Day 1: Luton to Chopin. The class will meet by the currency exchange at the entrance to the terminal. No later than 07:35. Transportation will be the responsibility of parents, which is why Daniel Amar will get there at 07:37.
He’ll apologize to Mr. Polin, then move through the group looking for Ariel Naqqash, only to be met by Rafi, standing there with Josh Gold and Josh C. in their boyband formation. Josh C. on the left, Gold in the middle, Rafi on the right.
Here comes Bin Laden, Rafi will say. Going to blow up our flight?
Josh C. will bray, and Gold will say nothing, just stand there all cool, gelled-up quiff pointing at the overhead lights. Put a sock in it, Naqqash will say as he comes over to spud Daniel Amar hello.
Great, Rafi’ll say. Another Bollywood batty boy.
I’m Iraqi, not Indian, you fucking Cossack, Naqqash will answer.
All the same. Oi, I bet they’ll cavity search Naqqash and Amar. Bet Amar will like it, won’t you?
Not as much as your mum would, Daniel Amar will answer.
Josh C. will snort, and Gold will smirk, and Rafi will start cussing Daniel Amar out.
Curry cunt. Terrorist.
Then Rafi will ask: Why’re you even going on this trip, Amar?
I thought you don’t find the Holocaust sad.
Daniel Amar will sigh.
I never said that.
Yeah, you did.
No, I didn’t.
Amar said he was sick of Holocaust assemblies. He said it when that rebbetzin woman came to speak.
They happen like every other week. That’s all I said.
See! You’re a heartless bastard, Amar.
And before Daniel Amar will even have time to respond, Mrs. Specter’s whistle will blow.
Mr. Polin will call for the class to stand in a line while he numbers everyone off.
Remember your number, it’s yours for the rest of the trip, Polin will say, then walk up and down the line, red plastic folder in one hand, lanyard with keys in the other. A Yankees cap on his head to hide his suede kippah.
He’ll clear his throat and say: Class 3B, from now until we leave Poland, you are ambassadors. Ambassadors of our school. You will be held as an example. As students. As Jews. So, no funny business … Rafi Rosen. Joshua Cohen. Joshua Gold. No misbehaving. Now, everyone please follow me. There’ll be time for Duty Free.
Then he’ll lead the march to check-in, red plastic folder high in the air guiding the troops behind him.
When the plane touches Polish tarmac, only Polin will clap. Specter will be asleep in the seat behind him, Night face-down on her lap. Everyone will number off at least three more times. On the plane twice, then again on the shuttle bus.
When it’s Daniel Amar’s turn at passport control, Josh C. will call out from the middle of the queue: Hide your bombs, Amar.
A few people around him will gasp.
Not at the airport, dickhead, Naqqash’ll hiss.
And Josh C. will respond, Just a bit of banter.
Rafi will laugh and Gold will look away, pretending not to have heard.
At baggage claim, Naqqash’ll say to Daniel Amar: You really need to shut those pricks up.
The bus will be late, and Polin will pace back and forth making angry calls on his phone. Sitting on the curb, Naqqash will urge Daniel Amar to play a card game with his traveling deck. First Shithead, then War, because Naqqash can never remember the rules. He’ll make a show of shuffling the cards: first a riffle shuffle, then a Hindu.
He’ll ask, What’d you think the saddest part of the trip will be?
Dunno. The showers?
I heard people always cry on these trips.
What, like at the Kotel?
Naqqash will smirk. No, but apparently everyone proper cries. Benji Aden’s brother said so.
Isn’t he relig?
What’s your point?
It’s a bit pointless to cry.
Heartless, Amar, he’ll say in a mock northwest accent, twisted half-smile on his lips.
Fuck off, Rafi.
Naqqash’ll laugh and the bus will arrive before they’ve even had a chance to play.
Polin will mumble a sheepish Dzień dobry at the driver who’ll just about nod his response, cigarette between his teeth, as he loads up the hold. Polin’ll stand at the front of the bus, plan in his hands, and begin directing the class to their seats.
The students will let out a groan and Polin will say: Err, excuse me Class 3B, we’re still at school. This isn’t a holiday. Consider the bus the classroom. Gemma Levin with Jemma Green … now, please, girls.
