Trauma’s Enduring Legacy: Auschwitz to Kfar Aza

February 8, 2024

by Rabbi Jonathan Leener (’16) for Times of Israel

As the sun set on an early May day in 1945, my grandfather entered the barbed wire fences of Wöbbelin Concentration Camp in Germany. Despite the emerging darkness, the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime were illuminated with horrifying clarity: thousands of bodies lay stacked upon each other, their limbs intertwined in a monument of human cruelty that would forever sear itself into his memory.

The stench of death hung heavy in the air, so overpowering that he recalled many of his fellow soldiers vomiting. Inside the camp, conditions were beyond inhumane — prisoners barely subsisted on meager rations of food and water, driven to the brink of desperation by their tormentors. Some, in the depths of their despair, even resorted to unthinkable acts of cannibalism.

Although death saturated the very ground of Wöbbelin, unlike extermination camps like Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, or Treblinka in German-occupied Poland, it wasn’t specifically designed for immediate mass murder. Instead, its primary purpose was to house and exploit prisoners evacuated from other camps to obstruct their liberation by Allied forces. This included inmates from Auschwitz, among others.

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