Blogging our way through Eastern Europe
"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.