Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Krakow & Auschwitz

   This post took me a little longer than usually to post, but it was intentional I promise.  This past weekend I was fortunate enough to go to Krakow, Poland and Auschwitz.  I wanted to let the experience soak in a little before reflecting on it.  I should warn you, it is a depressing post so turn back now or mentally prepare yourself.

    First of all, Poland is a gorgeous country.  It quickly became my favorite European countryside I've seen thus far.  The changing fall leaves made the 11hour bus ride slightly less painful.  We were blessed with warm, sunny weather to add to the pleasant scenery and delicious Polish food.  Perogis are my new favorite food.  They are slightly like dumplings, with tons of different inside flavors!  I also ate the best sausage of my entire European trip in the main square.  Poland is the only country that seems to love sunflowers ALMOST as much as I do.  They were all over the square, in every restaurant, painted on every surface, and sold at ever vendor.  It was glorious!  Overall, extremely pleasant Krakow experience.  I was definitely missing my partner in crime, Michelle, though.  She was home awaiting the MUCH anticipated arrival of her boyfriend, Phil.  Here's here for the week and we couldn't be more excited!  We love Phil!

Now onto the heavier subject... Auschwitz.
    Throughout my entire junior year of high school, Brother Mike taught us in-depth about the Holocaust in my Christian Existence class.  We read "Man's Search for Meaning," by Viktor Frankl.  One of my favorite quotes from the book is: "To live is to suffer; to survive is to find meaning in the suffering."  Frankl basically points out the inevitable fact that we will all suffer in life, but the only way we can grow is by finding the meaning behind our suffering.  We must focus on the meaning or our suffering may seem in vein.
   Walking through this camp I cannot imagine how Frankl kept such a positive outlook during his time here.  We visited both Auschwitz I & II.  The entrance of Auschwitz I holds an infamous sign "Arbeit Macht Frei", which means "Work is Liberating."

    The entire concentration camp was a mind game for both the leaders and the victims.  This place is an embodiment of evil and hell on earth.  The guards would trick the newcomers, saying they were heading to the showers to wash off the filth, then lock them tight in a gas chamber.  Mind games and trickery that ultimately lead to chaos and panic.
    In a reverse effort, the mentality of the victims ultimately lead to their survival or demise.  One rabbi spoke heavily about Psalm 27.  "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?"  In a time of terror, they constantly kept faith and placed their hope in the Lord. "Hope is the last to die."
   On the day of our visit there were hundreds of Jewish groups visiting.  They waved the Jewish flag as they marched on the soil where many of their ancestors perished.  This flag waving proudly was the ultimate statement of victory.  Such a powerful sight.
   The majority of us could not make it through even half of the camp without being brought to tears.  I was doing a miraculous job of staying strong until we came to the room that contained all the children's belongings.  Then I lost it.  Little baby shoes, onesies, hats.  Thousands and thousands of innocent babies and children killed. All that remains are the little baby shoes.
   One artist took the pictures drawn by some of the victims, before, during, and after their experience at the camps.  He re-created all of these many drawings onto the wall of a plain white-painted room.  The beginning pictures were of children playing on a playground, or birds flying in the sky, or beautiful flower gardens.  Progressively the pictures turn to scenes of horror.  Little hands drawing pictures of their family being shot, army tanks driving through their street, little kids crying while their family is taken away.  Through the progression of the re-drawn pictures, you can feel the innocence being stolen from these pure hearts.
   The fact that this happened in history absolutely breaks my heart.  I'm a positive person, and I like to believe that everyone in this world is generally good.  However, after visiting Auschwitz, one is forced to reconsider.  Whether out of fear or genuine agreement, millions of people went along with the ideas of Hitler.  This is a period when world that was eclipsed by hatred, evil, and immorality.  In the end, the cowards set fire to the gas chambers and tore down the "evidence" of their deeds.  As if the removal of an incriminating building could erase the damage--- the death of millions of people.
 I just try to keep the picture of the Jewish flag flying proudly and  triumphantly in my mind as a reminder that 
good always wins.  

 The remnants of the burnt down gas chambers/crematorium

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