Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Day 10 Auschwitz

After a tearful farewell to Alexandra Zapruder at our Oswiecim hotel, we take a very short bus ride to Auschwitz. Shalmi teaches us about the importance of language, explaining the terms concentration camp and death camp. In the Nazi totalitarian regime, the camp system takes two tracks: those who do not conform to the regime, but are capable of being reformed are sent to concentration camps, but many there died because of the harsh conditions, and those who are not capable of being reformed, like the Jews because of the fallacy that Jews are a race, who are sent to death camps. The Nazis believed that by killing the Jews, they would "heal" their society. It is possible, therefore, for many of these lines to be blurred, because sometimes the same staff worked at both camps, and because it is a complicated issue.

The Nazis chose the city of Oswiecim for three camps: Auschwitz I, a concentration camp, on the grounds of a former Polish military base, Birkenau, a death camp, near the intersection of many rail lines, and Buna, a labor camp where many factories, such as IG Farben used the slave labor.

Here in the museum at Auschwitz, we learn about the death factory, and how, when keeping the Jews of Poland in ghettos was not enough for the Nazis, they needed to expand the camp, and added Auschwitz II, known as Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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 where "selection" occurred. Again we learn the importance of language. When the Jews, the Chosen people of God, arrived here, families were torn apart by those who were chosen to die at once, and those who were chosen to die later. Those chosen to die immediately almost always included women with children under the age of 14, along with older men and women.

While telling stories from survivor testimony, Shalmi helps to explain some of the complications of this history by posing questions. "Why was there so little food here?" If the prisoners chosen to die later are needed for physical labor, then why aren't they fed well? Why are prisoners chosen to die later given wooden clogs with no socks? How can they work under these conditions? Many who are not killed immediately died from starvation and injuries to the feet.

Why did the Nazis divide men and women at the Ramp? In the first transports they didn't. The Jews were sent to the gas chambers fully clothed, but the Nazis thought they were wasting a valuable resource, the clothes, if they burned them. Religious Jews would not undress in mixed company, but were more willing to undress if with peple of the same sex. Step by step, the Nazis improved their killing factory here in order to make sure the process flowed smoothly. Everything was carefully calculated so that the trains could keep running on time.

Hannah S. says:
One thing that really stood out to me today was the fact that there was a house right outside the crematorium/gas chamber of Auschwitz where Dr. Rudolf Hess lived. How could someone not only work there every day, but also raise a family amidst the smoke of crematorium chimneys. Even more outstanding than that is the fact that a Polish family lives there today. I simply cannot comprehend why a family would decide to live among such sadness in a place with such a haunted past.

Hannah C. says:
Today was the day that got to me the most. Being at Auschwitz where it all happened, seeing the seclusion and sadness of it all really made it real. It's unfathomable to think that this happen, but looking at the clothes and shoes from the victims painted a clear picture.

Devanni says:
What struck me the most today were the baby clothes. A feeling of disgust came over me. How could the Nazi men be so heartless to kill innocent babies? Such inhumane acts took place during the Holocaust, but this had to be the worst.

Gabrielle says:
Today as we were leaving Auschwitz-Birkenau, Allison and I were walking down the main road alone. As prisoners arrived they were sent down the same road to go to the gas chambers. All I could think was those prisoners only walked one way, but I got to walk back out the way we came.

Amanda says:
Today was the day that everything tied together for me; everything we've learned since we arrived in Berlin up until today was essential for us to try and be able to understand why and how the Nazis could spare some and kill so many others. Nothing will ever allow me to be able to fully understand what happened, but I know this is the closest I'll ever get.

Flori says:
Leaving through the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was the most emotional part of today for me. We all walked out with our possessions, our health and our dignity, but those victims did not.

Gaby says:
Seeing the hair in Auschwitz was very emotional for me--to think that's not even from a quarter of the people who were killed. That's crazy. That's something I will never forget.

Kristina says:
As I walked through Auschwitz today, I thought of my grandfather. During the war he was in a POW camp called Stalag. He was not a Jew, but he was part of the Italian military. He was captured by the SS, and placed in a Nazi prison. It felt eerie to be in place that resembled my grandfather's years of torture.

Sam says :

When I saw the hair today in a display case in one of the barracks, I realized that many of these people must have vanished through the chimneys at Birkenau. At the same time, I realized we won't ever know who these people were.

Alyssa S. says:
Seeing a sculpture of a starving woman today reminded me of my grandma. They were wrapped up in scarves like a typical eastern European grandma. Although my grandma was never part of the Holocaust I started to imagine what it would have been like if she had been.

