While traveling on a bus back from Auschwitz, Merinda Davis, a middle school teacher from Orem, asked her new Polish friend, Adam, how to pronounce the city they just left.
“It’s the city right next to Auschwitz," Davis said. "It’s where the largest concentration camp and murder site during WWII [was]. We’re just coming back from the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; the commemoration ceremony."
The ceremony was attended by almost 3,000 people, including living survivors who shared, not the horrific details of their experience, but the importance of peace and tolerance.
Davis told me one of the survivors, a rabbi, moved her at the ceremony when he performed a kaddish - a Jewish hymn of praises to God.
“They had a large tent that covered the famous watch tower in front of Birkenau," Davis said. "We were all inside of this tent. When the rabbi, who is a survivor, was performing a kaddish, standing there in front of that tower that symbolized death for over a million people, I think was really powerful for me.”
The night before the ceremony, Davis attended a reception and spoke personally with the survivors.
“The mood was I think can best be described by Paula Lebovics," Davis said. "She’s a survivor from Auschwitz, she was actually liberated there as an 11-year-old and she said, 'Silence is not an option.' Then also you had Roman Kent who said, ‘Remembering is not enough. Deeds is the obligation of the survivors and the leaders to teach what happened when hate is allowed to flourish. So we must teach tolerance and understanding. We must teach that hate is never right and love is never wrong.’”
“It’s important and necessary," Davis said. "That not only us as witnesses of their testimony but me as a teacher and then leaders and heads of state need to be actively involved in taking a stand against the anti-Semitism and against the hate and intolerance. Not just against Jews, but among all people."
UPR: How are you processing all of this? What’s going through your mind?
“It’s a little overwhelming it’s hard to describe," Davis said. "But I’m feeling very much obligated, in a good way, to continue the message and teach as many people as I can about the stories that the survivors had to tell. It’s important for us to never forget and to always remember and to take action against all intolerance.”
UPR: We mentioned in our last conversation, you started learning about this when you were 12 and so you are well versed in the history of most things that happened there, what caught you off-guard?
Davis said, "I don’t know if I want to talk about it."
She said some of the things she learned were too disturbing to share.
"As the progression of the systematic killing," Davis said. "How it progressed and the reason why it became so industrialized was not to make it more efficient to kill more people but to make it easier for the Nazi’s so that they wouldn’t have as much stress on themselves for having to kill people.”
That was Orem middle school teacher Merinda Davis, who was one of 25 teachers from 11 countries chosen by the Shoah Foundation to travel to Poland as part of ceremonies recognizing the 70th anniversary of the liberation of prisons from Auschwitz at the end of WWII.