Saturday, April 13, 2013

Day 12 - Krakow

We had said goodbye to Shalmi last night after dinner and presented him with our individual thank you letters and took our final group picture.
Today we spent the day with our guide, Ewa, walking and learning the history of Krakow and the Wawel Castle district.  The weather this morning, was one of the warmest days we have experienced on the trip, about 42 degrees as we walked up the hill to Wawel.
Our first stop is the palace, where our guide shows us beautiful tapestries that were created in Belgium.  She points out that the elaborate tapestries took one year to weave each square meter. The tapestries fill the walls of the ornate palace of the Polish nobility.  During World War II, when the Nazis used this as their headquarters in Poland, the palace was the home of Hans Frank, the Governor-General of occupied Poland.  On the way up the hill, Ewa told us the story of the Wawel Dragon and showed us the fire-breathing dragon statue protecting the castle.
Ewa took us through Wawel Cathedral which is more formally known at the Roayl Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus.   Stanislaus is Poland’s patron saint.  Built in the mid-14th century,  it is the Polish national cathedral and has been the traditional coronation site of Polish kings.   Karol Wojtyla, said his first Mass in the crypt of Wawel Cathedral on November 3, 1946.  In 1963, he took over the cathedral as Archbishop of Krakow, later becoming Pope John Paul II.  A statue of Pope John II stands outside Wawel Cathedral.   Before entering the cathedral, Ewa pointed out an odd assortment of massive bones which are chained to the wall above the door.  While some claim these to be the bones of  Smok Wawelski (the Wawel Dragon)  they are believed to be a blue whale, woolly mammoth,  and rhinoceros, or all three. Ewa told us it is believed they have magical properties, and are credited with protecting the city from destruction during centuries of Polish partition and during WWII when Krakow was not damaged, while almost every other major city in Poland was decimated.  She said that it is believed that when the bones fall, it will be the end of the world.
We enter the basement of Wawel Cathedral, and silently walk through the burial place of Polish kings and rulers. We visit downstairs, underneath the cathedral, and view the sarcophagus of  President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria,  who were killed in the plane crash in Russia in 2010 on their way to the first Polish-Russian commemoration to the atrocities of Katyn that took place during World War II.
From here, we go back to the square, and enjoy an afternoon that includes lunch and shopping for souvenirs from beautiful, hospitable Krakow.  The afternoon began with blue skies and sun, but then we had to brave a brief thunderstorm, seeking respite from the wind and rain in the market hall, before heading back to the hotel to prepare for our final dinner this evening.  

Student Final Reflections

Amanda says...
I could never have imagined how this trip could have turned out; the things I have learned, the memories I have created and the friendships I have made are irreplaceable.  I am unbelievably grateful to have been a part of such a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The things we have learned are not easy, but this has been the best environment to learn them and being in places they have happened made it that much more real.  Even though the questions are endless and the answers limited, I could not be more appreciative of the opportunity I have been given.

Kelly M. says...
Looking back on these two weeks, I realize what a valuable gift I have been given.  Being able to come to these places and see how Jewish people of Europe were affected by the Holocaust is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.  This trip reinforced my believe that everyone should be treated equally.

Sarah says...
The Holocaust Study Tour has exceeded all of my expectations.  I will never be able to shake the questions that have arisen throughout this trip.  

Bedros says...
It is kind of surreal that I am writing my final reflection.  It is hard right now to express in words the impact this experience has had on me.  If anything, I know that Pavel's story and Shalmi's lectures will forever be engraved in my mind.

Kendall says...
Overall, I feel that there will never be enough words to describe the journey we all just experienced.
I look forward to keeping the memories and stories alive.

Meredith says...
I came on this trip knowing there would be two aspects; the emotional and the factual.  We looked at all of these sites to find answers, but more questions continue to cause me to want to learn more about the Holocaust.

Allie says...
Early in the trip, Mr. Barmore said something along the lines of. "There is not one Holocaust, but 6 million Holocaust stories." I think this trip gave me the opportunity not only to study the Holocaust, but to remember the individuality of the victims.

Shannon says...
Seeing what the Holocaust did to numerous families across Europe must never be forgotten. As a result of this trip, I know I will honor the memory of the victims and continue to tell their stories.

Miya says...
The knowledge that we have gained in the places we have visited added a very surreal element to the trip.  A classroom would not have shown how people, towns and countries were affected.  