Allison says:
What really stood out to me today was when Mr. Barmore asked again, "Who really are the murderers?" After listening to his stories about civilian testimonies, I came to the conclusion that it was the civilians who were the murderers. Each individual was a part of a chain of people doing their jobs that allowed the murders of the Holocaust.

Megan says:
When we walked through the exhibits, I completely lost it when we passed the shoes. I saw a pair of fancy high heeled shoes and wondered, did the owner think she would need them where she was going ? I can't even comprehend how the people must have felt.

Sarah says:
Today we walked through Auschwitz 70 years after 1.5 million people were marched to their death in the gas chambers. We had the freedom to go in or out of the camp as we pleased. The prisoners were forced to arrive and most left Auschwitz through the chimneys.

Callie says:
Today I saw the prison style picture of Luis Krakaer, a 21 year old Polish Jew. Unlike all the other victims, in his broken face I saw hope and strength illuminating his eyes. This struck me as I realized that this man held hope even in the face of death.

Aidan says:
As we walked through Auschwitz I, I began to feel increasingly panicked and a feeling of impending doom was crushing me from all sides. The pain experienced by the Jews at the hands of the Nazis was around every corner at the death camp Birkenau. Once we had finished touring both camps, I felt relief to be outside, as well as immensely joyous to be alive and surrounded by people who were not capable of this extreme dehumanization.

Vanessa says:
Seeing all the clothing of little children today--their shoes and their prosthetic legs--made me think of a four year old I love like a sister. I made the connection back to her and then to these personal belongings and it made me very emotional.

Ben says:
At Auschwitz-Birkenau today we travel through the camps and learn the difference between a concentration camp and an extermination camp. I was touched after seeing the remnants of people's belongings. The most disturbing was a display of human hair inside the museum at Auschwitz,and this made me realize the level of dehumanization that took place during the Holocaust.

Tyler says:

At Auschwitz-Birkenau today the hair of the Jewish people piled together behind a class case really distirubed me. The amount of items that were piled together were distrubing to me. Despite the camp having a dreary aura, this was true and profound learning experience.

Alyssa says:

Throughout the Holocaust Study Tour experience, the questions, "Who were these people?" and "How did this happen?" continue to surface in every discussion. Auschwitz was a factory where many individuals completed their jobs as part of one long chain. Was the train conductor of a deportation a perpetrator because he did his job? Or would he be a bystander for not doing anything to stop it? Who do we call a murderer when the process was completed in a chain, and each person only completed their job in that chain?


  1. Amanda: Nicely said. I know it's overwhelming and difficult. Good job.

  2. Everything that was said by students seems like something that could have easily been going through the minds of any Jew. The idea of hope in their eyes is in a weird way calming but heartbreaking, since we know now what their fate was. Pictures of the holocaust and the idea of concentration camps make me reflect on how lucky my own family was to leave Europe when they did. If they had not left, they could have easily ended up at a death camp, which although completely plausible, still shocking. It is sad how all of this necessary murder was taking place.

  3. All of your comments are once again very insightful. While I am sure this was a difficult experience for you all, it is also important that you see and learn how inhumane this time was in this part of the world.

    Have a wonderful Wednesday everyone!

  4. As I look through these photos, I remember when I went to visit Auschwitz- Birkenau. I remember walking through the gates, and seeing what was out in the distance. There were some remains of barracks, but what caught my eye was the huge forest beyond the fence. I imagined what it would have been like to get through the the fence and escape into the forest. Anyway, seeing these pictures makes me reflect on my trip to Poland and to visit the concentration camps and death camps. I hope you all have had a fantastic experience.

  5. It was interesting to read about the "ramp." I understand that the Nazis wanted everything to go smoothly. However, isn't that contradictory to everything they believed in and were doing. If they wanted things to be smoothed, then why did they think killing would solve everything. I'm glad they made the Jews more comfortable in their undressing situation. But reading that they only did it to make things go smoothly for themselves only makes me hate them more.

  6. All the things that everyone said is very moving, I have a hard time imagining going into a place being separated from my family and then losing all hope. I don't know how those who were sent to die later were able to still try and have the will and strength to survive knowing that the next day might be their last. I know that in war today some soldiers purposely shoot of target and try to miss cause killing another human is hard, its hard to believe that the soldiers were able to kill another begin so easily.

  7. I will never be able to comprehend why Dr. Rudolf Hess raised his family right outside the crematorium/gas chamber of Auschwitz. Actually, I will never be able to comprehend Dr. Rudolf Hess. It is very strange that a family lives in that house now. Hannah's right that place is forever haunted with sadness.

