Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
Today started out quite early with a 6:30am wake up and a quick 5 hour bus ride to Nuremberg. LC and I caught up on some Zs, only waking up after a quick pit stop at McDonalds wherein I ordered an iced coffee and ended up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a cup of coffee.... you could say I’m excited for some dunkies back in the bean.
We arrived at the hotel around 12:30 and had to make a quick turnaround to grab lunch at a nearby train station. We hustled back to the bus to head to the courthouse where the Nuremberg trials were held aiming to bring the Nazis and those responsible for the Holocaust to justice. We were able to sit in the actual courtroom and learn about the set up of the trial, where the prosecutors, judges, defense, and eyewitnesses were sitting. After the audio in there we were able to walk through the actual museum and learn about all different aspects of the trial. Some interesting information I learned was that the defense tried to use the argument that the allied forces committed some similar crimes against humanity during the war but this argument was not accepted by the court. The world finally found out, by testimony of witnesses and victims, the true scale of the Holocaust and how horrible it actually was. Film footage helped speed up this process of informing and educating the world on the genocide, documenting for all of time what happened during World War II.
We then headed to the Documentation center where we focused on a display about Leni Riefenstahl, a filmmaker who created a Nazi propaganda piece called ‘Triumph of the Will’. This controversial piece shows Germany under national socialism and glorifies everything about the Third Reich. We watched parts of the film in class and many students pointed out the sensationalized Nazi youth camps as well as the fact that almost everyone captured in a close up on video was blonde haired and blue eyed.
After leaving this museum we visited the Nazi rally grounds, a previously concrete stadium turned into a spot to, strangely, hang out, also including a few soccer fields in the central part. Apparently a restoration of the rally grounds could be in the works; however, it has massive costs and begs the question: why restore it?
We headed back to the hotel, handed in our Bugatti’s and Whispers, and headed out to our last group dinner. I once again made a poor food choice and got spaghetti instead of something cool like ox tails but at least I have learned my lesson. Our talent show turned vine-off ended the night perfectly, Sofia closing off with her poetry, giving us all a reminder of why we came on this journey.
As our last full day comes to an end, I can only think of what we have done so far. The first night at the Hofbrau Wursthaus as a big group seems like a million years ago. I cannot believe this trip will be over in less than 24 hours.
Today was the last full day of the Eastern Europe trip and as I briefly reflect (while sitting here in the Motel One in Germany) I can reflect upon my reactions and begin to understand why I acted the way I did. As my alarm rang at 6:30am, 6:45am, and 6:50am, my roommate and I got ready for our departure to Nuremberg at 8:00 am. On the bus, immediately I reclined my chair and slept on and off during the 4 hour ride and even had a quick morning snack break consisting of McDonald french fries.
We visited the Court which held the Nuremberg trials and eventually went to the documentation center which pretty much summed up the rise and fall of the Nazi Regime. Personally I find the Nuremberg trials to be fascinating and the verdict was a big achievement in the international criminal justice system but the museum was rather boring and congested. I had no idea that they had redone the Court’s layout for this trail and the architect who had remodeled it was an American.
My favorite part of today was seeing the Zeppelin field. What a wild site man. The scenery is beautiful. It consisted of a huge pond and duck boats, baby carriages and gleaming parents, kids on bikes and skates, and an immense soccer field/ track field area. Now this field was once Hitler’s area for his obnoxious speeches. As seen in Triumph of the Will, Hitler used this stadium to emphasize his rising Nazi power. Now fast forward to today: I would not have envisioned this nice scenery to be mixed with decaying cement steps and platform. 65 million euros is being used to restore this place. In my opinion, I would have let it rot.
Throughout this whole trip I have seen how these places have confronted their history and personally I still see a skewed and ignorant views of what truly happened in 1939-1945. Whether it is a tour guide firmly believing that AfroGermans never existed during the era, visibly seeing racial discrimination of an AfroGerman, or stupid teens doing the Hitler salute on the Zeppelin platform, you ask yourself: how effective this has all been for this country? Hey I refuse to let a handful of people do ignorant horrible things in 2018 and let it define the country as a whole but I have definitely begun to question how we, as Americans can confront our history. As a collective group, we have come together in order to educate one another and I appreciate that we can create a safe environment in Europe, which different opinions can be expressed. Now we just have to bring that back to the classroom.
Today was bittersweet. It was our last full day in Eastern Europe. We left Prague early in the morning and started our journey to Nuremberg. The bus ride was around 4 hours and most of us fell asleep on the ride there. Seeing the Nuremberg trail courtroom was really cool! It symbolized international criminal justice and the end of the impunity for war crimes. Being in the actual courtroom was fascinating. It was also really interesting to me how during this time Nuremberg was the city of the Nazi party and the racial laws yet the trails were still held here. The documentation center was eerie to me because in the beginning of the museum it showed how many idolized Hitler, the pictures of people crying to be in his presence will always be crazy to me. The rally pictures also showed us how everything had to be in Hitler’s liking or else it did not work, everything had to revolve around him and follow tradition.
Seeing this and walking on the Nazi party rally grounds blew my mind because we were able to stand in the same place Hitler did as we saw in Triumph of the Will. Though I couldn’t bring myself to stand where Hitler stood, but I saw the height and perspective he must have gotten from the people surrounding him. As Ms. Freeman said the people must have looked like ants from his viewpoint. It was also really weird how many people rode their bikes or brought their children around here. I felt as though the history of the Nazi party rally grounds has been normalized, accepted in people’s everyday lives, but I feel as though it shouldn’t be. It also made me think of how at home we live in places where the Native Americans were slaughtered and killed. We don’t have the places named and pointed out, we don’t really even think about that. I don’t think seeing places where people were killed should ever be something that is normalized in our society.
The more I study the Holocaust the more baffled I seem to get. Going to the euthanasia center and concentration camps and gas chambers makes you wonder why over and over again. Seeing the hair the Nazis took from these people and the room full of tons and tons of shoes, some the size of my fingers, and seeing pictures of real people who once lived their lives breaks my heart. I’ll never forget walking into the gas chamber at Majdanek and reading the poem Treblinka by Michael Hamburger. It shows you how truly disgusting these events were. We stood in the place where tons of people were killed. The amount of hatred the Nazi party carried is something I’ll never be able to comprehend because it’s such a repulsive thing. These people lacked humanity, they lacked everything that in my opinion makes us human.
This trip has been absolutely mind blowing, it forced you to think. I never laughed and cried so much in 13 days before. I’ll never forget all the amazing people I had the pleasure of meeting and the feelings of empathy/this idea of humanity we must all carry.
Thank you Ms. Freeman, Mr. Gavin, Mr. Howard, Ms. Foley, Julie, and the 48 wonderful students for making this trip something I’ll never forget!
Guten tag! We’re finally back in Germany, after a few hours of napping on our bus. We didn’t waste the day though. Right after a quick lunch, we went to the famous Nuremberg Courthouse, where we were able to explore an exhibition dedicated to the Nuremberg Trials, which was super cool. The Nuremberg Trials initiated the revision of laws regarding humanity and war, making this place inspirational to be in. The idea that all was fair in war was abolished due to these trials, forcing the major world powers to sit down and agree on what constituted as crimes against humanity. So much good has come from these trials. Sitting in the courtroom where some of the most notorious war criminals were brought to justice was moving, for me.
Next on our list, we went to Nuremberg’s old documentation center. Inside was a museum focusing on Nuremberg’s affect and importance in Nazi Germany. Nuremberg was the place of many pivotal events. The Nazis chose Nuremberg as the location for some of their major Nazi conventions, called the Nuremberg rallies, which were used as propaganda events. Hitler also ordered the convening of the Reichstag in Nuremberg to pass the infamous Nuremberg laws. This museum further taught us of the significance of this city which we were in, making it pretty eerie to be touring.
Before we could go to our final dinner, we took a walk to the Zeppelinfeld. This is a massive stadium built for the Nazis to hold conventions. To know how packed full of supporters this stadium was in Nazi Germany was sobering and standing where Hitler stood to speak to these supporters was eerie. It is impossible not to notice how aged this stadium has become. We were told that it would cost millions of euros to refurbish the Zeppelinfeld, which the government hopes to raise and do in the next decade. This posed the question: should the Zeppelinfeld be refurbished and kept, torn down, or left to decay? For me, I could go any way. I understand the level of importance in keeping this around for the purpose of remembering history, but the Zeppelinfeld was built architecturally the way it was so that it would last for generations- this was the Nazi’s intention. In a way, by keeping this stadium around and in tact, aren’t we keeping the Nazi dream alive? I also noticed when walking along the stadium that swastikas were drawn and carved into the steps. Does this place not serve as a way of facing history, but as a place for the wrong types of people? With all of this in mind during our discussion over the question, I think that the Zeppelinfeld should be left to decay and crumble on its own.
Our last night was spent at a delicious group dinner that was topped off with a talent show. This group of hilarious, cool people were better than I could ever have imagined and I could not imagine thirteen days travelling with anyone else. So, with all of that said, goodbye Eastern Europe, you will be missed!
On the bus ride over, we watched the movie the White Rose, about the Scholl siblings who protested WW2. The origins of their outrage (especially Sophie Scholl) are questionable since their main issue is that Germans are dying in a war they are destined to lose, and Sophie’s fiancée just so happens to be a soldier. She joined the Bund Deutscher Madel which was a pro-Hitler group of German girls.The Scholl family is affluent and purely German, and the treatment of the Jewish population didn’t really seem to influence their protests. Throughout the film, she was pictured as defiant in the face of impending death and is admired today in Germany for doing so.
Going into the Nuremberg trials courtroom, I didn’t know much about it other than that’s where suspected Nazis were tried. The courtroom itself is now reconfigured, yet the green marble over one of the main doors remains the same. It’s two figures, one representing Roman law, and the other representing Anglo-Saxon law. It didn’t occur to me that at the time, the US and Germany didn’t have the same legal system. Watching the white rose gave us a taste of how it worked- suspects would be questioned in front of an audience and that was kind of it. In the US, there’s cross-examinations of witnesses, a jury, etc. That’s why the Nazis being tried objected to the whole preceding- why should they follow the court system of another country? This brought up a really big question: still today, how can nations of the world hold other nations accountable for things like genocide? It’s scary to think that the leaders in places like Myanmar have the potential to not face consequences for persecuting an entire population like the Rohingya.
The Nuremberg Documentation Center section on Triumph of The Will by Leni Riefenstahl forced viewers to see the propaganda in current politics today. One thing Leni did in her propaganda film about Hitler was have many shots of his adoring fans, and was selective in choosing women and children in the front, with the intention to manipulate viewers into thinking that Hitler the true people’s man. This is seen today’s political rallies- Trump seems to always have young college girls behind him holding up a “women for Trump” sign, and Clinton’s rallies always have a very diverse group of people right behind her. The Apprentice is a program meant to show viewers that Trump, a “billionaire mogul” is so connected to his people that he will handpick someone to be his right hand. Hitler had similar ideas in terms of showing how in touch he was with his people by continuously holding rallies and giving speeches about the unification of Germany.
At Courtroom 600, where the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals were held beginning in 1946.
Today started off as simple as any other, we got our breakfast and loaded onto the bus for a 1.5 hour ride to Terezin. I honestly don’t know what I expected to see, I knew from class that Terezin was kind of a freak show and used as a “show camp”. I hadn’t seen pictures so I didn’t know exactly what I was going to see. Once we arrived among the buttresses and moat, the nature of the camp became even more confusing. The beautiful fortress campus was unlike any other forced labor camp we had seen. There was a city within the fort, cobblestone roads lined the interior, and furnished beds were on display in the central fortress building. The most beautiful part about the fortress, while briefly setting aside the atrocities that took place there, was the artwork on display created by the inmates. Beautiful artwork representing the life of an artist imprisoned because they were identified to be enemies of the state. Mind boggling.
After lunch in Terezin, we toured the fortress even more and walked through the various tunnels and cell blocks which existed pre WWII. We then made our way back to Prague, to take a look at the castle on top of the hill. Words can’t describe how beautiful and grand the place was. I’m sure families will share photos, but I felt like I was a part of a different fantasy world in the Middle Ages. It was an out-of-time experience. After touring the markets, we made our way down to the center of Prague, and met up at an underground jazz club.
The performers were phenomenal and their music was unlike anything I had ever heard of before. I bought a CD just to listen to it again. It was a mixture of modern jazz, blues, Czech and Middle Eastern music. They were recording a documentary for the group, so whenever that comes out all of BLS Eastern Europe will most likely be featured in it. We are all enjoying ourselves a lot. The food here is delicious and we just celebrated somebody’s birthday. I would definitely come here again if I could when I’m older.
Before today, I thought I had learned and understood everything I had to know about the Nazis. Today’s experience at Terezin proved me completely wrong.
After visiting both Auschwitz and Majdanek, I thought I knew a thing or two about concentration camps. But Terezin was different. The set up itself was so contradictory. We walked past a building which served as a “lending library” one where the Nazis would give out books to the people being deported to their inevitable death at Auschwitz-Birkenau. All of the trains returned back with no people, but filled with books.
