and she wrote that after a while she gave up fighting for a place at the faucets. I stopped caring, she wrote. It was too hard to get to the water and after a while I didn’t even know why I wanted to wash myself. What did I need to be clean for?”

I had the merit to be visiting Mathausen Concentration Camp with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and a plaque was placed there that morning in memory of Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi hunter, who had survived his stay at that evil place, where sadism in a guard was considered an asset. If the guard was especially cruel, he won a visit to the camp brothel, made up of woman inmates who were given slightly more food and didn’t have their heads shaved.

It was the contrasts that got to me. After a few hours at Mathausen our group climbed on the bus and headed back to the cruise ship. In our bus which was warm, clean and roomy we drove down the same steep hill that thousands of Jews had trudged up, carrying small children and some meager processions, in full view of the gawking villagers, who knew exactly where they were going. It didn’t take the residents long to get used to the sight of starving people making their way up to death and the smell of their burning corpses became part of the atmosphere.

The area surrounding the thick walls of Mathausen is simply beautiful.

We arrived back at the ship that sits on the Danube, the most beautiful of rivers, that had served as a murder weapon for thousands of innocent Jews, who had been tied together and pushed in.

As we walked through the doors we were greeted warmly by the staff and directed into the luxurious lounge where there was coffee and cookies to hold us over until dinner. The bar was open, and I headed over for a drink. As I sat there sipping my Pina Colada I thought to myself, “Jews are the only people in the world who pay thousands of dollars to go to places that make them cry.”

How could it be that we sit on this riverboat, free, rich and treated like royalty when seventy years ago we were rounded up like rabid animals, despised by all and tortured to death?

Only Hashem can create these circumstances that are so dramatic, so overwhelming and so unfathomable.

If accepting the inexplicable of the Holocaust is not emuna, then I have no idea what is.

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