  8. No doubt about it, today must have been difficult.

  9. Lots of emotion-based comments today. It's hard not to be. I recall my 1st trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau and I completely relate. The hair, the clothes of the children, the Hess house, the overall sense of sadness that permeates the air. I remain in awe of your insight and maturity; to visit the places you're visiting and to be open and willing to learn from them makes me proud of all of you. This tour is special; but (as evidenced by yesterday's ceremony and from your daily comments) each one of your contributions makes it even more so. Continued safe journeys for all ...

  10. I knew that after your dedication ceremony that Auschwitz was "coming." I am sure this was difficult on most of you. I have never been there, but every student I speak with upon their return has a gruesome rememberance of Aushwitz. I vividly remember a tale told by a student of mattresses made from human hair. For me this is inconceivable, but for some of you this may have become a reality. Please continue to grow and learn and never forget.

    Thanks for continuing to share with all of us and take care of yourself.

    Mr. Pevny

  11. Auschwitz. Just about as close to Hell on Earth as we've come outside of war. And you stood there today and bore witness. The hair, the clothes, the "eerie aura" of it all. The Chimney. Now you know, deep in your hearts, that it is real, it did happen. And you've been learning who these people were who did this. Regular people in irregular times. People just like you and me. And you've also been learning that to help prevent something like this happening again, we have to keep a bit of Auschwitz in our hearts, encased in a burning flame vowing, "Never again. Never again."
    The world is a better place because you all now carry that flame. Thank you for daring to make this journey, and caring enough to let it in.

  12. You all were in the same place that millions of Jews feared arriving too… You all were in the same place that millions of Jews/Gypsies/handicapped lost their lives… You all were in the same place that Dr. Mengele performed his beyond SICK experiments. You all were in the same place that, as Chris Ryan stated in his comment, was “the closest thing to hell on earth.”

    Honestly, just grasp all that and try to make sense of it all.

    You can’t.

    This is why I love Amanda’s comment: Nothing will ever allow me to be able to fully understand what happened, but I know this is the closest I'll ever get.

    You all were at the core of the Holocaust today. THE CORE. And yet, it is still impossible to fully grasp it.

    This is the most frustrating thing ever. You try to make sense of history, find answers, evaluate, justify, and you just can’t.

    So what is the justification of the sauna, the tattooed numbers, the vast land that was structured to kill, the sick medical experiments that left thousands crippled, the list goes on and on, yet the question in my mind remains the same: WHY?

  13. I am so jealous of everyone on this trip! I hope you guys are having a lot of fun! I thought it was interesting that the Nazis thought that by killing all of the Jews, it would heal their society! It kind of scares me today because that could happen to us today in our society!
    -Casey Pigott

  14. Auschwitz is a powerful place for many reasons I will never forget going there last year. I can still feel every emotion, still remember every thought, and still visualize every sight. Although we all take something else away from Auschwitz it is clear that we all take something away from it.

    How did you guys feel looking at all the remnants of peoples belongings?

    Gabrielle makes a very good point about how she had the opportunity to walk back out of Auschwitz while the prisoners only had the option of walking one way. last year I had a feeling of guilt in Auschwitz also, I felt bad that everyone who did would never again celebrate another birthday.

    you still have a bit more learning to go though enjoy Krakow it is another beautiful city with a lot of history in it. And don't forget to keep asking Shalmi questions!!!


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  16. I will never be able to comprehend the type of horrendous actions the Nazi Regime executed over the course of World War II in the Auschwitz camp. This post has allowed me to at least grasp the visual sense of visiting, which as a Jewish citizen is probably the most that I will ever want to see. There is no justification for all the horrible events that took place in the Auschwitz camp, thus it is hard to contain your emotions and not ask why do they still keep this camp standing? ... Awareness, People need to know what took place.

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  18. Thank you for sharing your stories today. It must have been a very difficult day to get through. It gives us comfort to know that you have eachother for support. Our thoughts go out to each of you for a good night sleep tonight. Your emotions and bodies must be drained.
    We look forward to reading more tomorrow.

  19. How interesting it must have been to step foot on the haunting ground of Auschwitz. Ever since I was young I have wanted to visit there and watching the videos and seeing the pictures intrests me even more. It's hard to believe, like Hannah said, that the Nazis were so cruel they wanted to make their lives as easy as possible and make the Jews' lives living nightmares.

  20. Going to Auschwitz must have been an incredibly overwhelming experience. To be in a place where such horrific things happened to innocent jews is something one could never forget. Hearing the stories on a recording while in the area it took place must have been hard, but completely worth it. ALthough it is a hard experience to cope with, it is a great thing that students my age are allowed to learn about the nightmares the Jews and many others lived during these years and helps people to pass on the stories and never forget.

