Following in the footsteps of his older brothers, Harold Rivner embarked on a two-week trip earlier this month in an effort to learn more about the Holocaust.
"My brothers had gone and had a really unique experience," said Harold, a 16-year-old junior at Augusta Preparatory Day School. "I went to a religious youth camp last summer and we learned that people in Europe are denying the Holocaust happened."
Because he knew very little about the Holocaust, Harold, who is Jewish, decided it was time he learned more about the persecution and genocide of millions of Jews and minority groups under Adolf Hitler's reign.
"I didn't have all the facts and I knew that in order to defend the Holocaust, I had to know more," he said.
During the March of the Living event, in which more than 8,000 people, mostly youths, participated, Harold visited historic sites in Warsaw, Krakow and Lublin.
The teenager also visited the sites of concentration camps Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek and Treblinka, where many Jews died.
"You don't want to believe it," Harold said.
At Majdanek, he said the gas chambers were still up and the walls were still blue from the excessive gas used by the Nazi regime against those races who were deemed unworthy.
"There's no way this didn't happen," said Harold, who plays baseball, basketball and soccer at Augusta Prep.
After the visit to the death camps, the group went on a three-kilometer silent march from Auschwitz to Birkenau to remember those who died.
The march was held April 25, the official Holocaust Remembrance Day.
During the second week of the two-week march, the students visited Israel, where it is estimated that 700,000 surviving Jews migrated after World War II.
Harold visited the Western Wall, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Golan Heights.
The trip provided Harold, who attends and teaches a class at Chabad Lubavitch of Augusta, an opportunity to meet Jewish youth from other cultures.
More than anything, the event was an eye-opening experience, he said.
Harold knows his paternal great-grandfather left Poland in the early 1900s and that his mother's great grandparents lived in Germany and immigrated to America before the Holocaust.
Knowing that some of his ancestors were likely killed in the concentration camps, Harold said it was important for him to take the trip to learn more about a period of history of which he knew very little.
"It just made everything seem so real," said Harold, the son of Dr. Michael and Roberta Rivner, of Augusta.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.