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Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat 2008: Day #2

Tuesday, November 4th. We held our first small group councils this morning before breakfast, 7 – 8:30 am. We have four small groups each faciltated by two experience Auschwitz retreat staff and council facilitators and each with 7 or 8 participants including the facilitators. The groups varies but all reported deep sharing from our experiences at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II (Birkenau) yesterday. After breakfast we returned to Birkenau of a day of our traditional bearing witness retreat schedule:

10 am: Sitting Meditation and reading the names of the death camp victims at the infamous Selection Site

11:30 am: Optional religious services at various locations around Birkenau — Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim services.

1:00 pm: Lunch (a bowl of soup and piece of bread) served just outside the gates of Birkenau from a van.

2:00 pm: Sitting Meditation and reading the names of the victims at the Selection Site

3:30 pm: Silent pilgrimage walk to Crematoria I, circumambulation of the crematoria, and the saying of Kaddish in Hebrew/Aramaic, Polish, English, French, German, Arabic, and Turkish.

4:30: Silent walk through Birkenau to front gate and bus back to the dialog center.

Then after dinner, we held a very powerful spiral council with the whole group. Seven chairs in the inner circle surrounded by 24 chairs in the outer bearing witness circle. Once people share in the inner circle they can return to the bearing witness circle and someone else can joint the inner/council circle. This was definitely one of the most powerful spiral councils I’ve had the opportunity to participate in. The spiral council form some times works better than other times. This time the inner/council circle was almost always full and people went right into depth and essense sharing the experiences of these two days bearing witness in the death camps. Some of our Rwandan friends shared both their experience here at Auschwitz and something of their experience in Rwanda. I experience our group moving into deep community. It feels like and incredible privilege and precious opportunity to be sharing so deeply with an international group of such diversity.

Tomorrow we begin our re-visioning work … our goal this year is to revision the Auschwitz Bearing Witness Retreat in a larger conteact of reconcilation work and genocide prevention, and also to plant the seeds for launching other bearing witness retreats around the world, like the one we are planning in Rwanda next year.

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