  21. Being at Aushwitz must be really scary and horrendous. I couldn't imagine being a Jew in this place 70 years ago. The gut feeling of death must be overwhelming. But, being there and listening to the stories is a great experience. You can share this with the world and keep the Jews who died and their stories alive.

  22. Looking at these pictures makes me realize that no matter how much we study the events that took play at camps such as Auschwitz, we will never fully grasp the hardships the detainees encountered throughout WWII, on their journey to the labor and death camps as well as their experiences in the camps themselves. Even while visiting the camps themselves, one can still only gather a partial image of the inhumane tragedy that occurred.

  23. I can't even begin to comprehend what it was like to be there. I think that the way the Nazi's made the camps so systematic is economically strategic. They adapted and changed it so it would be more efficient to achieve their goals and didn't stop to think that the people they were killing were humans too.

  24. This must have been so difficult to see in person. I can picture the piles of belongings, but I can only imagine the impact that must have had on the people seeing them today. It was also disturbing to learn about how the Nazis made the death camps more efficient over time. It is exactly the same as increasing the efficiency of a factory that creates objects, except this destroys human lives.

  25. The idea of "The Ramp" reminds me of an incredibly striking scene in "Schindler's List" during which families are physically torn apart into lines of men and women, regardless of if the woman is a single mother of an infant son. I've seen this scene twice now, and it is incredibly gripping. Imagining not only being taken from my father and brother and put onto a train, but being forced to separate from them instants before certain death, is simply unthinkable.

  26. Being at Auschwitz must have been a terrifying and powerful experience for the students. It is so hard to understand how the Nazis could kill so many innocent people and feel nothing. It's horrifying to know that the Nazis used different techniques to make the process of executing the Jews run smoother and planned everything so the trains were on time. I cant even imagine what it must have felt like to be a Jew at Auschwitz, knowing that you would die yet still trying to keep strong.

  27. I couldn't imagine what it must have been like to actually be in the actual place where all the senseless killings happened. It seems like it'd be an incredibly haunting experiences , to be in the same place as all the people who were gassed and killed. It truly is a terrifying place and even though it's abandoned I don't think memories of this places past will ever be forgotten

  28. I can't even imagine how hard that must of been going to Aushwitz. Being in the same place that all those horrific things happened at must of been extremely tough and emotional. I don't think anyone understand why all this occurred but it is really hard to wrap my head around it. Looking at pictures from Aushwitz must difficult so I can't imagine what it was like to be there in person.

  29. I would have loved to be at the dedication of the memorial in Trsice it really looked like a memorable day. But visiting Auschwitz I and II was definitely the days of all days. I still recall Shalmi's speech when we first arrived at Auschwitz II. We were all standing in the watch tower listening to Shalmi speak about the difference between a concentration camp and a death camp. While I was trying to comprehend it all I found myself getting lost in the barren of space looking out through the trees. Even beyond the countless rows of barracks there was still so much land. Two years later I still cannot fully understand how something like this was possible. To create a system to exterminate Jews. For what? and Why? I remember getting so upset even angry from not being about to find the answers to all my questions. But what I did learn is at the end of the day WE STILL will not find those answers because there are none that make sense. This is due to the fact that what the Nazis did was unjust and did not have a substantial reason of to why it would be okay. This is because none of the deportations were okay, or the stripping of the Jews belongings, tearing men and their wives and children apart, not knowing if you were going straight to the furnaces or to forced labor. I have to say you will forget some things from this trip but the experience at Auschwitz you will recall forever. This is so essential so you spread what you saw and educate to all so nothing like this can ever happen again.

    I miss you Mrs T! HEY CHANGY!!! Love yah Lyss


  30. Auschwitz really gave me the chills when I was there. Block 5 hit me the worst. The shoes, personal items, and the tons of human hair that belonged to the those that perished moved me and all of my peers that were there. I still remember the cries of the people in the room that were there visiting and Rebecca running out of the room that contained the disturbing display of the human hair. You look at the scenery surrounding Auschwitz and it almost seems as if the camp is in the middle of a neighborhood. It makes you wonder how people could sit there and watch this atrocity take place practically in their own backyard. I hope all of you have learned as much as I did. Enjoy the rest of the trip and have a safe flight home.

    -Matt Bachmann

  31. Today the past and present merged for English 9. We read your post to start class and then read an excerpt from Return to Auschwitz by Kitty Hart. A quote from a video on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website sums it up best:
    “There is only one thing worse than Auschwitz itself…
    …and that is if the world forgets there WAS such a place.” –Henry Appel, survivor

  32. It must to so surreal and horrifying to know the events that took place at Auschwitz. The worst part for me would be imagining what might have happened in each place you stand. The pictures are helpful for us at home to make some sort of connection, although it will never be as powerful as being there in person.