John says...
The poignant moment in the program for me was Lidice.  It touched me so much that I could only imagine what would that event look like today in America.  I hope that the public outcry would be much different.

Helen says...
This trip has given me the tools to reflect and discuss the meaning of the Holocaust.  I am grateful that my thinking has been challenged.

Emma says...
This trip has helped me grapple with numerous questions about the Holocaust.  Even though these questions may not be fully answered, searching for answers can help to combat injustice in the world in a effort to prevent future genocides.

Alyssia says...
I have gotten the chance to not only learn about the tragic events of the Holocaust, but I have gotten the chance to compare those events with the troubles of society today.  I have realized that even after all of these years prejudice, hate and intolerance still continue today.  I am now motivated to be a better person and to share this motivation with the world.

Ashley says...
The greatest impact on my life was actually seeing the support of the community of Trsice for the Jewish community. To me this reflected the town's selfishness for the Wolf family.  I leave this trip with a greater knowledge of the Holocaust and the universal suffering and sacrifice that occurred during this time period.

Alicia says...
I will take away from this trip a value for opinion and the strength to vocalize ideas in the face of vast opposition.

Chris says...
At Lidice we saw the statues of children that were slaughtered by the Nazis.  This particular memorial showed the true cruelty of the Nazis and I could not put myself in their shoes because something like this seems unfathomable. 

Kelly B. says...
No one person is responsible for the tragic losses of the Holocaust and we will never fully understand why this happened, but we must educate ourselves and others about this tragic event in order to prevent future genocides.

Max says...
It is disgraceful how the Nazis outcasted the Jews in society, yet the Nazis were people.  Maybe people should reflect, struggle and evaluate humanity within themselves to protect against the possibilities of evil that must be in all of us.

Juliana says...
During this trip I felt anger which I did not expect.  I felt anger when Mr. Barmore told us the story of  a woman forced to leave her son during selection so that he could survive.  I felt anger when I realized that so many people had a hand in the extermination process. As I go back home, I know that this experience has empowered me to reflect upon what I have learned and apply this knowledge to my world.

Guage says...
I have been enlightened by the horrors of the Holocaust. It has taught me about the impossibility of choices when one's "back" is against the wall.  Those who were persecuted were unable to control their fate. This concept has humbled me to see life and one's choices differently.

Andrew says...
Pavel's story of bravery and love really had an impact on me.  When we arrived at Auschwitz Pavel's story was really put in perspective for me.  From the barracks, to the gas chambers I realized how difficult life was for the prisoners and I thought of Pavel and how it was possible that he survived.  I still don't know how he survived such horror, but I did learn from Pavel that being courageous is essential.  

Kiley says...
The experience of witnessing firsthand the dedication of the Trsice memorial which was influenced by the legacy of the HST students, has showed me the importance of spreading awareness of the Holocaust. In this I can help in preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its historical value for future generations.

Sam says...
Seeing Auschwitz made me realize how there were children who had no idea where they were walking, but walking to their deaths. I was troubled thinking about the innocent kids that were killed. The loss of innocent life 70 years removed disturbed me and will always stay with me.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Day 11 - Krakow