Each of his pairings will be followed by a yessss or a silence just as telling. He’ll butcher Johnny Abrahimzada’s name and Adi Abargil-Benhamou’s as always, and the class will giggle and mime along when she’ll say: Abargil with a jeh, sir. Abar-j-il. Benhamou with an ah and an oo, sir. Ben-ha-moo.
Eventually he’ll land on Daniel Amar.
Daniel Amar, he’ll say, then do that thing where he hums his name while he scans the plan.
By Josh Gold, please.
Daniel Amar will stand there, feet stuck firm to the ground, mouth dry.
With Josh Gold, please, Daniel. Make it today…
He’ll look at Polin. Gold will be making his way up the steps.
Naqqash will give Daniel Amar a push. Come on mate, keep it moving.
He’ll read the surnames: the Steins, the Silvers, the Sterns. Look for an Awad, an Amar.
He’ll hand his suitcase to the driver and board the bus, his ears blocked from the flight. At his seat, he’ll put his bag down slowly, take out his hoodie, a water bottle, earphones. An omelet in pita wrapped up in foil. Then he’ll put it all back, unsure what to do because he’ll never have sat so close to Gold before. Never so close as to be able to smell his house on his jumper. Like pepper and paprika and vanilla scented candles. One of Gold’s arms will be circled by gifted shag bands, the other with wristbands — Livestrong, Make Poverty History and Stand Up Speak Up. Daniel Amar will notice all of this down to the stains on Gold’s jeans, then he’ll sit staring at the blank telly screen at the front of the bus.
Lunch will be late because of the flight. In the hostel common room at 13:45.
Polin will sit opposite Daniel Amar and Naqqash at the center of the table, slurping his kosher Pot Noodle, bits of mezonot rolls crumbled before him.
In between mouthfuls he’ll tell the table, A difficult trip awaits everyone. All of you. If someone needs to cry, it’s okay to cry. It’s overwhelming to see our people’s suffering and pain. We’ll leave understanding our bubbes and zaides much better.
Naqqash will scoff under his breath, Bubbe and zaide, imagine that!
And Daniel Amar will laugh. He’ll think of his savta, her red lipstick on, ladling harira soup into a bowl. Arm jingling with seven gold bangles. Shkoon hada bubbie? she asks. You want more soup?
Naqqash’ll poke at the dried bits from the flavor sachet. Why is Ashki food so terrible? he’ll ask, planting his fork in the pot like a flag.
Fuck this … Oi, Dan, what’s Gold like by himself?
Dunno. We slept the whole way.
The afternoon will be spent sightseeing in Warsaw. At the end of the day, when everyone’s ready for dinner, Polin’ll announce into the mike: Last stop, guys. The Jewish cemetery.
He’ll stand at the front of the line, red plastic folder in hand, as the class marches down the pavement to looks from passers-by. Just before the graveyard, he’ll signal to Specter, assigned to the back of the line, that they should take the alleyway on the right.
He’ll stop by a wall. I think this is the one, he’ll say to the class, moving forward. Yes, it is. Everyone, please gather round.
Daniel Amar will feel Rafi and Josh C. pushed up beside him. Unaired sweaters, spearmint gum. Everyone’ll strain their heads to see better as Polin points to the graffiti. A swastika spray-painted onto a Star of David.
He’ll point and he’ll ask the class, Does anyone know about the Polish response to survivors? About antisemitism in Poland today?
He’ll list off the facts and read a testimony from his folder, then he’ll open up the discussion and ask: Can you think of a time you were targeted for looking Jewish? for being Jewish? In London or elsewhere?
And Rafi will laugh quietly into Daniel Amar’s ear.
Bet that’s never been a problem for you, has it, Amar?
Daniel Amar will ignore him, squinting at the swastika even though he’ll see it perfectly well.
And when Polin says, Put your hands up if that is the case, Daniel Amar will do so because otherwise it’s only him, Abergil-Benhamou, and Naqqash who won’t.
Polin will tap the wall. Class 3B, this is living proof that Jew hatred didn’t go away with the Nazis. There are people out there who still want us dead. You owe it to the souls in that graveyard to never forget.
Bit heavy, Naqqash’ll say as the class resumes walking.
Have you never been targeted antisemitically? Daniel Amar will ask, hands in his pockets.
Dunno. Don’t think so. There was that security guard at Michael’s brother’s bar mitzvah. Wouldn’t let me in.
