“When I stood before the actual baby clothing, little dresses and tiny shoes that had been stripped off the infants being thrown into the gas chambers, I just couldn’t take it,” said Tehilah, one of the young Jewish girls who came to Auschwitz with a Messianic initiative called Yad B’yad, which means “Hand in Hand” in Hebrew.
“Standing there paralyzed, holding hands with my German partner, we both broke down crying and could not stop weeping as we held each other and walked through that horrible place,” she recalled. “Something very deep was healed in both of us.”
Every year since 2005, Messianic Jewish leaders in Israel together with their German partners have taken hundreds of Jewish and German youth aged 16-18 to walk through Auschwitz in the Yad B’yad program.
This bold Messianic initiative’s vision is clear: “The pain and the shame of the Holocaust have left deep scars on both Jew and German. They need help to walk together from memory – through friendship – to a shared future.”
More than half of all Israeli high schools have since the 1980s sent tens of thousands of Jewish youth to Poland and to Auschwitz to learn the history of the Holocaust. “Many of our children coming back from these trips suffer from nightmares, anxiety and even some cases of depression,” said Batya Herpas, a local city chairperson with the Department of Education. “There are many problems and unresolved issues with the current high school trips to Poland.”
Members of Herpas’ city counsel noticed that the Yad B’yad participants didn’t seem to have the same problems, and that the program could help bring healing and resolution, rather than more pain and anger to their high school teens.
When Roi Keshet, a history teacher in a local Israeli high school, heard about the Messianic Yad B’yad initiative he said that it had been his dream to see Jewish and German teens walking together through Auschwitz. Quoting from Ezekiel 17, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge,’ he admitted that, “We have a problem with a victim mentality in this country and it is time to bring healing for both German and Jewish youth.”
Many German government officers and education officials have also shown interest in the Yad B’yad journey for their communities. The mayor of Berlin recently hosted a public event in the city square for Yad B’yad kids to tell their stories of how they were helping one another overcome the past and create hope for the future.
“When I saw all the barracks and the destroyed gas chambers,” said Annika, one of the German participants, “I realized for the first time how guilty my nation was and is! I understood what my country did! This was when I understood how important it is to ask for forgiveness… I separated from the group and I asked Julia (her Jewish partner) in the name of my family and in the name of my nation Germany for forgiveness and she forgave me in the name of her family and her nation.”
A Jewish participant named Esther recalled: “At the entrance to Birkenau there are train tracks. We walked in pairs (Jew and German) for about ten minutes holding hands… then each pair sat and prayed together. At first my partner and I were silent, then we began sharing our hearts with each other about what we had just seen. We were both in tears… Then my partner began to pray for me in German and even though I couldn’t understand her, it was like God’s grace touching my heart.”
While in Auschwitz, the young ones light candles as a reminder that even through the darkest hours of human history our people have not been destroyed. It is a small light to remind all of us that hope is our strength, not anger. It is a light, however small, of hope for a future where they and their children’s children will find a way out of the darkness towards a day when we can all say together, “Never Again.”