One of our first stops at Terezin was a building that hosted CLASSES for people residing in the camp such as art music and theatre! It was so incredibly difficult to wrap my head around: how could the Nazis, knowing that they were going to deport and gas all of these people, still treat these people as almost human?
I was so used to their dehumanization of individuals which is why Terezin just shocked me so much. Terezin was known as one of the most prominent camps for artists, writers, and musicians, and this was clearly reflected through the works displayed in the museum. I found it interesting how Terezin musicians used their faith in their music even while in the camp or in Viktor Ullman's case, his allegorical opera the Emperor of Atlantis, to express anti-Nazi sentiments. The Nazis continued to let performances and plays of this type continue, completely oblivious to the blatant symbolism in nearly all of these works depicting an unfavorable view of them.
One exhibit in Terezin also focused on an iconic piece of propaganda filmography taken of Terezin. Filled with smiling faces, food, and even a soccer game, this film made it seem like it really wasn’t too horrible of a place to live. Yet, right after this film was made a huge deportation to Auschwitz occurred, resulting in the death of many of people who appeared smiling in that film.
We later went to a fortress that was used during World War II by the Nazis as a prison inside of Terezin. Here, I saw some of the most perverse, shocking, things I have seen this entire trip. First, were the sinks. Under pressure from the Danish government, the International Red Cross visited Terezin to investigate its living conditions. What they found in this section of the prison, were clean, sanitary facilities including well made sinks. However, this was all a facade: none of the sinks were even connected to water. The Red Cross, after seeing these facades put in place by the Nazis, ended up giving Terezin a favorable review, not warranting any further investigation!
The next insane thing I saw was the Terezin swimming pool, its back nearly touching the other side of the wall in which so many prisoners were executed. You may be thinking: why a swimming pool at a concentration camp? It was for the SS officers and their families to relax in, only feet away from the site where people were being murdered every day.
Overall, today was an incredible, life changing day and I felt extremely confused yet also intrigued about the contradictory nature of Terezin.
Goodbye, Poland! And hello Prague. We start our day off early this morning, with a wake up call at 5:30. By 6:45, all of us are on the bus, saying our final goodbyes to our lovely bus driver Alec. Everything at the airport goes by smoothly and efficiently, and before we know it, we are on our (mini) plane heading towards Prague (or as the hip people call it, Praha).
Everybody passes out on the plane; I wake up maybe half way through and take a look around me, only to find rows and rows of my fellow students fast asleep. That’s the ultimate trick to surviving this trip: Sleep when you can. And we do.
After we land (and after we all wake up), we meet our new bus driver, whose name I already forgot. Now I believe fully that you can learn a lot about a place by looking out the window. That seemed to be the mindset of many, as we put our phones down to see what was outside, curious as to how Prague would rank compared to Berlin and other places we’ve visited. Maybe 15 minutes after Mrs. Freeman warns us of the constantly drunk men and pickpockets on the streets of Prague, a man outside makes direct eye contact with me, points at our bus, and pulls down his pants, smacking his buttcheecks. Welcome to Prague. Haha.
But really, we’ve all grown to love it here. Or many have, for the most part. The first place we visit is the Pinkas Memorial Synagogue, a place that reminded me of one of the exhibits at the Auschwitz concentration camp museum. On the entire bottom floor, and extending above, were the names of Jewish Czechs who fell victim to the Nazis. These names were written on the walls, with the family name written in a stark red, and all other information written in black. Like the Auschwitz exhibit, where a giant book of roughly 4 million Holocaust victims stood, I was once again able to find my last name on the wall of this Synagogue. Incredibly eerie. My family’s relationship with the Holocaust is something I want to research more; it’s something I know very little about. Yet at Auschwitz, the name “Hofmann,” took up almost three whole pages.
Anyway, on the top floor of this synagogue were children’s drawings. Most came from Terezin, which we’ll be visiting tomorrow. We’ve seen some of these pictures before, as replicas were displayed in Washington, but there were many drawings on this upper floor, and I could have spent hours studying each one. As we’ve already discussed in Facing, children’s drawings hold such an incredible importance, as children are able to depict things in a way that is unfiltered, unedited, neutral, and yet fully aware. Each drawing is different, some happy, some sad, and some completely normal, like they could be the drawing of any other kid. But to see an SS guard drawn from the perspective of a 10 year-old...that’s a perspective worth holding onto. It’s worth studying.
People were blasting through that part of the synagogue though, mainly non-Facing students, so unfortunately I felt rushed looking at each drawing. I hadn’t finished, but, regardless, we had to keep moving.
Our next destination was the Old Jewish Cemetery, similar, but different nonetheless from the cemetery we visited in Kraków, Poland. First of all, while Poland is today incredibly Catholic and religious, religion isn’t widely practiced in Prague—mostly everyone is atheist. Knowing this made me think of the Prague cemetery a little differently, more of as a place of remembrance than as a place of heavy religion and worship. Both cemeteries had been significantly damaged by the Nazis, though, so they both share that element of destruction and their ability to withstand it. What I found especially interesting was the difference in the cemeteries’ surrounding walls. The outer wall in the Polish cemetery was formed using the tombstones that the Nazis had trampled and nearly destroyed. That didn’t exist in Prague, and I wonder why. Nonetheless, both cemeteries are extremely beautiful places, and ones that demonstrate the human power of resilience and defiance.
I’m getting sleepy so I am going to wrap this up, even though there is much more to say. Maybe I’ll continue it tomorrow. Overall though, the rest of the day was really special. As this trip is one with very emotionally triggering experiences, days like these are immensely valuable. We spent time enjoying each other’s company, growing closer, and preparing ourselves for the more difficult days. I will never forget lying in the grass next to some body of water, simply realizing how beautiful it is to be alive.
Today was the day we would finally arrive in Prague, and since our flight was so early, it was also one of the few days we also had to wake up super early: 5:30 AM. I had heard so many good things about Prague, especially about the views, so I was really excited to be there. I was also feeling a lot better from yesterday. I’m not sure if this is necessary information, but I had vomited three times yesterday over the course of the day, and it was terrible. I forced myself to eat breakfast in the morning even though my body was rejecting everything and after vomiting, I ate nothing for the rest of the day. I was so worried I’d still feel the same way today, but luckily, after getting a LOT of sleep (I slept at 8:30PM!!), I was ready to take on Prague!
For breakfast, we got ourselves some bagged food (it was OK, although I didn’t eat much of it and felt bad) and headed straight to the airport for our flight to Prague. I had to dump out all my water in order to get through security, so I went and bought two bottles of water, only to find out they were sparkling waters (which I didn’t really like). I still poured it all into my 1L plastic water bottle that I had been lugging around with me the entire trip though, and made off to the plane. Once again however, misfortune struck me. I realized I had somehow lost my water bottle as I was getting on to the shuttle bus that would take us to the airplane, which made me incredibly sad because I had used that water bottle for a memorable 5 days. I had even spent some time fixing it up after it got all dented. Resigned to a flight without water, I got on the (incredibly tiny!) airplane and got ready for some shut-eye. Obviously, since things were working out great for me, I slept for a good 10 minutes and spent the rest of the flight attempting to get comfortable and trying to sleep.
Eventually we arrived in Prague, and determined to fight the bad luck I had so far, I spotted the nearest store selling water and got me a bottle of cool, still water. After that, we went on a bus, then walked to our hotel, all the while taking in the city of Prague, which I thought lived up to its praises. It was an incredibly beautiful city, and I was staring in awe at the marvelous buildings. After we got settled, Ms. Freeman took us on a walking tour of the old town of Prague. It was amazing. We explored the winding, cobblestoned streets of the city as we explored different synagogues. The first one we went to was Pinkas Synagogue. It was truly a sight. The synagogue-turned-museum had names of around 78000 Czech Jews that fell victim to the Holocaust, and on the second level, there were children’s drawings and pictures they did themselves in one of the concentration camps, which were so powerful. To think these kids had lived in one of the Nazi concentration camps and put their feelings into paper in the form of art; there were some really incredible ones as well, and you could feel the loss of potential as you viewed each drawing and read in the caption that the child who drew it had died. After that, we went to the Spanish synagogue, which was one of my favorite parts of the day. This was a synagogue created by Sephardic Jews, who originated in the Iberian peninsula (where Spain and Portugal are located) and migrated to different parts of Europe after the Spanish Catholics kicked them out. The synagogue itself is reminiscent of mosques of the Islamic faith, which contains a lot of intricate patterns of flowers and detailed designs. This is really interesting, at least for me, because up until the late 13th century, Islamic kingdoms controlled most of the Iberian peninsula, which goes to show why the Sephardic Jews were influenced by Muslims; it was because Islamic culture permeated into Jewish life during the Middle Ages in Spain as well. I just loved how I could make these connections and learn more about different cultures. Honestly, history is so cool!!
After visiting the synagogues, we eventually crossed this huge and beautiful (I’ve used this adjective so many times, but it seems to be the only adjective to describe such a beautiful city) bridge built a LONG time ago, and the view was INCREDIBLE. We ended up at the side of a river, where we spent a lot of time resting and having fun with friends (there was also a lot of picture taking involved!).
After a nice long break at the side of the river, we walked back to a landmark (Ms. Freeman designated certain buildings as landmarks so that we wouldn’t get lost in the very confusing streets), and she let us loose for the evening to get dinner and explore the city. I went with a few other friends to a very nice Italian restaurant which had great food. Afterwards, we tried really, really hard to find our way back to the bridge, but after a good 45 minutes of confusion, we gave up that venture and settled on eating ice cream and buying souvenirs. We eventually found our way back to the hotel at around 10 PM, and settled for a good night sleep since we’ll be waking up at 6:30 AM in the morning tomorrow. It was a really fun day, and a breath of fresh air after the heavy stuff we experienced a few days ago.
This morning we woke up (too early) at 5:30am in preparation for our flight to Prague out of Warsaw Chopin airport.
Once at the airport, it was time to say goodbye to our amazing Polish bus driver, Alek. Alek has stayed with us throughout our time in Poland driving us everywhere, dropping us off and picking us up in places that definitely aren’t designed for buses to stop. He has also made a number of seemingly impossible sharp turns on small streets with a 50-something person bus.
Once in the airport, we checked luggage and got through security. Airport security in Europe has surprised me because we don’t even need to take off our shoes most times, even when flying internationally. There is museum security in America more aggressive than European flight security.
The plane we were taking to Prague was relatively small; it had propellers on the wings instead of jets, and our group took up 52 of the plane’s 68 seats. Most people slept on the flight, but some had conversations or did homework. The flight seemed quite short: it only took about an hour and a half.
We then rode the bus for an hour before arriving in the city. Prague itself at first glance is similar to other places we have been. It has a mix of old and new, new stores in old buildings, glass skyscrapers next to smaller older spaces. There is also lots of graffiti on bridges and walls.
After unpacking at the hotel, we walked to the Palladium Mall for lunch. It was an average mall, not really any different than those in America.
We then walked around the preserved Jewish section of Prague. Most memorably, we went into the Pinkas Memorial Synagogue, which has walls completely FILLED with names of Jewish Czechs who were victims of the Holocaust. This gigantic hand painted list spread from wall to wall, room to room, chronicling the lives lost. Also in that Synagogue were original drawings from children at Terezin, some of which detailed normal things like dishes or shoes, others which showed daily lives in the camp. It was moving, seeing the drawings and sketches from children subjected to such horror. Behind this Synagogue was Europe’s oldest surviving Jewish cemetery, graves squished together and bodies layered on top of one another to preserve space.
After walking through the Jewish quarter we walked through the center of Prague. At this point I started to dislike Prague, as there were crowds of tourists everywhere and we were trudging along in the 80 degree heat. It wasn’t until we got off the side of the Charles Bridge and entered the Mala Strana (“lesser town”), which is lined with parks and is much less crowded than the more tourist filled parts of town, that I began to enjoy the scenery of Prague. Our group ended up stopping by the river that went under the bridge to take photos and rest in the shade, which was a lot of fun and a good break from the heat and walking.
After walking up to Wenceslas Square, we split off for dinner. As the sun set, the temperature dropped and the density of crowds decreased. After getting dinner and dessert within Prague’s Old Town, I realized that although that area is a tourist trap, the intricacies and detail of the architecture are truly something to marvel at. The culture is hidden on main streets covered in designer watch stores, but looking into small shops full of wood carvings or marionettes reveals a more hidden side to this city full of drunken British tourists.
So whats up guys as Aaron would say for his vlog. We started this day with an extra early 5:30 wake up call to go to Prague from Warsaw. We got mediocre bagged lunch from the hotel and left for Chopin airport in Warsaw. We boarded a rather scary propeller plane which we occupied most of. Almost everyone slept from when we took off to when we landed. As we arrived in Prague, no one was prepared for the heat. We had moved considerably farther south and it was 82 degrees out. Everyone was still wearing pants and coats which were necessary in Poland.
