I wanted to take the time to write my last blog about my last trip of the semester and why it was such a meaninful one. Me and Brianna Simkowski took a trip to Kraków Poland. While we were there we got experienced the horror and terror of brought on by the Holocaust when we visited Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau. I had learned a lot about it in various History classes throughout my career as a student, and even went to museums and exhibits about it, however that couldn’t even compare to the real thing. Getting to stand on the same ground that the millions of murdered Jews once stood was a very powerful and moving experience. At the first camp, which was more of a museum, we saw the famous “Work sets you free” sign at the entrance of the camp and a lot of artifacts left for evidence by the Nazis. The artifacts we saw were things such as a room full of suitcases, 40,000 pairs of shoes (not even close to the full amount retained), around 50 tons of human hair, clothes, pots, pans toys, toothbrushes and anything else the Jews thought they would need, afterall they didn’t even know where they were going. Seeing all of these things, for me especially the hair, made everything so much more real for me. These were their actual possessions and hair and clothes from when they arrived; I was in total shock. We also saw a great number of cans of the poison used in the gas chambers and I almost felt sick to my stomach looking at that and reading about how much they used to kill millions of innocent people. A very scary part of the first camp was the gas chamber. We got to go into one on the tour, and it was moving and terrifying at the same time. I felt claustrophobic and scared just walking in there and didn’t want to spend much time there. There were also punishment cells that we got to see and the conditions on which they were punished were just horrible. I realized that I learned all about this previously, but seeing the real thing I was able to make such a better connection.
The second camp, Auschwitz II Birkenau was more of a camp setting than a museum. When we entered we actually stepped over the infamous trail tracks that have been seen in many pictures and video clips. There was a train cart there to represent where exactly the Jews, gypsies, Polish, gays and any other outcast got off. People had put flowers and pieces of rock all around the train cart in memory of those that had been murdered. The camp was just a big open piece of land with a lot of barracks and brick buildings, and even though there were so many tours going on, it was almost completely silent. We then got to see a crematorium that was blown up by the Nazis to hide evidence. We got to see the chimney that the smoke from the burning bodies came out of and also the pits where their ashes were thrown. I felt disgusted and depressed while looking at all of this and couldn’t believe this is what those people had to go through. Also on the tour, we got to see what the living conditions were like, which were very gruesome. The sleeping barracks were just lines of wooden bunks where around 8 or 9 people slept on each bunk. There was nothing else, just wood. The bathroom was a long hall of holes that were used as toilets. Our tour guide mentioned that the people only got to use the bathroom twice a day, and only got less than a minute to go to the bathroom. This was almost impossible because with the living and eating conditions most of the people got sick and would need the bathroom a lot more than twice a day.
Although I did other things in Poland, such as visit the Salt Mines and walk around the Christmas markets in Kraków enjoying the food and shops, this was the most moving part of the trip for me. It was depressing and very sad to see exactly what the Jews had to go through, but it was something I had always wanted to see and I think it was ironically a good way to end my study abroad experience.
Danielle Costello is studying abroad in London, England, with the Foundation for International Education (FIE).