You Shall Surely Remember the Holocaust

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Ki Tavo – translated by R. Blumberg]

Traveling to the Polish death camps is not something good. Any one of the following reasons should be a sufficient deterent from doing so.
(1) It is forbidden to leave Israel, except for a temporary trip related to earning a living, marrying, or performing a mitzvah. Visiting a death camp is not classified as a mitzvah, either of the Torah or of our Sages, and it is not mentioned amongst the hundreds of thousands of paragraphs found in halachic works that were written in recent generations.
(2) One should not financially support the Poles, who collaborated with the Nazis in establishing the extermination camps, and even persecuted the Jews themselves many times. Shall murderers benefit from their deeds?
(3) Oftentimes, due to the high costs, only wealthy students can afford this trip. It is a scandal that something associated with the education system should involve a division between rich and poor.
Now one might say: If this is true, how shall we remember the Holocaust? The answer is simple: books, pictures, films, Yad Vashem and similar places. One might also say: That's all well and good, but I'm missing the experience of a live visit to a death camp. The answer is simple: Hold a live meeting with one of the Holocaust survivors, of whom there are presently 87,000, and hear directly from him what he experienced.
Still again, one might argue: “But visiting a death camp is an infinitely more powerful experience than talking to a Holocaust survivor.” That argument, as well, is a cause for much puzzlement: Really? Is an enactment with inanimate objects more alive than one involving a living, breathing person?! Quite the contrary. Common sense and untainted morality dictate that all that money spent on this trip should be donated to Holocaust survivors, who are still suffering to this very day from the terrible open wounds to their body and soul.
It's true that many of them were absorbed in our country and became its builders, but many others are still suffering. Our country does a tremendous amount for these survivors, but it's natural for it not to succeed in solving all their problems. Many of them suffer from a lack of food and medical services. The State Comptroller's report from 2007 found fault with the way survivors are dealt with, even if since then their situation has vastly improved.
In sum, despite the State's prodigious assistance, we have not succeeded in answering all of their needs, especially since the Law of Assistance to Holocaust Survivors applies only to those who arrived in Israel before 5713. It's obvious that some of those who came afterwards are also suffering greatly.
But getting back to our topic – traveling to the death camps to remember what Amalek did to us there, while simultaneously forgetting the Holocaust victims who live in our midst.
If someone claims that this involves no small measure of hypocrisy, he will not be entirely mistaken. If someone is shocked by a person who prefers to spend his money on an important "death-camp experience," to assisting someone who was hurt there, thereby performing a human kindness, he is not entirely mistaken either.
Therefore, here are several practical suggestions:
1. Cancel the Poland trips and give all the money to organizations that grant assistance and support to Holocaust survivors. There are many such organizations, and you can find them by yourself. That's less complicated than all of the logistics of traveling abroad. I just would like to mention one organization that distributes free medicines to the poor, not necessarily Holocaust survivors, but including them, and its name is “Haverim LiTerufa” [Friends for Medicine].
2. Even if one does go to Poland, he should make sure that fifty-one percent of his expenses go to helping the victims themselves. That will allow one to argue that most of the allocations are going to people and a minority are going to stones and rocks.
Yet even if this suggestion is rejected, then at the very least, ten percent of one’s total expenses from the trip should be invested in those suffering terribly to this very day, as a sort of ‘Ma’aser”, a tithe. That will render us at least a little bit innocent before G-d and man.
“Look to the Rock from whence you were hewn” (Yeshayahu 51:1).