In Prague, we boarded a new bus and drove through the beautiful Czech countryside, but it was not the same without our Polish bus driver Alek. Eventually, we reached a tunnel and when we emerged from the darkness, the entire city was visible. We drove into the city and marveled at the architecture. If anything stands out about Praha, it's the buildings. Prague was the only major European capital not to be severely bombed during WWII.
When we got off the bus, we quickly checked into our hotel and then left for lunch at the mall and ATMs. Next we started a walking tour of the old town and Jewish quarter. Along the way, we saw buildings from Prague's medieval period to present. Specifically, the only example of Cubist architecture in the world exists in Prague. In the Jewish quarter, we visited a Synagogue. Its walls were painted with the names and towns of every known Czech Jew murdered in the holocaust. Needless to say, the number of names is incomprehensible. Outside, we saw a Jewish cemetery which was miraculously preserved. Some of the tombstones dated to the middle ages.
After another brief walk, we arrived at what is called the Spanish synagogue, named for it's Spanish style architecture. It is almost more reminiscent of a mosque than a synagogue. From there we walked to Charles bridge. This 14th century construction bridges the Vltava river and is lined with statues and souvenir vendors. When we reached the other side we walked to a river bank and took pictures in between hand stands and wheel barrow races.
We then walked across a different bridge back into old town where we split up for dinner. Shoutout to Bobby who turned 18.
Hello everyone! I was gonna spend this time writing in my journal, but hey, I can just copy this post in later! Hitting two birds with one stone!
We got up around 7:30 cuz both my roommate and I slept through our alarms. Breakfast was really good and I'm kinda disappointed I didn't have more pancakes.
With regard to the more interesting parts of the day, we went to a total of 3 MUSEUMS today! It seems like a lot but it was a lot of fun! First of all, today is April 19th, the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising! (A brief history lesson in case you need it: a Nazi officer wanted to give Hitler a wonderful gift for his birthday, which is April 20th. He decided that completely clearing out the Warsaw Ghetto would be the perfect gift. Long story short, he failed thanks to the Jewish Youths getting together to fight against one of the strongest armies in the world. Knowing the end was near, they wanted to die in honor, so they picked up their arms and fought. Even though they were eventually crushed, their names are remembered in history as great Jewish revolutionaries and they represent the strength of the community.) It was even more special because today actually marks the 75th anniversary.
We visited the POLIN Museum for the History of the Polish Jews, which was my personal favorite of all the ones we visited today. We were a bit time crunched because we wanted to make it to the big ceremony outside for the anniversary, but I couldn't help getting sucked into the museum. I recommend this museum to everyone. It was absolutely incredible. It was both interactive and educational. The way the exhibits were set up in terms of decoration made you feel like you were actually in that time period! My friend and I had to sadly rush the last couple rooms with Mr. Gavin, but we came back after lunch to finish. Before lunch, we went out to see the huge commemoration to the Uprising's 75th anniversary. We got to see the Polish president and 2 other dignitaries speak! It was really cool because at noon, a bunch of church bells and horns went off at the same time. After that, we had lunch and went back to explore the rest of the museum.
After that, we walked to another museum. It was called Zydowski Instytut Historyczny and they had letters and art from the Warsaw Ghetto that were buried underground to be dug up in the future. The Jewish community wanted to make sure that if they were all wiped out (which they were), they would have hopes of being remembered. I came across a couple journal entries that reminded me of my own, which really got me interested. Maybe I'll be world famous someday with my journal published in a museum. ;) They also had a beautiful synagogue. We got some free time after, so my friends and I got drinks. I got the cutest picture with the famous Ms. Freeman, who now calls me Jeanine (long story). [Editorial comment from Ms. Freeman: NOT TRUE!]
Our last stop was the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego. It was also very interactive and I had a lot of fun going through it. We went through a sewer maze, which was a lot of fun, and our group got yelled at for playing on toy horses. Apparently, we were too big and they were meant for kids. Oops. I got lost a bunch in there. It was huge and it doesn't help that all the directions were in Polish.
For dinner, I had a great time getting to know all my new friends. I was initially nervous about finding people to hang out with, but I've made a lot of great friends across this past week. I had to be very cautious today though because EVERYONE was getting sick. I did not want to catch whatever was going around, and it was bad! Overall, I'm really enjoying my trip and I can't wait to see the Czech Republic tomorrow!
P.S. Shout out to my dad because his birthday is tomorrow! I love you so much and I'm sorry I missed your birthday for this trip. Ironically, it is the same day as Hitler's birthday... lol whoops
Warsaw, Poland. Known to the locals as Warsawa. I woke up relatively rejuvenated this morning with a semi-late wake up call of 7:30am. We had plenty of time to eat breakfast since the bus was not leaving until 9:20. So, per usual, I decide to get breakfast ASAP, at 8 on the dot. Ricky had the bright idea of bringing his chess board down to breakfast that he finagled at the central market in Kraków. Unfortunately he forgot to buy some skills with that chess set because he lost to both Abdul and me :).
Ending on a positive note we set off to the Polin Museum. At the Polin Museum, we got to see a gigantic exhibit that showed the chronology of Polish Jews over the centuries. The museum reminded me a bit of the Smithsonian exhibits except to be honest they were way more interesting to look at and the interactive parts were cooler. The pre-war stuff was really interesting but personally I found myself drawn to the inter-war section and the parts that detailed the events of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. One thing I thought was really interesting was a video that they projected in the post-war era with each concentration camp being liberated and video footage showing documentation from different Allied troops, depending on whether the camp was in Eastern or Western Europe. The lunch was meh but watching the ceremony for the 75th anniversary of the Uprising was cool. I don’t think a lot of people could say they got to see the Polish president speak, although his speech was very propaganda-esque. Shoutout to the snipers on the roof. They live music was dope though and it was cool seeing the soldiers do their little rifle ceremony before the president spoke. All Polish politics aside, we headed off to the next museum, the Jewish memorial museum.
The Jewish memorial museum was relatively small but I thought it had interesting exhibits. I thought the drawers with the names of victims in the ghetto was neat because the first drawer would tell us who the people were, what their occupation was, etc. but the next drawer would detail their fate under Nazi occupation. I thought that was powerful in making the victims even more relatable, especially given that some of these victims were young people who bore arms against the Nazis in the Uprising. That museum was a nice stop before the last museum we went to which I thought was amazing.
The last museum we went to was the Warsaw Rising museum. The museum exhibited the Polish resistance to Nazi invasion as well as the Sovietization of the Polish military. It seemed like some people thought the museum was really cool and interesting while others thought it was boring. Some were having fun fantasizing in the bunkers and checking out the cool WWII era weapons while others were detached and bored from the whole thing. I thought it was intriguing and the memorial outside was also quite surreal.
Ending the night with dinner is usually always the fun part. We trekked all the way to the Arkadia mall, about a 20 minute walk from the hotel. The American in us led us to a burger place called BlackBurger. Honestly the burgers I’ve had in Europe have easily outshined any burgers I’ve had in America. Going to the mall was in and of itself cool because you could find your classic stores that you’d see in any American mall but with cheaper or sometimes more expensive prices. Before this trip I couldn’t even imagine myself being in a mall in Europe, let alone Warsaw, Poland. Definitely an experience.
After a long day of going to museums, eating burgers, and Polish shopping, we come back to the hotel to wind down and get ready for a big flying day tomorrow. Unfortunately, we couldn’t host a chess tournament tonight because of the early wake up call. Guess I’ll have to beat your another time Mr. Gavin.
Best Regards from Poland,
Today, we got to wake up at a relatively decent time. We headed off to the Polin Museum, which concentrated a lot Jewish culture in Europe as well as Christianity. The Museum contained many interesting pieces of art work and was interactive.
Outside of the museum, an annual Celebration for the Warsaw Uprising was taking place—so we spent some time there. Though we did not get a chance to see the choir and orchestra that we saw rehearsing on Wednesday afternoon, we did get to see the President of the Republic of Poland (Andrzej Duda)! I’m not sure if his speech got lost in translation, but I would not have him speak at my graduation.
Next, we went to a museum that contained documents from WWII— mainly letters to families and numbers of people sent to camps. In the top of this museum, there was a synagogue. There was a recording of the Jewish prayer “Shema”, and Aaron later explained its meaning. This was the same prayer that he led for us at Majdanek, which was one of the most touching parts of the trip for me so far.
Later, we went to the museum about resistance during the Holocaust. Though the museum contained a lot of information, I found it a bit difficult to navigate— especially timeline wise. However, there was one simulation that was a video of Warsaw 1944 which gave me a different insight as to what the area was like— totally destroyed.
Though the day wasn’t one of the most eventful here in Eastern Europe, it was still a good day. We were able to see a lot of the city. We had time at the end of the day to grab dinner and explore a bit, which is always appreciated.
Wake up at 5:30 tomorrow!!!!! Yay!
From our hotel breakfast this morning I already knew it was going to be a relatively lighthearted day. I think this was the best we’ve had yet, they provided us with an assortment of fresh fruit, fluffy pancakes, and crispy bacon. We took a bus to the POLIN museum where we spent time walking through labyrinths of a building partially curated by a MassArt alum! At midday we took a break to step outside and watch Poland’s president deliver a speech honoring victims and survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on its 75th anniversary. Left and right, all around masses of people were wearing daffodils, it was a beautiful sight.
We later returned to the museum. Next stop was a museum with a synagogue, and the last museum was an interactive look at the Warsaw ghetto uprising. We were all a little bit tired today, but we were able to let loose, run through the tunnels modeled after sewers used as hide outs during the uprising, and sat down in the sun for lunch.
Personally, I really have appreciated how much closer this trip has brought me with juniors and seniors alike that I’ve never before spoken to. We had deep and meaningful conversations about the survivor testimonials at the synagogue, ate dinner together, and walked around the mall. I’m both sad to be leaving Poland in the morning, but also excited for our adventures in the Czech Republic to come.
left: part of the daffodils left in front of the POLIN Museum, as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (photo: Jasmine)
middle: the handpainted ceiling of the rebuilt synagogue from Gwoździec, Poland, housed today in the POLIN Museum and painted by teachers and students from Mass Art in Boston! (photo: Jasmine)
right: Jasmine with Ms. Freeman (photo: Jasmine's phone!)
Today was another emotional day as we started off by visiting Majdanek, a concentration camp in Lublin, Poland. The camp lies along a hill and at the top is a giant memorial where the ashes of countless victims remain. There was something so powerful in seeing the colossal pile of ashes. It definitely puts things in perspective. Near the memorial are mounds covered in grass and a crematorium. The mounds are where victims were buried after being shot, while the crematorium still contained the ovens where bodies once burned. Being there, it’s extremely difficult to imagine that those were the kind of things that were happening less 80 years ago. We stood there looking at the greenery that has grown over the mass grave and all I could think about was how cruel humanity could be. But as we continued to stare out into the field, we saw a deer in the distance and it reminded me of something that Ms. Foley said to me the day before: as terrible as these acts were, there’s some light in the fact that nature has reclaimed it and turned it into something beautiful.
We moved down the hill to where the barracks were. We peaked inside to see the living conditions of the prisoners. So many people were packed inside one dark stable-like shelter. Then we continued into the buildings that were once used for storing the personal belongings of the prisoners. In one of the barracks, there was an enormous crate of shoes. There were thousands and thousands of them and each pair belonged to a person, who most likely did not survive.
After the storehouses, we visited the exhibition which put different artifacts and pictures on display. Then we went to a memorial inside a barrack that had light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. It was quite beautiful. Following the memorial we made our way to the gas chamber, a site that is always emotionally straining to go through. I took my time walking through the chamber because there is so much to process. When everyone had exited the gas chamber, we all stood outside in a big circle and took a moment to read and recite some poetry together. The poems were all written by Holocaust survivors. It was such a lovely way to end the visit to such a sorrowful place. We stood together. We processed together. We shared this experience together, and I’ll never forget it.
Hello family and friends! My name is Liz and I’m a junior in Ms. Freeman’s class. Today is day 8 of our trip and we are in Poland🇵🇱.
Unfortunately, this particular post is a hard one to write because our agenda is particularly difficult. There is no right reaction to the sites we experienced today, and I am unable to speak on behalf of how everyone was affected, so I will be describing what I personally saw and felt.
8:45 - 9:30 (energetic) bus ride
9:30 We have arrived at the Majdanek concentration camp; it is windy and chilly, but also sunny. The crowds there are limited, but it is close to the size of Birkenau - the camp we visited yesterday. My initial reaction to this camp was that it was less intimidating than Auschwitz 1 and 2. As we explored it further, it became the most horrifying for me out of the three. Although the barbed wire fences are not as big or infamous as the ones at the other two camps, the darkened wood of the buildings, barracks, and watch towers gave it a more ominous feeling; even if someone had been unaware of the origins of the place, they would have been able to detect that something grave had happened there. The entrance to Majdanek was on a main road. To the left was an extremely large Catholic cemetery. To the right was houses and an industrial town. The first thing we saw were monuments for a mass grave and ashes for the victims.
