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On a journey through Poland, Jews and Christians bear witness together to history, horror

The goal: to introduce Christian leaders to the breadth and depth of Jewish history in Poland and eastern Europe, until its near complete eradication 

Majdanek Barbed Wire 790p image
Barbed wire outside gas chamber at Majdanek death camp. By Daniel Goldwin

A group of nearly 40 Christian leaders and staff from the Jewish Federation of Chicago traveled in mid-August to Poland, where they stood together at the Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek death camps.

Together, they walked through the Warsaw Jewish cemetery where some of Hasidic Jewry's greatest thinkers lie, just yards from a mass grave of those killed in the Warsaw ghetto. And together, they mourned for the 2,100 Jews of Tiktin who were murdered and buried in a nearby forest.

For five days, the diverse group of Christian religious leaders, theologians, academics, journalists and lay leaders - most from Chicago, but also from California, Washington, Florida, New York and England - traveled through Poland with Rabbinic Scholar Rabbi Yehiel Poupko and others from the Federation. Poupko designed the trip to introduce Christian leaders to the breadth and depth of Jewish history in Poland and eastern Europe, until its near complete eradication by Nazi Germany and its allies in World War II.

The delegation visited what remains of the Warsaw Ghetto, where the idea and practice of concerted Jewish resistance took root, and the last Polish Jewish ghetto to be liquidated, in Krakow. And they were welcomed at an Orthodox synagogue in Krakow that survived the war and is once again home to Jewish prayer, ritual and learning. 

"It was a privilege to bear witness together in Treblinka, Lupochko Forest (the site of the mass murder of the Jews of Tykocin or Tiktin), Majdanek, Auschwitz, and the Warsaw and Krakow ghettos," Illinois State University Prof. Michael Gizzi said of his first visit to Poland. "Entire civilizations have been lost, but they are not forgotten."

Bishop Sally Dyck, president of the General Board of Church and Society for the United Methodist Church and a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, said "We were deeply grateful to have this unique experience and will treasure it as it continues to inform us, our faith and ministry."

Summing up the importance of Jews and non-Jews learning from the Holocaust, Myron McCoy, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."

Rabbi Poupko was joined on the trip by Temple Sholom's Rabbi Shoshanah Conover, Jewish Federation of Chicago colleagues Jane Charney, Rabbi Reni Dickman, Daniel Goldwin, Christopher Melton and David Rubovits, and Ethan Felson of the Jewish Federations of North America.

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