  33. One of the most interesting things was watching the video clips when he is describing the process of determining who goes to which camp. It's impossible for me to even imagine the fear, tension and horror that people must have experienced while waiting in that line. Knowing your fate is completely in someone else's hands would be such a terrifying situation. I also agree with what others have said about Rudolf Hess. I can't believe he would raise his family right next to the camp.

  34. I know it must have been unreal and horrifying to think about what happened there and being able to walk were these people were. This was very educational but still nonetheless heart wrenching.

  35. Reading these comments makes me feel like I just went there today. I REALLY liked what Gabrielle said about how she got to leave when most only came in. I felt the exact same way and I absolutely hated the feeling. Someone as innocent as me was killed for nothing.
    I can remember as we were walking through Auschwitz-Birkenau last year, people were smiling and posing for photos in front of the barracks and such which made me absolutely sick. That place deserves the utmost respect from every single person.
    This was the day that really put everything I had ever learned about the Holocaust into place for me - seeing the magnitude of the camp blew my mind and made me so confused as to how people could do that.

    You still have a lot left so get excited! :)

  36. This was by far one of the most powerful posts I have read so far. I bet it was a great experience for everyone to be able to really see what we are learning about in class. That place must have been truly haunting, it is evident even in the photographs.Having known all the innocent lives that were tormented and killed at that place must have had a serious effect on the emotions of everyone.

  37. I have been reading your posts and today was riveting. I can only imagine what it was like to see the clothing, shoes, hair and other items that are just so personal to the victims. You all are having a life changing experience. I am sure it will propel you all to do great things in your lives to work for peace!

  38. Auschwitz is such an amazing place. The rocks placed on the memorial are such a great thing. The stories being told and the things all of you have learned are life-changing. The Ramp and its' story, is very emotional and it would bring tears straight to my eyes. Hope you are all staying safe and enjoying this amazing opportunity.

  39. That has got to be a very chilling experience. In Schindler's List, a train of his workers ended up in Auschwitz and it seemed like an unimaginable horrifying experience. I can't even think of what it would have been like to be there then or now. What an experience!

  40. Amanda, what you said couldn't be more right. Auschwitz is what the whole trip leads up to. It is on this day that all the end meet. And while so many questions are answered, so many new ones pop into your mind. But there is only so much that can ever really make sense. The simple question of "why?" will never have a good reasonable answer.
    Allison, I really liked what you said about it being a chain. That is one of the biggest take always I had from the trip. It was only humanly possible because of the chain effect of the civilian bystanders. It wasn't just the doings of a small elite group, but it was through a lot of indifference that the Holocaust came to happen.

    Meredith McCann

  41. I can only imagine what a powerful experience visiting Auschwitz was. The stories that the camp tells are unbelievable and horrifying. Standing in very place where so many people died is such an emotional experience that I can only begin to guess how it truly felt. The picture of the Israeli flag on the rubble is so touching and speaks a thousand words.

  42. This visit seems like the most stunning to me. Today, Auschwitz harbors much stillness but in retrospect, it was just the opposite. I can't even begin to wrap my mind around the fact of trying to stand there and gain a sense of what life was like. The experiences, the cruelty, and the inhumanity at that site are a true testament of the past which to me, as a spectator here in the States, still exudes today even in its peaceful stillness.

  43. This post and experience was probably the most emotional and devastating. It's hard to begin to even understand why humans could do this to each other for the sake of race or religion, but the reality is that this DID happen to the Jewish race of Europe. I never really understood the magnitude of the Holocaust itself until taking Mrs. Sussman's Holocaust class, and it's a history of events that are both interesting, and horrifying. I couldn't even begin to imagine walking through the death or concentration camps such as Auschwitz, as many Jews did. The certain fate of dying is one that many, if not all of the Jews had to hold in their conscience. This fact alone proves that Jews in these situations could be credited as some of the bravest human beings to date.

  44. What Hannah mentioned about the man being able to raise his family around so much death and hatred is amazing to me. I don't know how that would be okay in someone's mind to raise a family or live there when they knew that their children were so close to so much death. Also the mention of The Ramp is haunting to think about.

  45. You can read about the horrible things that happened at these camps, but to be there where victims were kept must have been so emotional and amazing. How cool that you guys got to feel the emotion of the sadness of the Holocaust.

    1. I don't know why it won't post my name but that last comment was from Emily Curran

  46. I hope you enjoy your time on the trip and have an amazing wonderful time and i hope you learn a lot of new things