“Our loss your warning” is inscribed in Polish on the dome that covers the ashes. The crematorium smells like my grandmother's basement in the suburbs. Bodies were carried to the crematorium in wheel barrows and in large piles as if they were nothing more than waste. The prisoners of the camp were aware of which buildings meant death because of all of this cruel and dehumanizing exposure. People were killed, and bodies were thrown, inspected, and burnt in this building. Survivor accounts are on plaques hanging in most of the barracks and buildings. This is effective because it makes the experience much more personal.
Everyone was silent when we left and standing in solitary. We listened to two prayers, one led by Aaron and the other by Rachel and Ben which brought us back together. In the middle of a field in the camp is a statue with three eagles on top that the SS wanted built to honor themselves. Underneath the monument forcefully made by the prisoners of the camp are their stories which were placed there as an act of resistance. The barracks smell like barns which - technically - they were because their design was based on horse stables. There are gaps in the windows and doors meaning winter nights were deadly cold in there. We entered block 14. The smell was incredibly strong and the number of bunks was unbelievable. Over 100 people would have lived in this barrack, and there were 3-5 people in each bunk. We couldn’t go further into the barrack because of a barricade that was put up as a result of vandalism.
Another barrack had two metal containers that stretched all the way to the back full of shoes that were taken away from the prisoners (430,000 were found at the end of the war at this camp). In the museum of the camp there was artwork done by the prisoners, survivor testimonies, and other artifacts and documents that help us fully understand life in the camp. One man who had been to several camps over the course of 6 years said that Lublin affected him the most. One of the barracks was created into a shrine which was dimly lit and very grim; there was one note of music playing and a person chanting in Hebrew. At the end of the barrack was a wall of black dots and next to it was a book with a single nationality on each page of all the prisoners. One page was the Polish word and the other page was in English. When you flipped to the next page it was black.
We entered a gas chamber which also had plaques of survivor accounts. When we went all the way through and came out on the other side everything was silent. The wind died down and we were all sitting in the grass waiting to read poems written by survivors. It’s hard to describe the emotions felt and the tension in the group to people who have never been to these camps. Over the past 8 days I have gotten to know all 51 of my fellow travelers very well, but they did not seem like the ones I knew in this moment. I read 1945 by Bernard S. Mikofsky aloud which was about how the ghost of the Holocaust will always haunt us.
12:20 - 12:50 (Silent) bus ride
13:00 - 14:10 Lunch started off quiet, then we were back to our normal selves.
14:10-17:50 Bus ride (we watched Disney’s Frozen and had an emotional release)
17:50-19:30 We toured Warsaw. Before the war this city had one of the biggest Jewish populations. There are many cobbled streets and beautiful churches and buildings. The first church we saw was restored after it was destroyed during the war because Jews were allowed to hide in it, and there is a synagogue that survived the war. When we got off the bus on our second stop, there was a whole orchestra on stage practicing for the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising tomorrow. It was truly a site to see and hear. We visited several monuments and memorials for the residents of the Warsaw ghetto, but the one that stood out to me the most was of a block in the middle of the sidewalk of broken stone that symbolizes Szmul Zygielbohm’s broken heart when he heard that the Warsaw ghetto uprising was going to fail and scratches on a stone wall that depict silhouettes of people. To me, the scratches represent the scars of the oppressed people and how that shaped them to who they are.
I’d like to thank all of the chaperones for making this possible and all of the parents for supporting us so we can experience this trip, especially my own.
A Beautiful Meadow
Windy, green grass
The souls above control earth’s beauty
Followers of the Torah
Are forced to create a treacherous long road
Windy, green grass
The sky is filled with unwanted smoke
As the day suddenly turns to night
Those who fall upon the skyline pretend to not have seen the change in nature
Only the rise in consumerism and Nazi pride will get their attention
There were only a few at night that couldn’t bat their eyes away
Block 21, 10, 20, 8, 19, 7, 18, 6, 7, 5, 4, 16, 15, 14, 3, 1, 13, 2
All across 5 fields
The sky once blue is now brown
Mud is all they remember here
It isn’t until their spirits are free that earth may be green instead of brown
Tears water the plants and their prayers move the clouds
Here the human language cannot describe the scenery
Nor can one set of emotions be affiliated with Majdanek.
left: The Shrine, a memorial exhibition to victims at Majdanek, located in one of the warehouse barracks (photo: Samantha)
right: a building filled with the ashes of thousands with the crematorium to the left, Majdanek (photo: Samantha)
I told her the flowers lie on the Northern side,
though I could not be less clueless as to where North was.
I use my compass as a turnstile--
shift away from the bleak
and shine light on the paradox,
those forced focal points,
my Northern flowers.
The sun may sing to me differently,
but only I can know the true directions of a constant spinning earth.
The purple flowers,
of the troughs
of the waves
of the mass graves
of the peak of Lublin.
That is my North,
at least for now.
After talking to some EE alum before we left, I knew that Majdanek was going to be a pretty rough day. As we got closer to the camp, my chest became tighter and tighter. I was very nervous but also knew that the information and experience I was about to have was going to be extremely important.
Arriving at Majdanek was, to say the least, sobering. I put a picture of the memorial at the top of the camp at the bottom of my post, which translates to ‘Our loss your warming.’ This simple but powerful statement in itself made me want to burst into tears. Everyone was quiet while Ms. Freeman was talking about the memorial; when the war ended and the prisoners were liberated from the camp by the soviets, they found massive mounds of human ashes. The memorial sculpture itself is massive, the pile of ashes inside, even bigger. The fact that the SS did not have the decency to properly dispose of and spread the ashes absolutely baffled me. The murdered people and the prisoners suffered from start to finish and did not even receive a proper burial. As we walked around the grassy area, we took care to avoid the large ditches, which were mass graves. We walked in silence around the mass grave to pay respects and contemplate what was around us. On November 3rd 1942 18,000 people, mostly Jews, were shot dead and buried in the mass graves that they had dug for themselves. This walk was slow and difficult but it was important. Every step I took I knew that a person, a human being had perished unknown underneath my feet.
I was nervous before walking around at Majdanek that I was becoming numb to the countless tragedies that happened during the Holocaust, but this short walk, which seemed to last forever, helped me reconnect with the chilling intimacy of the destruction and devastation of the genocide. Just as a little side note to this thought, at Auschwitz I and II, (which were both difficult)I felt that since Auschwitz I was better restored and had very detailed/informational displays there was a slight disconnect between linking the struggle of the prisoners of the camp to the actual surroundings. Auschwitz II /Birkenau was baffling to me. The sheer size of this camp made me think about how many people could possibly have fit in it, the proximity of the camp to surrounding communities created a queasy feeling in my stomach.
Back to our Majdanek visit; The community surrounding the camp at Majdanek had lived there when it was in operation during WW2, there was also a catholic cemetery next tothe camp which means that many polish Catholics visited the cemetery to pay respects to their loved ones. Automatically I was thinking, wait if these people were here .... listening to the screams of the dying, smelling the burning of bodies, and seeing the barbed wire fence of the camp with an ever billowing chimney, why didn’t they do anything? How did they fail their fellow humans?
We began to walk through the crematorium which was placed at the top of the camp (Majdanek is on a hill and is extremely windy). It was silent in there, no one was talking and everyone was kind of doing their own thing reading the signs and examining the different rooms. I remember thinking to myself that in actuality, the holocaust was a very human even that happened. The tools of genocide that the Nazis instituted, like mass deportation, forced labor, and mass killings were made more efficient and effective by us, people. It is human nature to make something better, to use technology to our benefit and create a better outcome. In the case of the Holocaust, the Nazis, as human beings, perfected the art of dehumanizing others and completely eliminating and othering a specific group of people. The realization that I am not too different from the Nazis was very troubling. Humans inherently try to solve problems and make difficult situations easier to handle; the efficiency of the gas chambers and the effectiveness of murdering so many people was human.
This thought was in the back of my head as we walked through the rest of the camp; going down the road to the Main buildings of the camp was odd because everyone was walking separately but also together. It was dead silent, the only noise coming from the powerful gusts of wind sweeping through the camp.
There have been moments on this trip where I have wanted to be hugged and shown empathy by my peers but there have also been moments where I feel like human touch will cause more damage than it will help. I felt so disappointed and sickened when waking down that hill; questioning humanity, questioning a God, but also questioning myself. Would I be different then the people who stood by and watched on the outskirts of the fence at Majdanek? Would I too be an onlooker and allow the mass murder of other people?
We finally made our way to the gas chamber at the bottom of the camp, which was very disturbing because it meant that in order to burn the bodies of the dead, the Nazis forced prisoners to bring the bodies from the bottom of the camp, past all the buildings where people lived, slept and were forced into slave labor, all the way to the crematoria at the top. Going through the gas chamber was a strange experience. There were wooden planks on the floor that creaked with every step. After leaving the gas chamber, we stood in a circle outside and Ms Freeman passed out poems for some students to read. Savita read an incredibly moving poem that discussed God and how faith failed those hurt by the Holocaust and this really upset me. A phrase I was told at Auschwitz by our tour guide was ‘Hope is the last to die’ and I found the piece that Savita read to directly relate to that. It is staggering to even begin to think of the number of people murdered in the Holocaust, but it is almost impossible to think of how we let it happen.
The visit to Majdanek was necessary, as difficult as it was to walk through and process all the information in front of us. Never in my life have I had such an experience and I feel really lucky that I was able to have to with the other students and teachers on this trip.
left: At the mass graves, Majdanek
right: surveying the fields at Majdanek, with the city of Lublin in the distance
Today I woke up at 7 in Lublin with Mindy. We packed up, got ready for the day, and headed to breakfast. We had a really good breakfast with these delicious croissants and fried banana pastries. Everyone was in pretty good moods because the hotel was really nice and we got a good nights sleep. The same nervous feeling that we had before we went to Auschwitz was not really there, we all knew Majdanek was going to be really hard and we would need to process it, but after Auschwitz we were not as worried. As breakfast came to an end we loaded our bags onto the bus and headed off. Our amazing bus driver, Alek, made a very impressive turn on the way. Although I had felt like we wouldn’t be all that emotional I immediately knew I was wrong. We walked up to this big memorial that had ashes inside. The ashes had been found by the SU when the camp was liberated and at first they didn’t really know what to do with them. Now they are in a big ceramic bowl (this is an awful description I can provide a reference photo) and we do not know how many remains of unknown human beings lie in it. We walked around these mounds in the ground where 18,000 people were buried in mass graves. We were standing above the remains of men, women, children, and there was this view. You could see the houses and buildings of Lublin all around us. Even though some of these would have been built after the war, it forces you so realize people would have had to see what was happening or at least seen the smoke. Also, when we were standing here there was this deer. The deer was just living its life. It felt so strange to be standing in this place of death surrounded by life and beauty. Then we headed to the crematorium. As we walked into the crematorium it felt very different than it had at Auschwitz. This was almost exactly as it had been during the Holocaust and the darkness and pain that the building held hit us like a brick wall. I became very emotional in this building, much more than I had expected or prepared for, but I was not alone. After we finished walking through the building we stood outside and Aaron, Rachel, Jake, and a few other recited prayers and there was a very similar moment to the one that we had had at Auschwitz. I felt very close to some of the people around me in the moment, and it was so nice to have some friends around for comfort. We continued through the camp down the big hill to the area where there was the section of barracks in tack. We went into a few that had beds (straw mattresses with blankets). And in these barracks they seemed so real, although there were some learning aides it didn’t feel like a museum. There was this column with three eagles on top that the guards at Majdanek had forced the prisoners to make. The amazing thing about this statue was that the prisoners had written their life stories on little slips of paper and cast the cement around the stories. They had done this because they were convinced none of them would survive and the Majdanek would wipe out their lives forever if they didn’t do something. We walked through the part of the camp that was still standing and there were two buildings that stood out to me particularly. There was this small house building where the guard dogs were kept. I have read some survivor testimony in the past and Ms.Freeman has told us that survivors always remember the dogs and the mud and to imagine this now peaceful, lush land to be filled with sticky mud, barking dogs, and screaming guards.
The second building was the building with the shoes. I have already talked about shoes from Auschwitz, but here they were different. We walked into a dusty, dimly lit barrack and there were thousands of shoes held in metal storage containers. To imagine the victims that these shoes had been ripped away from, to imagine how part of their humanity and identify had been ripped away was a lot. There were more building we walked through, some more like a museum and one that was an exhibition. These helped me process, but it was very difficult and many of us needed a moment to just sit outside and try to understand what was around us. Finally, we went to the gas chamber. This experience is almost indescribable. This building held so much pain and suffering. As we walked through I couldn’t stop thinking about how this dirty cramped building was where thousands of people took their last breath, how the last thing they saw was othering dying people, possible their family or friends. I had a very hard time going through this building, and after some of us read poems that survivors had written. Listening to these poems makes you feel something. It makes you not only sad, but kind of angry. To hear how someone’s entire life was destroyed (or at least severely altered) because of senseless hate makes you feel so small, and almost helpless. After this I spent a lot of time thinking about how wrong it was to feel helpless because we aren’t helpless, the thousands of people in that were affected by the Holocaust fought against their surrounding and if they can do that we should be able to do almost anything.