Our day began in the Jewish Quarter, Kazmierz. Shalmi gave us the history of why large numbers of Jews came to Poland in the 16th century when they were invited by the aristocracy. Jews came here and formed communities called shtetls in the rural, mostly unpopulated areas. Jews provided capital for the seeds that needed to be planted, and also had a monopoly on the sale of vodka. According to Shalmi, Poles really like alcohol, so this became very lucrative. Jews became the tools of the nobility, who didn't like them, but needed them. However, this put the Jews in a precarious position with the local serfs, who were Catholic.
The Jews were central in the advancement of this area; they were necessary, not liked, but tolerated. As the middle ages progressed, Jews came to this area in huge numbers. For Jews, Poland was a land of opportunity. Unlike the Jews in Germany and Prague, the Jews here did not assimilate; they acculturated. In Germany the Jews wanted to be German, but , but in Poland it was different.  By the 20th century, most Jews here spoke Polish.  They took on and enjoyed the culture but did not seek to take on the identity as Poles.  This had much to do with the Polish-Jewish relations at the time.  By 1919, this caused problems with Poles who wanted to be identified by their nationality, and did not see Jews as a part of their nation, but instead saw them as outsiders. By 1939 in Poland, because of many factors, including a bad economy, the Poles have a very grave relationship with all minorities here, including the Jews, who represent 10% of the population. Because so many Jews lived in the heart of big cities, the population of Jews in these city centers, their presence is felt more by the non-Jewish residents. Some helped Jews, some killed Jews, but most were bystanders who saw the Nazi actions during the Holocaust as solving a Polish problem.  The Poles would never have done what the Nazis did, because they are deeply Christian, and as we had heard before, it is an integral part of Catholic teachings (The Witness Theory) that says the Jew, persecuted but alive, is a necessary element for Jesus Christ to come again. 
Shalmi also told us that while the Nazis themselves were Christian albeit not church-going, the Nazi ideology was against Christianity because it came out of Judaism, and anything that developed from Judaism was destructive. 
Inside the Stara Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, also known as the Old Synagogue because it was built in 1407, Shalmi taught us about the history of Hasidism, a part of Judaism that reflects emotional piety of the people who practice it. Jews here were visible, because of their Hasidism, and kept their religious practices, which also set them apart. They closed their businesses on Saturdays because of the Sabbath, and opened them on Sundays. They wore clothing and earlocks which set them apart in appearance. Their identity was very deeply connected to their religious practices and beliefs.  Like Christianity, but unlike Judaism, Hasidism relied upon the personal relationship to God.  If you felt love for God, he will understand.  In Judaism, they were supposed to fear God, not love Him.  We also heard about some of the practices of Hasidism, such as the method of teaching a young boy to read beginning at the age of three, by putting honey on a letter of  the alphabet and then saying the sound so that the child connects learning and education to something positive and sweet.   We also learned that in Hasidism, women’s hair and voice are considered seductive, so women cut their hair and in public wear wigs, and women singing in public is not allowed,  neither alone nor in a choir.
From here we crossed the square to visit the Remu Synagogue, also known as the New Synagogue because it was built in 1650, which is currently under extensive renovation, although some of the paintings are now completed, such as paintings which depict more modern knowledge, such as the drawing of Rachel’s Tom and the Western Wall.  Outside of this synagogue, we walked through the Jewish cemetery, where Jews were given land to bury their dead.  We had seen one other cemetery located next to the synagogue in Prague (the Pinkhas Synagogue) and Shalmi reminded us that this was unusual.  Jews would never place a cemetery close to the synagogue unless there was no alternative.  However, since Christians told the Jews where they could live and where they could have land, this was the property allotted to them to bury their dead.
We next visited the Tempel Synagogue, a reform Jewish synagogue  which was built in the 1860’s when Krakow was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  The synagogue has Moorish designs on the ceiling and is quite ornate, reminiscent of the Spanish Synagogue in Prague.  It was dedicated to the Emperor Franz Joseph whom the Jews loved as he did them because in an empire with numerous ethnic conflicts, the Jews did not present any problems to his authority.  The Hasidic Jews, however, did not like this synagogue which incorporated elements of Christian churches such as the pews aligned and facing front, the mixed seating, and the fact that the day of prayer was changed to Saturday.  The Hasidic Jews said of the building,  that it was not a synagogue but a temple, for Gentiles.  The word ‘temple’ therefore, used to describe a synagogue, was originally a pejorative word referring to non-traditional Jewish synagogues. 

Our bus drove us across the Vistula river to the Jewish Ghetto of Krakow, where the Nazis forced the Jews to move. The Krakow Ghetto was a sleeping ghetto, where the Jews slept at night, and worked outside of during the day. The Jews ran this ghetto, and built the walls surrounding it in such a decorative way, showing their resilience and belief that this ghetto would be a new protected area, where they would be able to ride out the war.
In front of the museum that once was the pharmacy of Tadeusz Pankiewicz,  Apteka Pod Orlem (Pharmacy Under the Eagle), we looked out over the open memorial, with chairs, that represent the furniture that the Jews carried over the bridge into these cramped quarters, where 17,000 people crowded into 320 houses. Shalmi told us the inspirational story of Polish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz whose diary documents ghetto life.

Inside the museum which has been totally transformed since our last visit, there is an exhibition about the Krakow ghetto and the role of Tadeusz Pankiewicz.  Visitors can open drawers, look into cabinets, browse through binders with quotes from his diary, smell substances in the numerous jars of chemicals, and search for information in a multimedia center. 