Didn’t think I was Jewish. Had to get Michael to come out while his brother was reading his Haftarah.
Is that antisemitic?
Felt antisemitic to me.
At the cemetery, Polin will point at the broken headstones, the fragments on the wall like a black-and-white mosaic. Daniel Amar will read the names on the graves, fail to decipher the Hebrew dates. He’ll think of Papi’s grave, of Mamie’s too. Limestone beige on the outskirts of Beit Shemesh. He’ll think of her matbukha, its fiery kick at the end, and whether she was really buried with the recipe like Mum always said. He’ll read the surnames: the Steins, the Silvers, the Sterns. Look for an Awad, an Amar.
At the end of the tour, Polin’ll get the class to gather before a few jagged pieces of concrete. Evenly placed in a semicircle, more bollards than gravestones.
This is a mass grave, he’ll say. Under here are hundreds of victims from the Warsaw ghetto.
And with that, Gemma F. will let out a cry like an opening shot. Naqqash will nudge Daniel Amar in the ribs, nod his head in Gemma’s direction.
It’s started, he’ll say.
Day 2: Morning travel to Łódź and an overnight stay. Naqqash and Daniel Amar will be the last to get on the bus. The class will cheer and hoot. Thirty hands clapping.
That’s enough, Class 3B, Polin’ll say through the mike. That’s the last time. Use the alarms on your phones, please, boys. The class won’t wait in the future.
Daniel Amar will meet Gold’s eyes, mutter an Alright? then sit down uncomfortably beside him, bag on his lap.
Gold’ll offer him rugelach, butter biscuits, thin slices of babka, all wrapped up in a napkin from breakfast. A golden opportunity for Daniel Amar to say something, to strike up a conversation.
Instead, he’ll turn to Gold and say, Didn’t have you down for someone that wraps up the hotel breakfast.
What’s that supposed to mean? Gold will shoot back, then turn to the window. Besides, it’s not a hotel breakfast, he’ll add, it’s the kosher shit in the boxes they’ve got stashed in the hold.
For the rest of the journey, Daniel Amar’ll be cursing himself, wondering why he made that comment. He’ll feel Gold’s knee hovering beside his, knocking against it with every pothole.
At a service station before Łódź, while everyone goes for a piss, Daniel Amar will buy snacks — Princessa wafers, Wedel bars — stashing them hurriedly into his coat.
Oi, Amar. That your dad? Rafi will ask, voice in his ear, directly behind him.
The cashier at the desk will be the only person of south Asian descent they’ve seen the whole trip.
Good one, Daniel Amar will answer. Never heard that before.
Make sure Polin doesn’t see you buying those non-kosher snacks.
Ditto, Daniel Amar will say, eyeing the box of ptasie mleczko pressed against Rafi’s thigh.
He’ll be at the door, coat heavy with treats, when he’ll hear the cashier tell Rafi he’s a few złoty short.
Ermmm … Daniel?
Daniel Amar could leave him there without a snack. Extract a small revenge.
But he won’t. Instead, he’ll dig deep into his pockets, press a load of coins into Rafi’s hands, and regret it later when Rafi calls him Panjabi MC, Al Qaeda, then tells him: Chill, it’s all banter.
After lunch, it’s off to Radegast Station. Polin will have the class gather by the sign with the Nazi font on the main building. This place acted as an Umschlagplatz for transporting the Jews from the ghetto to the camps, he’ll say. He’ll ask everyone to get on one of the wooden wagons, all thirty students of Class 3B squashed on together.
There’ll be a bit of murmuring, a few cameras flashing, followed by a pin-drop silence. People won’t know where to look. Pressed up against one another, Daniel Amar will feel Gold’s crotch dig in from behind.
Polin’ll say: We’re thirty. But often there were as many as eighty, sometimes more. No space, no privacy. Traveling for days across Europe.
Daniel Amar will tell himself that he’ll probably cry. Not that he’d want to, but it’s bound to move him. It’s Auschwitz.
Jemma’s sobs will get louder, then Adi will join her. And in the corner, Daniel Amar will notice big Michael’s eyelids flared pink.
A grand total of three, he’ll think to himself, avoiding eye contact with Naqqash.
Day 3 and day 4: Shabbat in Lublin. There will be two options for services: Traditional (prayers) or secular (a chat about prayers).