Best wishes from Poland!
Today we said goodbye to Berlin! It was a bittersweet departure since I fell in love with the city but I’m also very excited to explore Poland (aka the Motherland according to Nicole Mi).
I was very apprehensive about flying on RyanAir since it is considered “sketchy,” but thankfully we survived. As soon as we started driving through Poland, I was instantly in awe of how beautiful the landscape is. Luscious green dominates Oświęcim.
I honestly did not think I would have much to blog about today since we mostly just traveled, but as soon as our bus pulled up in front of Auschwitz, I knew I was proven wrong.
The vibrant willow trees draped over the barracks inside the concentration camp. The sun weaved through the branches, caressing the ground with light in a place where I believed there to be no light. Blooming flowers peppered the side of the road. Ben, sitting beside me on the bus, commented, “It looks so beautiful.” And he was right. In a place I believed there only to be death and darkness, there was an eery light shining through. I knew our hotel would be right across from the concentration camp, but I did not realize how close it truly was. There is only one full street separating this magnificent hotel from the infamous death camp.
After taking a couple minutes to check in and figure out how to turn on the lights in our hotel rooms, we walked around the outskirts of Auschwitz. Once again I was stunned by the contrast between the darkness of the location and the beauty of nature. It does not look like anything I’ve ever seen in pictures or that I’ve ever imagined. It does not seem right.
We’ve all learned about Auschwitz, for me starting in 6th grade. It seems very surreal that I am here, in this very town in Poland, about to step foot in a place of such terror and destruction. I feel guilty about the fact that tomorrow I will be able to leave the camp, when so many others never did. I was often asked by others why I wanted to go on this trip and experience such emotional turmoil and to see such horrific places. But I believe it is important to remember. I believe it is our duty to remember and face the history of humankind.
I am terrified of what I will see and experience tomorrow. Being here makes everything seem so much more real than I could have ever imagined. It is impossible to separate yourself from the history when you are standing inside it.
"Thank you, danke, jacuzzi, I mean Dziekuję (pronounced Jen-koo-yea)!"
That was my thought process leaving breakfast, cycling through all the ways I've learned to say thank you in Europe. I sounded like such a tourist, yet the waitstaff just smiled and laughed it off. That was the last laugh I had this morning.
From the hotel, we took the bus to The Majdanek camp. The first thing we saw was a monument built around a mound of ashes, which were from the prisoners that the Nazis killed and burned. The mound looked to be larger than a full size school bus. Next, we saw A mass grave, and this was the first thing that really hit me today. We were standing in the same spot where Nazi guards possibly had been standing while forcing the Polish Jews to dig their own graves. We then moved into the crematorium of the camp, which was the hardest part of the day for me. Although, we have already seen the crematoriums of other sites, I hadn't been behind the ovens before. There, I saw tiny vent doors where the ashes of the burned bodies would have been taken from. I couldn't believe that someone's whole life could be condensed into a pile of ashes. I knew that this happened, but seeing the little door that was used to get the ashes just got to me.
After that we moved down through the camp to one of the buildings that had been used to contain the shoes of the Jews. It was hard to see because the building was at least 50 meters long and 20 meters wide, and yet, despite all the shoes out on loan to museums, there were ceiling high rows of shoes stretching the full length. With there being several hundred thousand pairs of shoes, it really showed how many people were put through this camp.
The last stop was the actual gas chamber used for the site. This was almost as hard to go through as the crematorium because I knew exactly what happened here, but walking through and seeing the actual space just was different and was much more difficult than I thought.
When we left Majdanek, everyone was silent on the bus until we stopped for lunch. Following that was a more upbeat busride to Warsaw that included laughter, music and the movie "Frozen." Once we got to Warsaw we took a walking tour around to see some pre-war buildings that weren't blown up and other monuments to Jewish heroes in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
It was a very powerful and important day that I wouldn't change. Although it wasn't easy, I learned a lot today and am glad that I was able to see it all.
The wind. The wind is the first thing you feel against your face when you approach the partially-preserved remnants of hell on earth: The Majdanek Concentration Camp. It is no ordinary cool breeze. By subtly whispering in your ears, the gushing force of cold air initiates its sole purpose of reminding you of the violent horrors and inhumane atrocities that have taken place at the former Nazi extermination site. I introduce to you Majdanek, the graveyard of more than 80,000 perished souls, 60,000 of them innocent Jewish civilians.
After adjusting our bodies to counteract the wind, we walked to the top of the hill where Majdanek is located. At the top, there is a memorial established by the Soviets who liberated the camp on July 23rd, 1944. The memorial was totally jaw-dropping, because when you step closer, you realize it is a partially closed pit of human ashes. The mere amount of it all was overwhelming.
At the top of the hill was also the camp’s crematorium. In fact, the camp was built in a way that had gas chambers at the bottom of the hill, and the crematorium at the top, so every prisoner would see the dead bodies being pushed up the hill from the gas chambers to the crematorium daily. We passed through the crematorium and noticed how everything was still intact because the Nazis had no time to burn everything down, due to the incoming threat of the Soviets. Sorrow and anger were the only emotions I could feel since these bodies couldn’t even have a proper burial. It is against the Jewish faith to be cremated. To show my respects for all the deceased victims of Majdanek, I recited the Jewish “Shema” prayer aloud, which holds itself as the centerpiece for all Jewish prayers. I’ve had many people tell me that hearing me recite the Shema was one of the most emotional experiences on the trip, and I’m glad I’m surrounded with peers who feel the same deep level of sympathy for the Holocaust victims as me.
Although Majdanek was far less grand in size compared to Auschwitz, I could still sense the amount of pain and suffering the poor prisoners had to face everyday until they reached their unjustly death. There was an exhibit inside of the Majdanek museum which had survivors explain their terrifying experiences. The most eye-opening testimony for me was from Piotr Kiriszczenko, who says, “poverty will teach you everything.” He reminisces on how “expensive” and “tasty” a piece of bread the size of a matchbox was.
Can you imagine living off such a small amount of food? Another survivor Marian Kolodziej, rightfully said that “you will never experience true hunger until you view another man as a piece of meat.” This quote stuck with me because it made me realize how fortunate our lives are compared to the vast array of people who struggle to get by everyday. We have never experienced true hunger. We have never experienced true suffering.
If there is one thing I learned yesterday it's that everyone needs to have an hours long conversation with someone while driving through the middle of Poland late at night. While most of the group slept, I spent several hours deep in conversation with someone who before this trip, I only knew as a classmate, never anything more than that. By happenstance, we ended up sitting next to each other on the bus, and started talking about just life in general. In only a few hours, we ended up talking about anything and everything. I'll spare you all from the countless details of our conversation, and instead say why this conversation meant so much to me.
As I mentioned, I didn't really know this person too well before last night. We've definitely had conversations, but never anything like the one we had last night. I'm not quite sure why, but for some reason I thought that the two of us were similar people (or at least had similar beliefs/opinions). But as I learned, we are much more different than I thought. I feel like this is a thing people often do. We assume that people we don't really know are just like us, because we believe that our opinions are more "correct". I myself am definitely guilty of doing this. That's the first thing I learned last night: we can't make assumptions about what people think and believe based on what we see them as.
We talk all the time in Facing about how crucial communication and conversation are in life. Too often in history we see examples of situations that possibly could have been so different if people had just taken the time to have a conversation about what was happening. One conversation is an incredibly powerful force. Now I'm not saying that my conversation on the bus ride last night will change the entire course of humanity, but I cannot deny the fact that it won't change some aspect of my life, no matter how small. That's the second thing I learned last night: listening to what other people have to say can allow us to improve our lives and futures.
Over the past few months and even years, it seems as if people have become even more and more divided based on their beliefs. While there is no one reason why this is happening, I believe that one of the main forces behind this occuance is that the line between opinion and fact is starting to become hazy. People believe their opinions are facts, and people take facts to be opinions. This has caused people to dismiss others' opinions because they believe that they are "wrong". The person I was talking to last night and I had some different beliefs. Put any two people on a bus next to each other and you're bound to discover eventually that they have different beliefs. Because no two people are the same! And that's the beauty of humankind. Since no two people are alike, every single conversation, if it goes on long enough, will, without fail, develop into one with more than one side/belief. And that is a good thing. It's what makes life exciting. That's the third thing I learned last night: a conversation with more than one opinion is so much more interesting than a conversation where everyone agrees with what everyone else is saying.
Not only did I learn so much about the person I was talking to, but I also learned things about myself. I learned that I am much less judgmental than I thought I was. Even though the beliefs of this person were, at times, strikingly different than mine, my opinion of this person in no way, shape, or form was lessened. In fact, it was elevated. One of the biggest problems of BLS is that it is an echo chamber. Even thought there are people with different opinions, you really only see certain opinions being expressed. Having a conversation with someone whose opinions were not the exact same as the "BLS beliefs" was honestly a refreshing experience. And the amount of respect I gained for this person after they had the confidence to share their opinions with me, despite knowing that their options were different than mine, is absolutely tremendous.
This experience was not at all about the Holocaust. It was not at all about the Cold War. Honestly, it had absolutely nothing to do with Eastern Europe at all. And yet, I think that this will be one of the most memorable parts of this trip. In those hours, I grew as a person. Maybe the lessons I learned tonight are something Facing has taught me, or maybe they're something going to Eastern Europe has taught me. Or maybe this was more of a self-discovery moment. Honestly I do not know. But I genuinely do believe that this class and this trip have allowed me to grow. They have given me the opportunity and the environment to step out of what I'm used to, and make personal improvements that I hope will better not only my life, but also the lives of those around me. So, to Ms Freeman and Mr Gavin, thank you for giving me that opportunity. And to the person I was talking to, thank you for showing me who I am, and who I have the ability to be. And to everyone reading this, do one thing for me. Have a conversation with someone about something you don't agree on. Preferably on a bus as night in the middle of Poland, but really any time and any place will do just fine. Trust me, it is more than worth it.
Reading the amazing and heart felts posts have added another layer for this experience. It can be difficult to share emotions in the moment.
Today we experienced Majdanek and for me, the “Shrine” art installation overpowered me. It was barbarically beautiful - light fixtures made from barbed wire that from the distance look like they could be hanging from any trendy lighting store. But upon closer inspection, so much more. Soft through toughness. Incredible.
The imagery will stay with me and forever apply as a symbol for many challenges of life, reminding me that light and hope can come from within.
—Catherine Foley ’05, Classics teacher and chaperone
“Too often when we think of the Holocaust, we only think of Auschwitz,” the sign at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow read. After visiting both Auschwitz and Birkenau yesterday, I was at first taken aback by this quote. How can one not think about Auschwitz and all of the horrors and crimes committed there? About the men, women, and children who tragically fell victim to Hitler’s Nazi regime in this place of evil? About the suitcases and shoes and clothes of lives cut too short, too quickly? Nevertheless, as I moved throughout the exhibit, I soon realized how this quote rang true and the significance it has to the rest of our trip spent here in Eastern Europe.
Hey what’s krakowlacking folks, it’s ya main main man Abdul and I’m here to tell you about the day.
We were in Krakow today. After spending the night in the Pollera hotel, which was really nice like one of those the movies, we headed to Krakow’s main market and seen this really large church there. Poland has the biggest and most artistic churches on earth, the one we went to had a bugler, who starts playing a song at the beginning of every hour and stops playing about thirty seconds in to symbolize that actual bugler who was playing the bugle and that exact melody and was shot in the throat.
We had a lot of free time today so I went a bought a couple of things for the fam and myself, had a delicious lunch, Russian pierogis are the way to go and had a fun time hanging with friends but the best place that I thought we visited today was the synagogue. The synagogue back in the day used to be one of the ammunition storage sites back during ww2 and is now mostly restored using the fees that people use to get into it, the guys had to wear yarmulkes in order to enter it. The interior was brightly colored yellow and fabrics covered the room a lot and where marked with flowers and rather people-less pictures because of the rules of Judaism.
The cemetery was a whole other view on its own, it was several hundred tombstones lined up across the courtyard with Hebrew lettering on them and had multiple stones on them, as according to Jewish tradition. Yet what was really astounding about the cemetery was actually the back wall. The entire back wall of the place was covered with broken pieces of the fallen tombstones that were broken at the end of the war and the locals used these chunks to build and rebuild certain structures.
Overall I had a really fun time and inspiring day today.
What's up you guys! Well let me tell you, Krakow is by far one of the most beautiful cities I have seen in my entire life.
In order to understand the true beauty of Krakow, I have to compare it to something else. And I guess I'll do that with Berlin. Both cities were very beautiful in their own way. Berlin was filled with organized streets and the great contrast between both the West and East side. The East side had such different types of buildings, which looked dull but clearly from the DDR, whereas West Berlin looked modern and in my opinion, more elegant. While this contrast was nice to look like, the big tall buildings that were all throughout the city took away the beauty of this and the beauty of the city in general. It's like in Boston, we're so accustomed to tall buildings and apartments. Although it's nice walking down Newburgh street or through downtown, it's a very nice change to have a different setting.