Here Shalmi explains that Plaszow Camp, located only 5 miles from here, was built by the people from the Krakow Ghetto who believed they would survive the war because they are building a labor camp. They even built a barrack for children there, so they believed that their families would remain intact. However, on March 13, 1943, all Jews from the ghetto were supposed to report to the square at 7:00 a.m. Once there, all children under age 14 were told to line up separately. Their parents were told that they would come to Plaszow the next day. Pankiewicz reports that some saw this as a bad sign and rushed to the pharmacy to purchase one of two drugs.  One of the drugs was Valerium--a drug that put their babies to sleep, so that parents could smuggle their babies into the Plaszow camp inside of suitcases.  Shalmi told us that 12 children are known to have been smuggled into Plaszow in this manner.  The second drug requested by many Jews was Cyanide, for suicide.  At 1:00 p.m., the Nazis ordered those not in the children's line to start marching from the ghetto to Plaszow. They left behind what they were unable to carry. The following day, their children were taken away and shot. Two days later, some parents found out when they were forced to sort the children's clothing, and found the clothing of their own children.

After lunch at McDonald’s, we went to see the memorial to Sarah Schenirer on the site of the former Plaszow labor camp.  Sarah Schenirer was a pioneer of Jewish education for girls.  In 1917, she established the Beis Yaakov ("house of Jacob") school network in Poland.  In 2009 when we had visited Plaszow, the condition of the memorial site was overgrown with weeds, there was trash strewn everywhere and evidence that regular drinking and drug activity was taking place near the site.  The students that year, upset by the condition of the area, chose to forego their tour of Krakow the next day and chose instead, to work for several hours to clean up the area.  We filled over 15 large garbage bags of trash and cleaned the memorial.  Our guide Eva helped us with our cleanup and also wrote letters to the city council about this as did we.  We were, incredibly surprised and pleased, therefore, when we came to the memorial today and found that there has been built a sheltering canopy over the memorial and a pathway to it.  There has been considerable cleanup of the area and brush and weeds cut back.
We next visited briefly the villa of the Plaszow commandant, Amon Goeth, which is still for sale and is in a major state of disrepair, quite visible from the outside. 

On our way back to the hotel we drove past the museum at Oscar Schindler's factory, a recently opened part of the Jewish Museum of Krakow, so that we could see the gate to the factory, which is still the original.   We also passed a part of the original ghetto wall, which was built by Jews, and shows an ornate style and was obviously built with pride. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Day 10 - Auschwitz

“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through 
it again.” --- George Santayana.  This quote confronts all visitors at 
the entrance to Block 4 in Auschwitz.

Today we spent the day in what was Konzentration Lager  (KL) Auschwitz.  
Auschwitz was not one camp but was a complex of three primary sites:  
Auschwitz I was the administrative center and concentration camp for 
primarily Polish prisoners, Auschwitz-Birkenau (Auschwitz II) was the death 
camp, and  Buna (Auschwitz III) was for manufacturing and testing facilities, 
which also had dozens of labor subcamps.

We met our guide, Wojciech, who would take us through Auschwitz 
I which now serves as the museum.   Wojciech had been our guide before 
and we had been very impressed with both his knowledge and his 
style of interacting with us, and answering questions, so we were very 
pleased.  We started under the iconic sign, present in many camps, 
which we had seen in Terezin (Theresienstadt):  Arbeit Macht Frei.   
There, Wojciech gave us the history of the camp.   Built in the town 
of Oswiecim, Auschwitz is the Germanization of the name of the town.
It was established by the Nazis in 1940 and was in use until the Allied 
liberation in 1945.  
As we stood outside the gate we could see many of the 28 brick buildings 
identified by Block numbers  which made up Auschwitz I.  Before 
passing through the gate, Wojciech showed us a drawing which depicted 
an orchestra playing as inmates marched out the gate.  He informed us 
that many in the orchestra also worked in the kitchen which was a long 
building located to the right of the gate.  There they were safe 
from most of the difficult jobs -  they often had access to or were able 
to “organize” [euphemism for ‘steal’] some extra food, and were also 
protected from the weather extremes, and so their chances of survival were 
better than those who had to labor outside.  The living conditions in the 
concentration camp were severe--- hard work, starvation, disease and brutal 
treatment --- so that the average time between one’s arrival in 
Auschwitz  I and his death due to one of these factors, was about 2 months. 
In  1941, Himmler ordered the enlargement of the camp and 
Auschwitz-Birkenau was established .  In 1942 after the Wannsee 
Conference this camp starts to function as a death camp.  90% of the 
victims in the camp are no longer prisoners, but are taken directly 
from the trains to the gas chambers.  In 1942, there are estimated to 
have been 11 million Jews in Europe, primarily Central Europe:  
5 million in the Soviet Union, 3.5 million in Poland and  850,000 in 
Hungary.   There were 6 death camps, all located in Poland:  
Auschwitz was the largest and the only one still functioning towards 
the end of the war.  The others are Belzec, Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor, 
and Maidanek.  An estimated 1.3 million people were murdered in 
Auschwitz, a compromise between the low estimate of 1.1 million and the 
high of 1.5 million.  An urn with a small amount of human ash in 
Block 4 symbolizes the loss of all these lives. 

