After breakfast, we load our luggage on the bus, and drive the short distance to Auschwitz I, which prior to the Holocaust, was used as a military base by the Poles. Our guide tells us that the only thing the Nazis had to do to turn it into a concentration camp was to put up the fence. We pause at the gate, again reading the sign "Arbeit Macht Frei" and learn that here, prisoners played music as their fellow inmates marched to and from work sites. This made it easier for the guards to count them as they exited and returned.
After lunch, we go to Birkenau. As we pass through the gate, Shalmi, again guiding us through our Holocaust journey, points out The Ramp. Memories of those who survived Auschwitz/Birkenau were divided in two: life before The Ramp, and life after The Ramp. The Ramp is as much a part of Jewish history as Mount Sinai--which is where according to one rabbi, Jews should have taken God to account. Here Jews can echo the words that were written in the hidden synagogue in Theresienstadt: "God, we remembered you. Don't forget us." The rabbi felt that because of the Holocaust, the original covenant between God and the Jewish people should be renegotiated.
Birkenau reflects a modern way of killing. No one person is the actual killer. People do their own little part and feel disconnected from the process. Each person plays a part, from the train conductor to the person who opens the railcars, to the SS officer doing the selection. People do their own little part and feel disconnected from the process. They don't see themselves as killers, so who should take responsibility?
Mackenzie says. . .Entering the gates of Auschwitz, everything felt incredibly surreal. After years of reading books, looking at pictures, visiting musuems, and watching movies, passing through the gates of Auschwitz was truly the defning moment in my study of the Holocaust. From touching the original rusty barbed wire to seeing the seemingly endless pile of human hair, I have never felt such an overwhelming stream of emotion overcome me. However, the single-most unexpected thing that genuinely stuck out to me the most was a simple cheesegrater. While in the room filled with kitchen utensils, I came across a cabinet that contained an average household cheesegrater. I found myself staring at the item for several minutes--completely entranced by its strange familiarity. You see, it was at this very moment that I realized this was the exact same cheesegrater we have in my very own home. Though silly and trivial, this simple item was a physical representation of how innocent and truly humane the Jews and other victims were. Though I am not Jewish, I connected to the Jews, for that cheesegrater exemplified the idea that no matter what, the Jews were normal humans just like me. Seeing such artifcats, observing the gas chamber remains, and passing under the infamous "Abriet Macht Frei" sign all epitomized the overall notion that the Holocaust was undoubtedly a question of humanity in the world.
Celina says. . .There was one photo on the wall of the women’s barrack, where the woman looked defiantly into the camera with an expression that said “You will not break me." Amidst hundreds of broken faces, her name was Wanda and she only survived a few short weeks in Auschwitz. The only Wanda I could think of was the movie A Fish Called Wanda, which is my mother’s favorite movie. It made me think of how my mother would be equally defiant behind that camera, and if I could stare down my oppressors with just as much spirit as my mother and Wanda.
Sarah S. says. . .The fact that my grandfather and his family could have been working in the concentration camps or sent to Birkenau, the death camp, really hit me hard. These were real people with real stories with the vast are that our group witnessed today. There were approximately ten members of my family that perish in camps, but their stories are unknown. If my late grandfather hadn't escaped and survived I would not be here today. In a way the journey through Auschwitz made me feel a sense of relief that I am alive; however, it left me with sorrow for those in my family who did not. The importance of continuing this history is a life long journey.
Lilibeth says. . .As I entered Auschwitz II known as Birkenau, I saw this beautiful place that held many terrible , horrible stories. Seeing the flowers all over the camp, I saw it as a way nature gives its condolences to all the deaths that happen in these camps. I see it in this way because their deaths were never given the respect they needed or should have been given.
Deanne says. . .Auschwitz had to be the most uncomfortable place I have ever been in. Walking through this huge camp I tried to imagine myself in the shoes of the victims in the Holocaust. Seeing real shoes, hair, train tracks, barracks, train cars, and crematoriums I started to get queasy. Words can’t even explain the sickening feeling I had knowing that I was in a camp where such horrible terror took place.
Cherilyn says. . .As I was sitting in the area called “Canada,” looking out at Auschwitz II, I began to think about my birthday, and I started to think about the birthdays of the prisoners. I began to wonder how the prisoners would have felt on their birthdays. Would they be happy to survive another year, would they wish they were dead and no longer suffering, would their wish have been for freedom, or would they have been too numb to feel anything? I thought of how many people would never celebrate their birthday and how many children would never reach their seventeenth birthday. I almost felt guilty that I could recognize my birthday and they never would again.
Nick says. . .While in one of the tattered women’s barracks of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Shalmi told us the story of Sila, a barrack Elder that allowed power to corrupt her previously kind, pious self. Sila was originally a fragile, gorgeous young sixteen year old Jewish girl when she first entered Auschwitz, but like for many other Elders and Kapos, the traumatizing camp life transformed her genial persona into a cold-blooded one – one focused only on self-conversation and survival. She had managed to undergo a monumental transformation within two years, changing from a kind young girl to a ruthless, callous woman.
In the story lies a lesson of human nature. When exhaustion becomes overwhelming, fear of death constant, and hunger ravenous, people change from benevolent humans to selfish animals. Deep down, all of humanity holds basic animalistic instincts – instincts that care only for self-conservation, even if the preservation of one’s self entails killing for bed space, killing because an SS officer said so, or killing for a small piece of bread. We can all “degenerate” into real animals if our lives truly depend on it, clear in the camp life of Auschwitz.
Ashley says. . .When I saw the two tons of human hair, tears filled my eyes right away. Looking closely and seeing the different types and colors completely blew me away. I became so overwhelmed looking at the full braids that had been cut off girls’ heads and used to make rugs. I wore a braid today and I was so disgusted knowing that the hair in that glass case was exactly like mine.
Sarah P. says. . .Each pair of little feet came to Auschwitz in a small pair of shoes. These shoes weren’t ready for a long train ride or toe tapping with suspense as an officer chose the fate of family members. In a crowded room, many got ready for a shower and the little pairs of shoes were taken off and hung on an offered hook. Walking forward, 10 little toes had no rubber soles to cushion the walk through the tall crowd. As they believed the small pairs would be dangling from hooks when they got back, many pairs were left without their original owner.
DaiQuan says. . .As I began to walk into a camp named Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, I began to feel alone without my freedom to live. When I was walking in both camps I was trying to picture these actions taking place as we were told the story. Some of the people were told lies about where they were going. Also when the Jewish people were told to take off everything it made me think how bad they were treated, like animals and not humans.
Brenton says. . .On this very day, we ventured into the vast area where the former death camp existed during the Third Reich, known as Auschwitz-Birkenau. As I approached the intimidating entrance gate to the camp, a feeling of fear overrode my body. No matter where I was walking in Birkenau, watch towers stared me in the face, each spaced evenly 100 meters around the perimeter of the camp. As our group started to walk away from Crematorium III, I looked to my right, and observed a long chamber where victims took off their clothes, and at the end of it sat the ruins of the crematorium. Just to know how many people lost their lives right where I was looking is almost unimaginable because one would not want to believe that these atrocities occurred.
We ended the day with a celebration for Cherilyn's 17th birthday ! Happy Birthday Cherilyn !!