Everyone will sign up for the secular one.
But Polin will convince seven boys in the class to renege and sign up for prayers. He’ll be two boys short of a minyan. Naqqash will feel bad and convince Daniel Amar to sign up as well.
Can’t be the ones stopping them from prayers. What are we, Ashkis? He’ll say.
No, that’s exactly the point, Daniel Amar will say five minutes in, when neither of them can follow the pronunciation, the melody.
At Friday’s kiddush table, there’ll be gefilte fish, chrain, a yellow broth with a slice of carrot adrift. Polin’ll bless the wine and the bread. Tonight we’ll eat like a family, he’ll say.
If my family came from the Russian steppes, Naqqash’ll mutter under his breath. Dan, I beg you give me some of that choc you have in our room.
On Shabbat they’ll hang out in their rooms until it’s time for Havdalah at the boundary wall of the ghetto.
Polin’ll wait for three stars to appear even though he has the Shabbat times written in his planner. So that he can show the class how to read the sky and turn it into a lesson.
Then he’ll get the class to walk to the site in their pairs. Daniel Amar looking for the words, Gold as silent as ever.
Polin will bless the grape juice, the braided candle, pass around a box with cloves for besamim. After he says the Havdalah blessing, he’ll get the class to link up and sway side-to-side, singing ya-lai-lais, while Naqqash mouths to Daniel Amar: The fuck is this?
Daniel Amar will feel Gold’s hand on his back. He’ll place an unsure hand on Gold’s waist, just the tips of his fingers at first, then he’ll inch up his palm.
The heat will linger in his hand and his back long after they’ve boarded the bus.
Day 5: Tour of Majdanek camp.
At breakfast in the hostel, Rafi and Josh Gold and Josh C. will sit down opposite Naqqash and Daniel Amar. They’ll start making jokes about Specter’s Gucci handbag, her perfectly straightened hair.
She’s such a goddamn beck, Josh C. will say. Such a Radlett mum.
An absolute Jew, Rafi’ll add. I bet she has a timeshare in Miami.
Nah. A villa in Marbella, Gold’ll say.
Rafi and Josh Gold will snicker and Josh C. will smile, croissant flakes in the corner of his mouth.
I don’t get how that makes her a Jew? Daniel Amar will say.
Who was asking you, Amar? Rafi will snipe.
Just saying that doesn’t make her a Jew.
What would you know? Your mum smells of curry, he’ll add. Taunting smile.
Never even met my mum, absolute twat, Daniel Amar will say, voice half-breaking.
Josh C. will laugh, and Josh Gold will give him a pity-smile.
Specter will blow her whistle.
And Polin’ll call across the room: Class 3B, finish up and head to the bus.
At the memorial by the entry gate to Majdanek, Polin will tell the class: the Communists were quick to forget. Few of the original signs and monuments at the camps specifically mention the Jews. Then the class will tread through the grounds, noiseless and solemn.
Past the ovens, the rose garden, the shooting pits.
One by one, people will begin to cry, all the way up the mausoleum steps. Even Naqqash.
He’ll let out a sob, piercing and sad because Naqqash never cries.
Daniel Amar will fumble for tissues in the back pocket of his jeans, press them into Naqqash’s hands.
Day 6: Auschwitz with an overnight stay in Kazimierz. Daniel Amar will tell himself that he’ll probably cry. Not that he’d want to, but it’s bound to move him. It’s Auschwitz. He’ll see all those images he’s been shown a thousand times before, this time with his very own eyes.
The sign on the gate. The train-track lines. Israeli flags worn like cloaks by kids on school trips from Netanya and Rehovot.
On the bus, Polin’ll hand out special cards with a name surrounded by a flame.
Daniel Amar’s card will say:
Polin will tell the class, I want everyone to remember the person on their card as we pass through the camp. Think about who they were, how they felt coming here. They would’ve lived Jewish lives, similar to ours … just without some of our mod cons.
Then he’ll roll his eyes at Specter as if to say: The kids of today. Daniel Amar will think of Mendel from Minsk as he passes by the watchtowers. The dissection tables. The walls stained blue with gas.
He’ll picture Mendel boarding the 253 to Manor House, the 73 into town. Eating Moroccan fish on Friday night, skhina on Shabbat. His mum, sponja stick in hand, cleaning the floor to Zehava Ben, Eyal Golan.