Krakow was absolutely breathtaking. All the buildings were so beautiful and colorful. You don't really see that in Boston let alone the churches or castles. I'm not entirely sure why it caught my eye. It kind of reminded me of medieval times and the city looked so uniformed, no apartment or building out of place. There were large plazas where people could walk and spend time with family and small narrow street with polish shops on both streets. I think that's why I liked it so much. There was so much open space and activity in one place. It seemed like all of Krakow was in one place enjoying their stay or their life. Although I know that we only visited one specific part if Krakow and maybe not the more industrialized area, the area we saw really showed me what rest of the city is or what I hoped it would be like.
The main plaza was filled with street vendors selling flowers and paintings while pigeons were flying all over, meanwhile each one of us were praying not to be attacked by one of them. If you walked a little more there was a less populated plaza which was smaller but just as beautiful. I was so glad that the weather got better as the day went out because seeing both plazas in the bright sun made everything even more beautiful.
At the end of the day, my friends and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful day we had, so we went to a park nearby the hotel. There was a man there who was playing the piano and we left our stuff near us, of course supervised, and danced not to far from him. A man sitting near us has begun watching our magnificent spectacular and was amused by our dancing. He smiled and laugh while we danced like goofs. While he and others enjoyed the sight, others didn't. A woman had even spoken to us in polish telling us something and once we told her we spoke English she proceeded to scream at us to stop. How rude! Other than that, Krakow was a beautiful city, one which I won't forget.
Today was a highly anticipated day for a lot of us, and I know that the kids assigned to post about today will sum it up very well, but I wanted to talk about my personal reaction to the things we saw today.
It has to be understood that we as a class of students have learned so much about this history that it’s why we get this amazing opportunity. We get to understand so deeply that we go to witness the history second hand, as well as knowing that we are the future generation that determines if places like Auschwitz/Birkenau stays in the minds and memories of the world. I think we were genuinely affected walking into Auschwitz I, or at least we tried very hard to be, but I personally felt slightly detached, whether it be because of the tour guides, the sheer amount of people, or whatever other excuse I could make.
Were we shocked? Yes. Were we shocked to the point of complete silence? No. We were mostly unsatisfied, we wanted reflection and craved an understanding that I don’t think we could have gotten until we got to Birkenau.
Birkenau was something that, walking in, wrenched your heart to the point of silence. We were finally shocked to the point of silence. We looked out at a camp that was expansive and beyond our comprehension, and it helped, but I think the most important part of our personal reactions was how much we could relate and comprehend.
These reactions was especially strong near the gas chamber remains, for obvious reasons, but more personal triggers were crucial here. I, as an Italian person, saw an inscription in Italian in the main memorial and stood in front of it, crying, for at least a few minutes.
We looked out into a field of ashes remains of hundreds of thousands of people, which was overrun with flowers, and our friend Aaron recited a Jewish prayer, some friends paid their respects with stones on the gravestones placed in front of these important sites, and I cried again, again because I could understand, I could relate to how it could affect me as a teenager with 70+ years of hindsight on this.
One might ask why, a few hours after Auschwitz/Birkenau, most of our people were on the dance floor in a Polish wedding hall, dancing their hearts out and laughing and singing. Is it disrespect? A lack of understanding of the things we had witnessed? I don’t think so, though it could easily be construed that way. I’m choosing to believe that we, as a group, had too much emotional confusion, too much lack of satisfaction in these camps, and that had to come out of us in the form of song and dance.
That doesn’t mean the camps didn’t have their desired effect, actually quite the opposite. The camps symbolize pure, unadulterated confusion, you’re often left with more questions than answers, and that’s important, because the Holocaust raises some of the most important questions of human history: what is evil, what are the extents people will go to for an idea, etc.
Speaking to some other people in our group, they also feel that they expected more direct crying and sadness and overwhelming emotions because it’s what they had expected for them. The fact that this didn’t happen in the way some thought it would does not mean we are inhuman, it means these camps are their own entities, these symbols for human tragedy, they stand there, as preserved as possible, and it is our choice how we react.
I definitely don’t think anyone will forget what it looked like to scan the extent of Birkenau and crumble inside, or how it felt to stand in front of a single destroyed underground room where up to 2000 people had been killed and stand silent, or stand crying. I’m very proud of our group for having individual reactions, and I think it’s important that we had a dance party and we’re all singing on the bus as I write this, it means we have a processing method that turns emotions into something less confusion and acts as a release, or an outlet.
I doubt anyone will have read this all, because I have a reputation for long posts, but I hope this helped you understand how much I appreciated the Auschwitz camps today, how much pain we were able to process, and how well today went for me (except for maybe the Auschwitz cafe lunch) Dzien dobry!
I don’t have a hot take on Auschwitz. I think what everyone else thinks about the subject. There’s no real nuanced way to describe it, so I’ll just say what i saw.
So, today we went to Auschwitz. It is located in the Polish town of Oswiecim, which is actually where my great-grandmother was born before the advent of the Nazi regime.
The first thing I was told about the camp was that it is not just one camp. While only two are still standing, there were three camps in Auschwitz by the end of World War II. Auschwitz I was the original camp, and it was a small labor camp based in former Polish army barracks. Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was a huge death camp that was erected later in the war. The third Auschwitz camp, also known as the Buna-Werke, was a labor camp that worked in service of a rubber factory owned by IG Farben. Only Auschwitz I and II are still there.
Auschwitz I is fairly small, and has become a museum. We toured throughout repurposed barracks showing the history of the camp and life of the prisoners. Probably the most disturbing parts of that camp were rooms displaying tons of human hair and shoes (see photo above). Actual tons; thousands of pounds.
Possibly the most moving part, however, was the museum devoted to those whose lives were torn apart. We entered into a room with footage of Jews from around Europe before World War II. We saw parties, family pictures, and children singing Hebrew songs that I recognized. The exhibit led us to the books of names, a huge book containing the names of over 4 million victims of the Holocaust. Almost 2 million still remain unidentified. Going through the book, I found two of my family names, Seifert and Wert. While all of my direct extended family made it out before the horrors, I would assume that some of my relatives were murdered. Each name took up almost half a page.
Birkenau is almost in its original state and it is gigantic. It lies on over two square miles of land, which includes barracks, showers and the ruins of gas chambers. Birkenau had two sets of gas chambers and crematoria. One set was blown up by the Nazis in retreat, but the other set was destroyed by Jewish Sonderkommandos in an uprising.
We also saw the women’s barracks, which housed two women we have discussed in class: Rena Finder, who was saved by Oskar Schindler, and Anja Spiegelman, who is documented in Maus.
I think the most poignant moment for me was when we stood at the edge of a field where a pyre once burned and the ashes of over 300 thousand Jews now lie. While we stood there, some of us recited the Sh’ma, the most important Jewish prayer.
Today was the day we went to Auschwitz. We were all very nervous about this day and had prepared ourselves to be emotional messes. However the day did not go as planned, but let me start at the beginning. My roommate Emily and I woke up to my 6:30 am alarm feeling better than we had in a while. The hotel rooms were amazing and we both went to bed by 10:30 so we woke up feeling refreshed and recharged. After packing up our room and putting our luggage in the bus we headed to breakfast. The spread this morning was great and we all really enjoyed breakfast.
Although we all enjoyed breakfast as it started to get closer to the time to go to Auschwitz the nervous tone felt almost tangible. After a quick pep talk from Ms. Freeman we headed over.
I’m a very emotional person and I expected to be a mess, but throughout the day there was minimal crying on my part. We were in Auschwitz I for the first part of the morning and as we headed toward the infamous ARBEIT MACH FREI sign I felt more strange than sad. Our group had split between two tour guides and based on what I have heard from my friends my group had the better tour guide. He was very nice and did a good job, but as we traveled through Auschwitz it felt more like a museum than I had expected and all the rearranged photos and other tour groups caused me to feel almost detached from the situation. I felt incredibly strange during the tour, but not as sad as I had expected.
However, there were plenty of moments that made me feel very close to crying like this photo of people of their way to their death. They were mostly children and there was this little boy and his face just stuck with me. Also, the rooms with hair cut from the victims and the shoes (see my photo above) made us all feel very overwhelmed, as well as the exhibit with information about the victims before the war and the book of 4 million names, but something interrupted these feelings every time. There were specific moments that really stuck out to me like when our tour guide showed us the example food of what the victims were supposed to receive and said that the food was, “too little to survive, too much to die immediately” or when he told us that out of the 230,000 children that went through Auschwitz 700 survived. The experience was defiantly worthwhile and I felt very different and strange after, but not as I had expected.
After our tour through Auschwitz I we headed to lunch. Lunch was an experience. The restaurant was really crowded and overwhelmed by the presence of 52 hungry people. Somehow they made soup really complicated by giving everyone a bowl with the contents on the soup and then pouring the liquid (or broth as Sydney corrected me). This whole process took way too long, but it ended up working out and the food was really good.
We then headed to Auschwitz II or Birkenau (it translates roughly to birch tree in English). I expected this camp to make me weep and I was definitely more emotional here, but I did not weep. At this camp we were guided by Ms.Freeman instead of tour guides and that combined with the rawness of this camp affected me more. We walked around the whole camp and something I did not expect was that it was beautiful. The grounds where the camp were were lush and full of life, in the back towards the woods were one of the most beautiful and peaceful places. This made the whole experience more strange because I expected it to be dark, damp, dirty— almost black and white, but the camp was full of color.
We walked around different barracks, to the remnants of the gas chambers, to the train tracks, and around the memorials. There was this moment when Aaron and Rachel gave a prayer at this memorial by the ashes of over 300,000 unidentified victims. It started to rain lightly and many of us, including myself, were overcome with emotion. It didn’t matter what religious affiliation you were or who or what you believed in, in that moment everyone shared this feeling. It is too hard to put into words, but in that moment we all felt it.
We also went into the sauna building where prisoners registered, did laundry, showered (in an actual shower), and there were copies of the photos stolen from the prisoners. The photos were also very emotional and made us all realize how different each person in the camps were and after that I think we all realized how human each person passed through the camp was and that there was more to their story than just what happened to them.
After leaving Birkenau we were all processing and in very serious, somber moods. Ms. Freeman told us we were heading to the basement of a monastery to see an art exhibition by a survivor of the Holocaust. Art isn’t really my thing (sorry Ms.Freeman!) so I did not think I would be extremely impacted by this exhibition, however it was absolutely incredible. It is really hard to explain, but this survivor was 70 years old and he had a stroke. He had refused to talk about his experiences at Auschwitz, but the doctor told him that if he wanted to heal he had to do something for his body and his mind. He began drawing the most amazing representations of his feeling and emotions about the Holocaust. I could spend hours talking about it, but it’s really hard to explain it in words, honestly you have to see it in real life and if you ever get the chance you have to.
Finally, at the end of the day we drove to Kraków and stopped for dinner. We had an excellent group dinner and then had a dance party to help us all process and relax a little bit.
Overall, the day was educational, emotional, and intense. I can’t wait to continue on this journey with these incredible people.
There is a very distinct, almost sweet smell that suffocates the entire camp, particularly around the ruins. Everywhere the eye can see is lush greenery and a very strong sense of spring in the air, which completely contradicts the mind’s moral reaction to the setting. Nature, at the end of the day, takes back what rightfully belongs to it; even in a place where millions once came to die, things continue to bloom. It’s the earth’s satire in the face of man’s evil.
One cannot comprehend the immensity of this place simply by reading it in a textbook, it is from only the pain in both your heart and feet that might make you understand. We didn’t even get hit with emotions immediately. It wasn’t until we stood in a huge empty clearing where the ashes of 300,000 people were disposed, listening to Aaron recite the shema that we were all affected.
A lot of people said that Auschwitz I was nothing like they expected it to be; it was far smaller and really quite disconnected from the history since it had been turned into a museum, complete with a cafe, guided tours, and a gift shop. It was bunk 27 and the huge mounds of human hair that was collected from prisoners that really tore at the heart strings. Baby’s clothes and shoes. Hairbrushes, scissors, even tins of lotion. They robbed these innocent people of everything they had until all they had was their life. Then they took that too. They are now remembered with stones on tombstones, and as a popular Israeli song goes: “There are men with hearts of stone, and stones with the hearts of men.”
Auschwitz is a mixture of old and new, preserved and renovated. While some buildings have remained in their original state, the vast majority that are used for tours have been completely repurposed into museums and exhibitions. Although there’s something a bit eerie about using a fancy modern bathroom built inside of a former prisoners barrack, the overall experience was extremely powerful.
After walking through the gates holding the inscription, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, we walked through a series of barracks and exhibitions. Rooms were filled with the stolen possessions of Jews and other prisoners. Shoes, hair, pots and pans, glasses. All were preserved in giant piles filling up entire rooms.
The most captivating building was an exhibition dedicated to the Jews of the Holocaust: their culture, heritage, life, and death. Home videos taken by Jewish family’s before the war played on all 4 walls of one of the rooms. On the second floor, survivor testimony played on loop.