As we climbed the stairs to the second floor of Block 4, we were 
shown a large model of a gas chamber which we would see this 
afternoon in Birkenau and which showed  the three phases of its 
operation.  First, there was the disrobing room where people were 
told to remove their clothes.  They were often told to remember 
the number on which they put their clothes, or make sure to tie 
their shoes together, some were even given a piece of soap – all in 
the name of deception.  A gas chamber could hold 1,500 people at 
time.The second phase was to have two Zyklon B pellets dropped 
through the vents in the roof.  The  Zyklon B pellets alone were 
harmless, and had been used in delousing, but when dropped into 
water created a deadly hydrogen cyanide.  In 20 minutes, all the 
people would be dead and the room would be ventilated which 
required half an hour.  The third phase required Jewish prisoners 
in a special unit called the Sonderkommando to remove the bodies, 
shave the hair and remove any gold teeth from the corpses, and 
then burn the bodies in the underground crematorium.  The average 
length of time one served in the Sonderkommando before being killed 
himself, was 3-4 months.  About 80 Sonderkommando survived the 
war and were able to provide testimony. 


In Block 5 were belongings brought by victims to Auschwitz which were confiscated by the SS and found after liberation.  Separate rooms containing shoes, artificial limbs and crutches, eyeglasses, prayer shawls, shaving kits, household cooking items like can openers and cheese graters, baby clothes, and carefully labeled suitcases which carried these things provide physical evidence of the existence of so many victims as well as giving us some insight into what they might have thought was their destination.    A large room with a wall-to-wall display case of two thousand pounds of human hair was particularly moving for our group.  This hair was sold to German textile manufacturers for production of army uniforms or gloves and socks for railroad workers.  
Leaving Block 5, Wojciech took us next to Block 7 which showed us the living quarters of the prisoners in Auschwitz.  Walking through the hall of the building which had photographs of the predominantly Polish prisoners, women on the left and men on the right, with their name, prisoner number, nationality, date deported to Auschwitz and date of death.  We were told that the average life expectancy of a prisoner in Auschwitz I was 2-3 months because of the harsh conditions and the pictures bore this out.  These photographs were taken as a part of the processing into the camp, most by Wilhelm Brasse, himself a prisoner.  He spoke fluent German and was a photographer before the war.  This made him useful to the Nazis who wanted good photographs of the prisoners as well as  someone to take pictures at their private SS parties and of the experimental surgeries.  In this manner he was able to survive the war.  Wojciech told us that it was traditional for a moment of silence to be observed at Jewish burial in memory of the departed.  If that we're to be done for each person whose photograph hung in the corridors of Block 7, it  would require 8 hours.  If this same moment of silence was to be observed for each of the 1.1 million victims of Auschwitz, it would take two and a half years.  

We next visited Block 11 which served as the prison for the camp.  One of the things that concerned the Nazis was the threat of escape.   This was not a major problem as of the 400,000 prisoners, less than 700 tried to escape and less than 200 succeeded.  The Nazis used the principle of collective responsibility to discourage escapes.  If you escaped, twenty prisoners might be executed or your family might be arrested and taken to Auschwitz.  We were shown the three types of punishment cells:  dark cell, starvation cell and the standing cell in which three or four people could be forced to stand for days at a time.  Punishment might be 3-4 days in one of these cells for smoking a cigarette or 10 or more days for sabotage.   Time in a punishment cell could be a death sentence.  After viewing the execution wall between Blocks 10 and 11, where tens of thousands of prisoners were lined up naked and shot, we walked to the crematorium of the camp which was used to cremate the bodies of people who perished in the camp and also viewed the home of the camp commandant Rudolph Hoss and the gallows where he was hanged for his war crimes.  