By the time he’ll pass the heap of prosthetics, the mountain of shoes, he’ll be trying to envision Mendel’s grandparents’ home. Baba Sali portraits, hamsas by the front door. Blessings for the home engraved on plaques. Mendel spending summers restless and bored in Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Shmona. Elders with thick accents. Moroccan and Hebrew and French. Sunflower seeds and mint tea. Crunching on the shbekiya laid out for the guests, who ask things like: What’s life like in London? Is there antisemitism there? Do the Arabs cause problems there as well?
He’ll picture Mendel bored at school. On the whiteboard, a lesson about Jewish schisms in places of little relevance to him. Lithuania, Galitzia, Breslau. A Rafi in his class who makes Mendel the butt of his jokes. Calls him a terrorist, a Paki, then tells him it’s banter.
The class will gather around the pond thick with human ash. And Daniel Amar still won’t have cried. He’ll stand by the water wondering if Rafi was right. Are you a heartless bastard, Amar?
The class will light candles to honor the names on their cards. To remember to never forget.
Polin will recite the kaddish prayer. Yisgadal V’yiskadash. Then he’ll turn to the class and ask, How does everyone feel? Does anyone have anything to share?
One by one, people will speak.
They’ll start with their emotions, how they’ve been processing the day. Then they’ll dig out the family stories, the memories. Their inherited trauma, their Jewish birthright.
Gemma F.’s grandpa hid in the forest.
Jemma Green’s grandma left on the Kindertransport.
Rafi’s grandma survived Auschwitz. Has the tattoo to prove it.
Even Abergil-Benhamou has a story: her great-aunt Simi married a Libyan Jew who’d been sent to work in Giado.
First I’ve heard of it, Polin’ll respond. What about you Daniel, anything to share?
Daniel Amar will swallow.
He’ll picture Mamie wearing a two-piece suit on the corniche in Casablanca, Papi smoking a cigarette beside her, both smiling at the camera.
He’ll think of Savta Masu’da, scarf tied on her head in the middle, tea-towel on her shoulder, a pan full of oil, frying up schnitzel. You have us mistaken, she says. We came out just fine. Thank God. When the Nazis came to Morocco, the King said, I have no Jews, no Muslims. Only Moroccans. You understand, kparah a’lik?
By the time Daniel Amar is able to speak, Polin will have moved on. Josh Gold will be telling his story. Tears down his face.
Day 7: Morning tour of the Jewish district of Kraków (Kazimierz), then bus ride back to Chopin and evening flight to Luton.
In Kazimierz, the class will be confused by the Jewish-themed restaurants, neither kosher nor particularly Jewish. Polish signs in a Hebrew-esque font. They’ll switch between laughter and outrage at the souvenir shops selling Lucky Jew dolls holding coins in their hands. A few will make their way back as gifts for parents and siblings.
After Kazimierz, there’ll be a sandwich lunch on the bus (tuna mayo, smoked salmon with cream cheese) and a screening of Schindler’s List because Polin will have finally worked out how to use the telly on board.
The class will be drained, and Polin will never have their attention like this again.
He’ll tell the class, This is Spielberg’s finest. A perfect way to end the trip, because remember, after this it falls on you to take the lessons of Poland and educate others.
The opening shot will give way to the kiddush scene. Savri maranan. Jews in a line. Cufflinks. Nazis. Bottles of wine. The march to the ghettos. Jews shoveling snow. And it’ll be after the killing of the one-armed machinist, and after they shoot the architect who was only doing her job. It’ll be when they start liquidating Ghetto B and the girl in the red coat runs through the streets — that’s when Daniel Amar will cry.
A single silent tear followed by a long hard sob set to the lyrics of Oyfn Pripetshik.
As the bus pulls into Chopin and the end credits roll, Gold will be asleep, iPod on his lap. Daniel Amar will wish that Gold had seen him cry. He’ll glance at Gold’s face, his quiff still hardened with gel, and rehearse in his head what he’ll say when Gold wakes up.
And as everyone scrambles for their bags from the overhead rack, Gold will open his eyes and see Daniel Amar staring down at him.
Were you watching me sleep, Amar?
And before Daniel Amar can even respond, Rafi will barge past: Oi, move it, Bin Laden, you’re holding us up.