Also kept in the same exhibition was “The Book of Names”. This massive, multi-thousand page book spanned the length of the entire room. It was harrowing to look through the large pages, filled with millions of names of people murdered in the Holocaust. Familiar names popped out on each page, and I was able to find around 20 people matching my own last name and mother’s maiden name. While these people may not have been direct relatives, it was nonetheless a strange feeling.
We spent the second half of the day in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Compared to Auschwitz I, Birkenau was massive, and it’s the largest graveyard in the world. Throughout the day, everything felt a bit off. On the one hand I was walking on the same grounds millions of Jews died on less than a century ago. On the other hand, the scenery is filled with lush grass, chirping birds, and plentiful tourists.
For me the most powerful place at Birkenau was the field of ashes located at the back of the camp. A field that’s both beautiful and tranquil. On the field are flowers, trees, and grass: all of which sprouted from the ashes of hundreds of thousands of human beings.
It’s hard to explain or put into writing the feelings that went through my head or the emotions I felt walking through the camps. At times I felt angry, upset, confused, intrigued, and tearful. Nothing was ever straight forward, nor should it have been. I’m incredibly thankful for this experience and look forward for all the many more to come in the next 7 days.
Greetings from Poland!
Today has been a whirlwind of emotions and experiences that seem almost paradoxical but all the more meaningful. We started off our day by heading across the street from our lovely hotel to Auschwitz. Although many of us felt that the museum-oriented aspects of it caused feelings of detachment, I still felt chills while walking past barracks and especially when standing before the sign: “Arbeit macht frei". Some of the most disturbing instances for me were witnessing the mounds of human hair and shoes of young and old people. It really allowed me to witness the depth of such dehumanization among all victims. Also, nothing could be more heart wrenching and terrifying than walking into a former gas chamber/crematorium. I felt so mentally weighed down and saddened, and these feelings still linger. These feelings were also similar to the way I felt when visiting the Euthanasia center a couple days ago.
Next we went to Birkenau, and for me, this fit the intimidating and gruesome nature of the concentration camp setting that I had always pictured in my head. This atmosphere was very eerie and overwhelming at times, yet I am especially grateful to rely on the comfort from our squad. One of the most heart wrenching experiences for me was when we all stood in silence before the field in Birkenau which was a mass grave for over 30,000 unidentified bodies. As we stood here, Aaron and Rachel said a Jewish prayer to us, that was very reflective and moved me and many of my classmates to tears. This was such a unifying moment for us as a group and has only increased my appreciation for our squad.
Later into the night, we dined at Katzel Kajasowka where we feasted on duck, Fanta, and cheesecake, to name a few. Soon enough, we cranked the aux and tore up the dance floor. I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Howard and Mr. Gavin are dancing legends of the night. Then we concluded our day by taking the bus to our hotel, while singing and rapping the entire way—to the chaperones’ dismay, of course.
After today, I’ve come to realize that we can all rely on each other for emotional support and processing these intense moments, yet we also have a lot of fun hanging out and doing cha cha slide together :)
I have gotten really close with many new people so far and I’m excited for what’s to come on this journey!!
Reading the amazing and heartfelt posts have added another layer for this experience. It can be difficult to share emotions in the moment.
Today we experienced Majdanek and for me, the “Shrine” art installation overpowered me. It was barbarically beautiful - light fixtures made from barbed wire that from the distance look like they could be hanging from any trendy lighting store. But upon closer inspection, so much more. Soft through toughness. Incredible.
The imagery will stay with me and forever apply as a symbol for many challenges of life, reminding me that light and hope can come from within.
--Catherine Foley, Classics teacher and trip chaperone
“Too often when we think of the Holocaust, we only think of Auschwitz,” the sign at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow read. After visiting both Auschwitz and Birkenau yesterday, I was at first taken aback by this quote. How can one not think about Auschwitz and all of the horrors and crimes committed there? About the men, women, and children who tragically fell victim to Hitler’s Nazi regime in this place of evil? About the suitcases and shoes and clothes of lives cut too short, too quickly? Nevertheless, as I moved throughout the exhibit, I soon realized how this quote rang true and the significance it has to the rest of our trip spent here in Eastern Europe.
On the walls of the museum were pictures of various Nazi death camps, former ghettoes, and mass graves across the previously occupied territories. Some included photos of the former Krakow ghetto, the Jewish quarters of Krakow, and the Plaszów concentration camp, three distinctive and important locations that we all had the chance to visit today and in seeing, really helped put this entire trip and the Holocaust itself into perspective for us. As the quote from the museum reminds us, sometimes we do neglect to only think of Auschwitz, the train tracks and the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate when we think of the Holocaust. We sometimes forget that even on the ground we stood on in Krakow, the lives of too many individuals were stripped away by the Nazis or that on the grassy hills of what was once Plaszów, the remains of thousands of forced laborers lie scattered eternally. Similarly, though it may be difficult to imagine, these are lives of those who once thrived in Krakow, worshipping in the synagogues and shopping in the markets we visited this afternoon.
As we travel to Lublin this evening to visit Majdanek tomorrow, each of us are filled with something new to consider and some food for thought after exploring both the museum and the Old Town of Krakow today. It’s almost like a sense of closure, as if everything is coming full circle on this trip and our perspectives begin to broaden, something that I’m sure we’ll be grateful for the tough day that will be tomorrow.
On a lighter note, we all had a great time exploring the Krakow Old Town today, trying all of the delicious traditional Polish food and bargaining in the markets. Of the many gifts purchased, some favorites include all types of amber jewelry, embroidered bags, and of course the touristy “I love Poland” shirts! We also got to do some amazing sight seeing at the Krakow castle and at various churches across the square. Krakow definitely did not disappoint.
Today we had a brief respite from the exhausting past couple days and the exhausting days to come. We woke up at the civilized time of 8:45, had a leisurely breakfast and departed our hotel for the airport to fly to Poland.
After Ms. Freeman’s dire warnings the night before, we were all a bit nervous about the prospect of flying Ryanair. There was a good deal of anxious reshuffling of luggage and passing around of Ms. Foley’s luggage scale, but despite all the anxiety, all went smoothly at the airport and everyone got through check in and security just fine.
From there we boarded the plane and took off for Poland, landing in Krakow around an hour later. And while the flight was definitely an experience, all went well and we landed safely in Krakow! There we met our bus driver for the next couple of days, Alec, and left for the town of Oswiecim, the location of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
After dropping our things off at our new hotel, practically the Ritz Carlton after our last hotel and right across the street from Auschwitz itself, Ms. Freeman took us on a brief tour of a couple places around the edge of Auschwitz. We learned a lot about the restoration efforts there, as well as about how only certain part of the camps were preserved, while many others have been built over by homes and industry. We didn’t really get into much of the emotional stuff today, but tomorrow we’ll definitely be diving into all of those feelings and emotions when we go on our official tour of Auschwitz and Birkenau.
We ended the day off with an amazing full group dinner in our hotel and finished up early to get a good nights sleep for a long and taxing day tomorrow.
Hello everyone, it’s Nicole!
To sum up the day, it was filled with travel by bus and plane. On the bus, I sat in the very front to make sure that I got my last looks of beautiful Berlin. I was sad that we were leaving, but I was super excited to go to the “motherland”, aka Poland. I haven’t been in 3 years and I’ve never been without family, so this was an entirely new experience. Ms. Freeman made the joke that not only would I kiss the ground once we landed in Kraków, but also that I would feel as if I was in heaven....to say the least, she was right. I couldn’t wait, and when the pilot said 10 more minutes till landing, I couldn’t stop staring out of the window. And I know that this all may sound dramatic so far, but the fact that we arrived in Poland really made me feel in some sort of way that solidified my decision about moving to this beautiful country.
The best part about travelling with a large group is the fact that natives don’t expect you to speak their language, especially if they think you’re American. So whenever I would say “dzień dobry” (this means hello or good morning) to hotel staff members, our driver Alek, or Dorota, I would get shocked looks because they weren’t expecting me to speak Polish. However, those expressions turned into smiles and then into conversations :-)
Once we got to our hotel, we set down our luggage and met outside to take an unofficial tour of some parts of Auschwitz-I that a tour guide wouldn’t show us. Although I’ve visited this concentration camp 5 years ago, some memories came flooding back. Considering that I was 12 when I visited for the first time, I wasn’t shocked that I didn’t remember everything about the layout of Auschwitz or everything that was told to me, simply because I was unable to process it at such a young age. As we continued our walk and turned a corner, I noticed a pair of doves perched on the wires above us. As usually talked about throughout our trip so far, this was an extreme juxtaposition. At such a place where everything horrible you can think of happened, seeing the two birds that symbolize peace fly near us shows us the sentiment around the town and our group. As we visit more and more of these sites that make us all feel a certain type of way, we lean on each other’s shoulders to try and search for that peace.
I ended the day by eating dinner with my friends, and eventually being called to translate a conversation between Ms. Freeman and our bus driver, Alek. I enjoyed it so much and I can’t wait for more occasions where I can translate!
Dobra noc z Polski! :-)
As the great Ms Skerrit once said, “Hi beauties!”
We’re only day four into this trip but it feels like we have been in Berlin for weeks. I’m not complaining though— Berlin has been so good to us!! It will be sad to say goodbye to this incredible city tomorrow, but today has been a perfect way to end this part of the trip.
Although today was not as emotionally heavy as yesterday, the places we visited were completely riveting, provocative, and captivating. the second museum we visited today is called the Judisches Museum, which even from the outside makes the museum unforgettable. designed by Daniel Libeskind, The building is encompassed with jagged edges and rugged grounds, ultimately (and successfully) portraying the absence of the Jewish population in post-Nazi Germany.
Inside the museum, some of the most thought-provoking and jarring exhibits included a room with only a red light that would increasingly grow brighter until a painfully bright flash set off. another memorable exhibit consisted of a hauntingly tall, dark, cold room which held nothing inside but a giant steel ladder. one element that made this part of the museum so distinct was the feeling of fear it incited. also, the building never had any 90-degree angles but instead had slanted hallways titled either the “axis of exile” or the “axis of the Holocaust”, and the “axis of continuity.” I thought that these three axes illustrated how despite being forced out of their homelands and into concentration camps, the Jewish population continues to live on today regardless of those hardships.
Yet my favorite exhibit we saw today is called the Fallen Leaves, or “Shalekhet”, crafted by Menashe Kadishman. walking into this section, I came in with an advantage of having researched this particular exhibit, but I could have never imagined the emotions that this piece evoked. the Fallen Leaves commemorates all of those lives lost to violence and war, and consists of a block’s worth of metal faces scattered across the floor. even though it was difficult to engage in this particular exhibit, it demonstrates how it is impossible to ignore the painful clanging sound of the faces and thus ignore the painful loss of the Jewish population in the Holocaust.
On another note, our last night in Berlin was exciting to say the least. eating Mexican food was a treat and encountering the electrifying energy of Berlin’s community was the cherry on top. we get to sleep in until 8AM tomorrow which is the best news we’ve heard all week. traveling all day tomorrow will be the perfect time to sit back and reflect upon all of these incredible moments we’ve experienced together.
As they say in Germany, “ciao!”
After the amazing and very transparent tour of the Bundestag (it was made of glass), we went on a walking tour of some of the memorials to the targeted populations. Since we just finished presentations on these groups we were very eager to see how they would be represented. Our first stop was a pond-like memorial to the Roma and Sinti, whom are more commonly referred to as Gypsies (not the right term!). It was a very simple memorial, with a triangular stone in the middle symbolizing the triangles which targeted populations such as the Roma and Sinti were forced to wear. The next memorial we walked to was one in remembrance of the homosexuals who were persecuted and killed. The memorial was a big stone block, with a window you could look into and view a video of two homosexual couples, males and females, embracing. The last memorial was to honor the disabled, which displayed a translucent blue wall. I really appreciated that it was made accessible, low enough for wheelchair access, with audio information and with Braille.
Before we broke for dinner we reflected more on the memorials, all of which were beautiful and thoughtful but evoked very different emotions and conversations. The first was very peaceful and right next to the government’s Bundestag building, an ideal location for something that should never be forgotten. The memorial to the homosexuals was unmarked and would have been unidentifiable unless you looked in the small viewing window. This could be due to the homophobia that still exists, or that the artists wanted the images to be discrete but potentially surprising, forcing viewiers to consider their own reactions. Although we were undecided on the meaning of the memorial to the disabled, we did like it, and among the many things we have learned so far is that many meanings and messages are meant to be up to interpretation.
(As many experienced on the post-colonial tours, we do not live in a post-racial world, and there is unfortunately no memorial to the Afro-Germans. Yet!)
Dinner was great (we even had a convo on how to best support each other during the coming challenging days —maturation? Increasing empathy?—). Many of us had ice cream. A very Facing History type of day. Very wound out, and tired with our ~12 mile walk today, we are all looking forward to a late morning in. Goodnight!