After a brief bag lunch, we drove to Auschwitz-Birkenau where Shalmi spent the afternoon showing us the death camp. He talked about how the camp had changed in the spring of 1944 when the Nazis expected 1 million Hungarian Jews to be transported here.  It was then that they added the rail line coming into the camp preparing for the influx.  

Shalmi took us through the quarantine barracks where Jews, toward the end of the war, were taken into Germany for forced labor.  Germany desperately needed labor and the Nazi leadership was able to convince Hitler to postpone killing some Jews who could supply that labor.  They were first brought here and kept in quarantine in miserable conditions of overcrowding and little food, but after three days if there was no sign of disease they were put on another train to Germany.  In the barracks had recently been placed a stone with writing in Hebrew.  Shalmi read it:  "It's not one but many who tried to kill us; but God saved us."

We also saw the Czech family camp which Shalmi had spoken to us about in Terezin.  The Czech Jews had been transported to Auschwitz to reduce the overcrowding prior to the Red Cross visit as part of the beautification project.  Once the visit had occurred, however, the Czech camp was liquidated and all of its inmates sent to the gas chambers.  Again, Shalmi reminded us that the last thing the Czech Jews did before entering the gas chamber, was to sing the Czech national anthem.

We also learned of the existence of two other camps:  the Mengele Twin Camp and the Gypsy camp.  

Next Shalmi spoke of the importance of 'The Ramp' where the selection process was made determining whether one was to live or die.   He told us several emotional, heart-wrenching stories survivors have shared about their experiences on the ramp.  We saw the remains of the crematoria, the 'sauna' which served as the building where those who had been chosen to live were processed (uniforms, tattooed, shaved) and the remains of the warehouses called Canada which were massive storage buildings which housed confiscated Jewish property.  

We sat for a short while under some trees to reflect upon what we had seen 
and heard today and then walked back along the path, passing through the 
iconic gate of Auschwitz to head to our final stop on our tour, Krakow.    

Student Reflections:

Shannnon says...
Standing where the SS officers stood, where they selected millions of victims was quite overwhelming. I could not understand how anyone could determine the fate of others.  Hearing stories of how mothers were so conflicted on whether or not to walk straight to the gas chambers with their small child or to walk to the left to the woman's barracks without their child was extremely heartbreaking.

Allie says...
What struck me at Auschwitz was that the physical place was inconspicuous and even pretty; there was nothing inherently evil or horrific about it.  For someone who did not know what it was there is little to suggest the atrocities that took place there. The dehumanization, degradation, torture and mass murder came from the people and the capabilities of man to create this evil is what we must remember.

John says...
I began to feel sick after the testimony that Mr. Barmore shared with us about the boy who was separated from his father during the selection process.  I felt as though I can see the father being ushered into the work camp as the boy and his grandmother are walked toward the gas chamber.  This process and natural human experience of regret and fear demonstrate the evil nature of the death factory.

Emma says...
Viewing the places where people were dehumanized, tortured and killed was the most horrifying aspect of our visit to Auschwitz.  The stories we heard about both the victims and perpetrators were difficult to digest while standing in the places where they occurred.

Sam says...
I did not realize how large Auschwitz was.  Walking around the grounds brought about much sadness in me.  All the lives lost; so many lives lost; the innocence lost; how could one place be so destructive?

Alicia says...
What had an impact on me at Auschwitz was seeing its effect on others in our group. It absolutely boggles my mind that I know people who have lost relatives in the Holocaust because my life, my history- the history of people I know- always seem from separate from textbooks.  

Alyssia says...
When touring Auschwitz today I became very emotional.  When I witnessed the walls displaying pictures of Jewish families I truly realized that the people in the camps were no different than my family.  We both celebrate birthdays, weddings and other special occasions.  We both have loved ones and we boy cherish our lives.  It is unbelievable to me that anyone could take those precious moments away from such innocent people.

