At Auschwitz, I learned whom Im living for

a local voice

I look around, and they are all crying. They are crying because they are petrified.

They are crying because they are angry.

They are crying because they simply cannot wrap their minds around the fact that millions of people were murdered on the soil they stand on at this very moment.

They are so pained. But they are here because they are serving a purpose.

Here, in Auschwitz in 2006, they have come to prove that the Jews have overcome, that the Jews are still alive.

They are here despite the tall, daunting watchtowers, the thick metal ovens, the chambers whose walls are stained green with toxic gas.

And unlike so many who entered through the steel gates, the barbed wire fences, under the sign that reads, “Work Makes You Free,” they are Jews who will leave this place physically unharmed.

I am not crying. I am not feeling. I am looking at huge, blown-up photographs of small children, walking hand-in-hand, following the path toward death.

I am smelling the awful stench as I walk by a case that holds mounds upon mounds of chopped human hair.

I am walking, walking. I am not crying. I see vast amounts of belongings that were left behind: eyeglasses, shoes, books.

I see the remnants, in a tacky display that does no sort of justice to the 6 million lives taken.

My brain tells me that this is sad. My brain tells me that I am so lucky to be alive in this time.

My brain spins, giving me commands, telling me how I should feel, what I should be thinking about. I want to feel. But I am numb.

Here, at Auschwitz, I am immersed in the unbearable silence, only broken by stifled sobs. Shoes squeak on the polished floor, making everyone uncomfortable, too rushed, or not rushed enough.

I want to wait, I want a sense of understanding to take me over.

Yet all I can think about is my desire to run away, to escape this place that makes me feel like a phony, like a fake Jew.

It is as we are leaving, as our multicolored, plasticky tour bus glides along, in stark contrast to the gray, ugly and unsettling Polish countryside, that I cry. More for myself. More because I know that I am not living the way I should. I am not living the way they did, the Jews who marched for miles, who were humiliated and tortured, with gold Stars of David around their necks, proud and unwilling to let what happened then destroy us here, now.

And so, if you ask me now what I will live for, what I will die for, it is for them: The children in the pictures, the naked, frail bodies that were shoveled into ditches, and for the ones who survived, to create future generations; for them, those who devote their lives to sustaining the Jewish community, and those who try to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, so it will never happen again.

For the present and for the future, I will live for the Jews.

Talia Sinkinson, 17, is a senior at Oakland High School who visited Poland with Camp Ramah.