Profound Re-evaluations at Auschwitz-Birkenau

I recently attended a Healing from World War II Workshop, led by Julian Weissglass,1 and visited Auschwitz-Birkenau for the fourth time.

I am the daughter and granddaughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors. My great grandmother was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau.2 I recently found out that over two hundred of my father’s relatives were killed in the Shoah.3 My father is both a civilian survivor and a veteran of World War II. Needless to say, attending the Healing from World War II Workshops in Poland has been important for me and my re-emergence.

The first three times I attended the workshop and went on the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau, deciding to go and then following through on my decision were terrifying. As my departure date would approach, I’d have strong feelings of wanting to cancel the trip. The welcome letter would arrive and only increase my restimulated terror. It would say that it might be cold, windy, and rainy in Auschwitz, and especially Birkenau, and that the lunches during the visit would be small and probably leave us hungry. Early fears about my survival would come up. (I almost died when I was born. Being premature, I didn’t have enough body fat to keep me warm. I also didn’t receive adequate nutrition due to an undetected dairy allergy. Being or thinking about being cold and hungry brings up a lot of terror from all this, not to mention Holocaust restimulation.)

Fortunately I would never act on my feelings of wanting to cancel my participation. I would have some Co-Counseling sessions and manage to get on the plane and train and get to Oświęcim, where the RC group would meet to prepare for the visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Even among that wonderful RC group, and with lots of discharge, every night we’d spend in Oświęcim4 I would go to bed terrified of visiting the camps the next day. The first year I attended the workshop and went on the visit, I was so terrified that I didn’t manage to sleep more than four or five hours a night for the entire week.

The biggest shift in my perspective happened in 2013. That year I was on the committee to plan a memorial service at Birkenau on the third and final day of the visit. Working with this committee, made up of four Jewish descendants of Holocaust survivors, was delightful, and we planned a memorial service that all of us were excited about. We planned to start it by singing a song in Hebrew, Gesher Tzar Me’od. The lyrics of this song in English are “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is not to be afraid.” Still, as our bus approached Birkenau, I felt the old dread returning, even though I knew we would only be there for a short time, and we had already been there on the previous day.

We got off the bus, and I got together with my memorial-service team. As we walked through the gates of Birkenau, arm in arm with the rest of our RC group, one of my partners on the team started to sing Gesher Tzar Me’od, and I joined in—as much as I could before starting to discharge heavily.

Through my tears I was able to look around and have a powerful re-evaluation. Singing in Hebrew in Birkenau made me feel intensely alive and powerful, and I realized that we, the Jewish people, had survived while the Nazis had not. Looking at the lovely, powerful, international, multilingual group of RCers around me, I realized that we were more powerful than the Nazis and more powerful than the awful place we were in. I realized that I no longer had to live in dread of that place, that the Nazis were dead and gone. I looked around me at the barbed wire, guard stations, train tracks, and barracks and saw Birkenau in a new way: as a place that was obsolete, old, broken down, and powerless. I saw it as a sad place but not a scary one.

On my return to California, USA, I continued to discharge on this new perspective. I can still cry buckets of tears by telling my counselor the story of how it happened and singing (or having my counselor sing) Gesher Tzar Me’od. I’ve noticed changes in my life as a result. I seem to be able to keep my attention out better than before. I am able to think and act more powerfully and have become a better counselor. I have become more hopeful and am able to hold out hope to others.

Preparing for the visit and workshop this year was different. I still got restimulated as my departure date approached, but I never once felt tempted to cancel the trip. Visiting the camps was still a difficult and restimulating experience. We heard about and saw evidence of terrible brutality and oppression, and that was hard. But I did not feel the same terror. I did not feel as if my survival was threatened. I did not go to bed dreading my visits to the camps.

This year on the third day of the visit in Birkenau, as we prepared for the memorial service, I looked around me and realized that I was simply not scared of Birkenau anymore. The last Jew who was murdered there was murdered in 1945. As far as I knew, no Jews had been murdered there since, and it’s quite likely that no Jews will ever be murdered or harmed there again. Birkenau is now a safe place for Jews. Since returning from the workshop, I seem to have a new sense of my strength and power.

Thanks to Julian for leading these workshops and visits, to Gabriella5 for her excellent organizing of the visits, and to Jacek6 and Iwona7 for their organizing of the workshops in Warsaw. My life has been changed because of their efforts.

Terry Fletcher
Berkeley, California, USA
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of Jews


1 Julian Weissglass is the International Commonality Reference Person for Wide World Change.
Auschwitz-Birkenau was a German concentration camp, established by the Nazis in Poland, where the Nazis murdered approximately 1.1 million people, about ninety percent of them Jews.
The Shoah is the Holocaust.
Oświęcim is a town in southern Poland, close to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Molnár Gabriella, an RC leader in Budapest, Hungary
Jacek Strzemieczny, the Regional Reference Person for Poland
Iwona Odrowąż-Pieniążek, an RC leader in Jonkowo, Poland


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00