Juliana says...
Auschwitz itself was a lot to grasp. When walking through it what really shook me up was when Mr. Barmore shared stories about people knew who had been in Auschwitz.  The story that hit me the most was when the boy told his mom he wished she would die and then she was separated from him in the line to the gas chambers.

Kelly M. says...
Today in Auschwitz I felt my emotions come through stronger than ever. When I saw the pictures of the victims on the wall, I saw two pictures of men with the same last name, presumably brothers. I noticed that they died 7 months apart, and I could not imagine being without my sister for 7 months in a place such as Auschwitz.

Bedros says...
I have never felt worse in my life, then how I felt at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Upon seeing the photos and quotes on how the first to die were children, I could not do anything but cry.  Never have I been to a location were the presence of evil emanated so literally.

Kiley says...
Standing on the ramp at Birkenau and listening to Shalmi tell stories of victims of the Holocaust, left a feeling of sadness.  To hear personal stories of families being separated in this exact spot was heart wrenching.

Helen says...
Nazi ideology, bystanders, perpetrators, victims, Final Solution, were all pieces of the Holocaust.  This can be written down on paper, looked at and studied.  But in Auschwitz-Birkenau, it made no sense, none of it made any sense.

Miya says...
In Mrs. Sussman's Holocaust class we read "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen," by Tadeusc Barowski which described life for prisoners who were members of Canada.  Today we saw pictures of men who had to take peoples last possessions before being sent to their deaths. Seeing real but stoic images of people who seemed to have the best job in the camp gave a more positive impression than Barowski's description of the type of person he became to gladly send thousands of people to their deaths for a chance to steal their food.

Max says...
It's difficult to fathom what people will do for their personal benefit.  Europeans first accepted Jews only to improve commerce and trade.  In the Holocaust, everything the Jews had left including their hair, prosthetic limbs and luggage was taken and sold to benefit the Germans.  Jews were only seen as objects to manipulate for personal gain.

Sarah says...
There are no words to describe the things we experienced today. We were able to see where millions of people experienced the cruelest treatment by human beings breathing the air, walking on the pavement and seeing the scenery left me unsettled.

Chris says...
Today we went to Auschwitz and it was very emotional.  Seeing the hair of the deceased was very upsetting to see and I was in shocked that the Nazis utilized the hair to make blankets and uniforms.  This really demonstrated to me the process of dehumanization that the victims went through.

Amanda says...
Today I found it very hard to fathom the horrific, inhuman, and unjustifiable crimes that took place in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Walking down the same path that millions of others had been directed down, carrying both their belongings and emotions, I could not help but realize how different it was now from then.  A a result, it was hard to imagine what actually transpired where I stood.  I struggled with these feelings throughout the day and found my breaking point to be in the room full of women's hair and I felt with the question of why life was so cruel to these innocent people?

Kendall says...
The biggest surprise for me today was the fact that I did not know what to expect.  I felt that there was this immeasurable amount of emotion that continued to follow me because the sites that we aw today were nothing like I ever pictured before.  The Holocaust came together for me today, but yet left me struggling for answers.

Andrew says...
As we walked around Auschwitz and Birkenau I felt my legs grow heavy and my stomach drop.  From the room filled with hair to Mr. Barmore telling us heart-wrenching stories of families being separated on the ramp, I felt everyone was holding back tears.  It is hard to believe that people were forced to live in such conditions.

Gauge says...
Today was both physically and emotionally moving; just being where over a million people were sentenced to death.  Seeing the whole camp made me depressed, not for the fact that I was there, but for those who were there before.  I was emotionally drained seeing the tracks, gas chambers, and crematoria.

Ashley says...
Actually being at Auschwitz-Birkenau was overwhelming.  Standing where the mass murder of innocent lives occurred revealed a harsh reality.  I felt pain and sorrow for the Holocaust victims.

Kelly B. says...
Walking through Auschwtiz-Birkenau today, it was heartbreaking to think about all the lives that were lost there.  What really struck me was that most of the people murdered there were convinced that they would be leaving and returning to their lives with their families.  The false hope that they were given was cruel and left a lasting impression on me.

Meredith says...
Today when we were standing at the selection site at Birkenau, Shalmi told us three stories about peoples personal experiences at the selection site. For me, I started thinking about my family and how I connected to that site.  I knew that I was standing in that exact place millions had their fate decided for them.