Question: Is it good, worthwhile and appropriate to go to see the extermination camps in Poland in order to remember what Amalek did to us, and to thereby become stronger in one’s fear of G-d? While one is there, one can also visit the graves of the great Rabbis.
Answer: No, for seven reasons, any one of which would suffice:
1. There is a halachic prohibition against leaving the Land of Israel. It is brought down in the Talmud, the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim Chapter 5) and the Shulchan Aruch. This is a prohibition like any other, and it cannot be overridden due to human emotions. Rambam takes the strict approach, and only permits leaving the Land temporarily for two great Mitzvot: learning Torah and marrying. The Tosafot permit leaving for any Mitzvah, but visiting extermination camps is not classified anywhere as a Mitzvah, just as there is no Mitzvah to visit Egypt to see where we were enslaved, or to visit Spain to see from whence we were exiled, or to visit any of the many other countries where we suffered. Were there such a Mitzvah, it would have to be defined in the Shulchan Aruch. Were there such a Mitzvah, we would expect to have seen our greatest Torah luminaries going there, and even taking the strict approach of going there many times.
2. People claim that such trips have educational value, hence the trips are integrated into the school curriculum. And yet it cannot be that there are activities for wealthy students capable of paying 6,000 Shekels ($1700) that are closed to poor students who will have to suffer financially to attain such a sum. Is this educationally sound?
3. And all the more so, it’s not educationally sound that the Poles are going to benefit financially because of the extermination camps were located in their country. It was no accident that the Nazis chose this country, because the vast majority of Poles were anti-Semites. The Poles were happy to see us in these camps. They did not blow up the train tracks that led to them. They did not provide shelter to those who fled from them. They even carried out a pogrom after the Holocaust. They stole our homes and refused to return them to the Jews who came back from the extermination camps. Until today trials are going on over this.
4. Furthermore, fleeting emotions or transient shocks do not educate one to fear G-d or to adopt any other important characteristic. Emotions are easy come, easy go. Education involves a long-term yoke and constant hard work.
5. True, there are Rabbis who accompany their students and give them important Torah lectures along the way, yet for that there is no reason to leave Eretz Yisrael. We have Yad Vashem and similar sites here. We have got films and books, and camp survivors to whom we can listen directly, instead of seeing an artificial reconstruction of the shacks that housed them.
6. As for those survivors, we must realize that some of them are still living. Many are alone, poor, sick, suffering, and short of money to buy medicine, food or heat. It seems a lot more educational to give them the six thousand Shekels. In fact, it seems very uneducational to look for "thrills" far from here, instead of showing kindness to those who are suffering, which is a clear Mitzvah of the Torah. Locating the organizations that help the survivors takes five minutes on the Internet.
7. As for those holy Rabbis who are buried abroad, without a doubt, if anyone were to ask them, they would prefer that time and money be invested in learning their books rather than leaving Eretz Yisrael to visit their graves.
Here’s a general principle to remember: Devote yourself to the Mitzvot G-d commanded us, and don’t invent other Mitzvot.