Arriving at the former euthanasia center in Bernburg, I do not think that anyone could expect what we were going to experience (especially me, because I didn't read the itinerary!). Unlike many of the horrifying monuments that we will see in Eastern Europe, this one did not betray its sinister past with its unassuming facade.
We had learned about the Nazi's program to exterminate persons with disabilities prior to visiting the euthanasia center, so we were familiar with the material as we entered the building. And yet, we could not have anticipated the feelings with which we were confronted as we toured the space.
The euthanasia center is still intact from its original Nazi-era state, including a gas chamber in which disabled victims were murdered as well as a dissection room and a crematorium. Our guide assured us that if we did not feel comfortable entering these rooms, we could remain in the hallway. I was rather surprised by this--I assumed that there would be no reason to avoid these rooms. When we stepped into the gas chamber, however, which immediately conveyed a sense of restriction by way of the cramped doorway, I began to see reason for her warning. With its orderly grid pattern of white tiles, the chamber exuded a sense of sterilization and emptiness. Disturbing details included a one-way peephole enabling the euthanasia "doctors" to ensure that they murdered all of their victims and a convex mirror at the back of the room that allowed the doctors to see all angles of the chamber while in use. The cold and calculating nature of these technical elements provided us with an unsettling view of the Nazi mind, which dedicated so much energy and intelligence to the development of killing programs. Our guide also revealed to us that the Nazis often incinerated the bodies of three victims at once so as to conserve energy and that they compiled a list of legitimate causes of death with which to trick the families of the victims. Learning about these details in the very space from which they were born certainly contributed to the emotional turbulence that suddenly overwhelmed the group.
I found the fact that the Nazi doctors cared not even to separate the ashes of these victims when sending urns back to families particularly upsetting. It is indicative of the Nazi's belief that persons with disabilities were not individuals worthy of the respect allotted to human life.
Traveling to a foreign country is very much a return to innocence. We speak choppy German like children, knowing only a few phrases. We see every building and neighborhood as new and interesting, unaware of the negative perceptions that Berliners might have of them. We respond with intense emotion to what we see, as at the euthanasia center. I think that this naivety is what makes this trip valuable to us, and I expect that we will continue to uncover this importance as we venture to Poland and the Czech Republic.
Today we went to the Bundestag, which is kind of like Germany’s version of the House of Representatives. It was a very interesting visit for several reasons. One thing that I heard several people comment on was how old fashioned the outside of the building looked, especially in comparison to how modern the inside was. We were split up into two groups and taken on a tour of the building. Our tour guide talked about how the building represented freedom and democracy in the country because Hitler never spent his time there while ruling.
One of the coolest parts of the tour was the walls where Russian soldiers who invaded Berlin had signed their names and wrote various messages when they were taking Berlin. They decided to keep most of the messages up after their second post-War renovation as a way of remembering the past. We ended the tour by getting to look through the glass dome on top of the building, from which one can look down on the legislature making decisions as a way of the government being transparent. All in all, it was a very interesting experience.
My education from BLS continues to amaze me and the experiences so far have been so profound.
The targeted population project from Facing History and Ourselves was one of the first major research projects and I can remember pouring over books, yes books, and one discovery or fact led me to another shocking reality. My group was assigned the disabled victims. Yesterday we traveled to Bernburg and visited the Stiftung Gedenkstätten Sachsen- Anhalt Fachlinkum and the experience was overwhelming. The emotions were raw. The history became very real.
I feel so fortunate to be able to continue the education that began as a student in 2005, and this memorial showed me that the light will still shine. The amount of research and knowledge available now at this memorial and also the one in Berlin is astounding to me. I hope that it continues and it will with me.
Catherine Foley '05
Facing History at BLS '04-05
Classics teacher ( and chaperone extradinaire, per Ms Freeman)
A Guide to Bauhaus!
Today we had an early start to our morning and traveled by bus to Bauhaus! For those who haven’t been practicing their German, Bau means to construct, and haus means House!This iconic art school/ museum was built by Walter Gropius. As a student at BLS who also takes art history, I was quaking with excitement to see this! I soon learned that the best way to view the building was from an airplane, as the architectural design made it look like a floating building! Alas, we didn’t have an airplane, so we just walked around the perimeter of the concrete skeleton.
Gropius’ main idea was to have a school that was transparent. A place where everyone can see in the building, in the studios, and what is happening inside with fresh air and circulation. He wanted to make it so that the building was like a small town! If you are a person that tracks your steps on a fit bit, sadly, this architectural design isn’t for you. Gropius made it so that it was functional for the person who lived in it. For example, if you wanted to eat on your porch, he made it so that instead of walking from the kitchen to the living room to the porch- the porch was located right outside of the kitchen! What a time saver!
We also learned about how there were two Bauhaus’s one in Dessau and one in Weimar. Weimar architecture was focused on industrial mass production, instead of using blocks of wood like in Dessau- they would use sheets of wood, plastic, and cloth. We were able to see the difference between both styles through Gropius’ own office and how it was arranged. The Bauhaus is also recognizable for their minimalistic style. One important theme throughout Bauhaus was the use of color. In the main building there are 12 different tones of red blue and yellow, no green or any other mixed colors. A fun fact I enjoyed as that the staircases were often painted with red to lure the visitors upstairs. #bauhaus2022
Here are some fun pictures so you can visualize our morning!
I started my day by doing math. After waking up at 5:15 (likely before our friends back in Boston went to bed, since it was only 11:15pm there), we rode on another super cool double decker bus where I learned how to graph derivatives (shoutout to Nicole for explaning it to me). But it honestly feels like I learned how to graph derivatives weeks ago. Between that early morning bus ride/math lesson and right now, we did so much.
First we went to the Bauhaus, which was once the best art school in Germany, combining technology and art in each students' education. I really did not know what to expect when I walked in the doors of the building. I was a little surprised to not see any traditional art (paintings, sculptures, and things of the like). Instead, as the tour guide explained, the building itself was the art, from the carefully chosen wall paint colors to the nickel-plated steel and fabric chairs. The Bauhaus had been hyped up so much ahead of time by a previous Eastern Europe traveler (hi Isabelle), and they still exceeded my expectations.
After the Bauhaus, we went to the Bernburg Euthanasia Center. Quite a contrast from the Bauhaus. Bernburg was one of the hospitals to where disabled people were sent to be examined and euthanized, and it is still in operation as a psychiatric facility today. Even though I knew all about this hospital from my targeted populations project on the disabled, I was not ready to actually walk into the 3 main rooms: the gassing room, the examination/experimentation room, and the crematorium. For me, the rooms got more and more difficult to walk through as I went through them. The final room, the crematorium, was covered with photos of victims and had a pile of flowers and candles. The room was absolutely dead silent as we all struggled to take it what we were seeing. After we left the crematorium, we all went outside to take a few minutes to process what we saw by ourselves. All I could think of was how dumb it was that this morning I was complaining about how difficult my math homework was, when the people killed in Bernburg went through horrors we can't even comprehend. We then rejoined as a group to share what we were feeling. The tour guide had initially planned to give us a presentation on more of the history behind the T4 Operation (which was the program under which so many disabled people were sterilized and euthanized by the Nazis), but I think we were all thankful to have that group discussion instead of the presentation.
After we left Bernburg, we got back onto the bus and headed to see the remnants of the Berlin Wall. However, after a few minutes of looking through the cracks into no man's land, a lighting storm started, so we all quickly went to the train and headed back to the hotel neighborhood to get dinner.
Today was the first day of the "heavy stuff", and it's only going to get more and more difficult as we go along. However, even in just the 3 days that we've been here, we've all gotten so much closer, which will make the hard parts of this trip just a little bit easier. Whether it be helping each other figure out how to graph derivates or helping each other get through the emotionally taxing experiences in our very near future, we all know that we each have 52 other people that we can turn to for whatever we need. Which is pretty amazing.
I held my breath as I stepped inside the gas chamber at the euthanasia center. I stood near the walls to avoid the pipes hanging above in the center of the ceiling. I could not stop staring at the pipes. Standing in the place where people had been murdered was an indescribable feeling. There is a pit in my stomach that still has not disappeared.
We then went inside the crematorium, where giant photographs of the ovens were standing in the place they once were. I could barely look at the photographs and instead focused my attention on the flowers and candles were placed in front of it. The walls were filled with pictures of the victims.
Our guide then invited us to take a breath and go outside.
We trickled out of the building one by one. We were able to exit the building that many had not been able to exit. I was looking down so I saw only the shoes of my peers slide over the steps like water being poured out. None of us were talking. Silence filled the empty courtyard, save for the flutter of the wind and the songs of the birds. The grass beneath my feet was the shade of green you imagine in the middle of July. The beauty surrounding me contrasted too greatly to the horror within.
We spent about 20 minutes outside even though our guide had only suggested 10 minutes. Our guide then wanted to give us a lecture on the history of national socialism. But none of us could do it. We all knew about the history behind the building standing mightily in front of us. We knew about the mindset of the people who had a hand in creating these meticulously detailed centers for death. Mr. Gavin suggested that instead of a lecture, we come back inside to talk about what we were thinking and feeling. Without a word, as a mass we silently stood up from the grass and walked back inside.
Words failed me as others talked because all I could think about was how we were expected to talk about the history after witnessing such a horrific thing. Our guide told us at the end that she had never had a group this affected by the euthanasia center. Going in, I had thought that since we have been exposed to so much during the entire year in Facing class, we would be somewhat accustomed to what we would witness. But afterwards, I realized that because we were so educated on the subject, it actually made us more empathetic.
Sprechen sie englisch? I hope so! Happy day 3 in Germany! I'm a huge fan. If you couldn't tell, sprechen sie englisch means "do you speak English" and I've been enjoying saying that to the locals. I also think my manners are better here than back home because I have said "danke" (thank you) more times than I can count. So...you could say I'm fluent. No big deal. I could write this whole post in German, but I'll spare you all.
Today was one lonnggg day. We started it off by waking up at 6 and having a quick breakfast. I had some waffles and jam and a cup of coffee and TWO cups of tea--we are eating good over here. We then hopped on a bus for 2 hours, which was really nice because we got to have a quick snooze (despite all the caffeine) and prepare ourselves for a riveting day visiting the Bauhaus and a former euthanasia site.
Visiting Bauhaus was really cool. We went on a tour of the buildings and had all of this architect jargon sprung at us, so my main takeaway was that it was cool. I think Leo and Eleanor can elaborate on this...they take art history. But all in all it was really interesting to see the way every piece of the building was meticulously thought out.
Here's a picture of me and bae. Bauhaus class of 2023? Hehe!
After Bauhaus we transitioned to a more intense topic and visited a former euthanasia site. To be honest, I wasn't really prepared for anything that I experienced, and I think a lot of our group felt the same way. We began our visit with a brief information session, most of which we have already learned about from the group of classmates that taught us about the disabled targeted population. We proceeded our tour by walking silently into a gas chamber used on the patients. Standing in there sent shivers down my spine. All I could think about was how the patients had no clue they were going to be executed, and the guards just sat outside playing cards and drinking. As I was walking to the next room where the bodies were cremated I was just completely speechless. We left the room alive, unlike thousands of innocent people. That really got me. I don't really know how to explain my experience, so I'm sorry. But I think this really captures the whole essence of this trip. You can read about these sites. You can watch videos. But you will never really be able to understand it fully until you are in the exact location. And being here with such an amazing group of supportive and empathetic people made this whole intense process that much more meaningful. After exiting the hospital, we all stood around in a big clump outside in the rain and just talked. We were all processing all of this in our own way. Some were silent, some were holding each other's hands, but most importantly, we were all there together. Getting back on the bus to our next stop, needing a little alone time, I listened to some calm music while others reflected in their individual ways. All I could think about was how powerful this one site was, and how powerful every other site is going to be. Of course I am having so much fun on this trip, I'm in a whole new and exciting city for crying out loud, but the true meaning behind this trip is facing our history and I don't know if I'm ready for what lays ahead. I don't think anyone ever is.
So yeah, this trip is definitely intense and now I just feel awkward trying to make a transition back into less intense stuff, but I guess that's just what this trip is! So anyways, we took a long and rainy bus ride (a DOUBLE decker, mind you) to go and see the Berlin Wall.
Here's some of my babies with the best view of the bus! Look at all the greenery! It's REAL spring here.
We then got out, crossed the crazy streets of Berlin (we're really bad at crossing streets, we're too used to cars letting us j-walk in Boston) and found ourself in a lightning storm! Now before you get all scared, @mom and dad hiiiii/honestly ALL Mom and dads and whoever is reading this post, we were safe! We quickly went back to the train station towards our hotel and dispersed for dinner. Ok sure, we walked across a field surrounded by metal, but I'm still writing this post aren't I?
I'm now lying in bed, with all of my roommates sleeping around me in this quaint little hostile and I feel incredibly content. This trip so far has been so amazing and I feel immensely lucky to be able to have these extraordinary experiences. I've connected with so many new people, and it's only day 3. But I'm telling ya, I feel like I've been here for weeks. Ok tata for now folks! Or should I say...auf wiedersehen!
P.s. Ja ja ja ja