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.


  1. I have read every word of this blog each evening. Most nights, I had to just take a few minutes of quiet time to process the magnitude of your experiences and the dept of your reflections. Hopefully, you will have a restful flight home, and you will be ready to resume a "new" normal. You will be forever changed, for the better. Safe travels!

  2. I am so very glad you have all taken this opportunity. A difficult trip but also an important one. Your experience will live with you forever and I have no doubt you will become leaders because of it. You make me smile through the sadness.

  3. Words could never do justice to what you have experienced in the past two weeks. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  4. What an amazing journey this past two weeks has been for all of you. Thank you for sharing it with us. I feel that I've learned so much as well & am so grateful for the many wonderful people you have met on the way and the great teachers that have guided you. My hope for each one of you is that this trip is only the end of chapter 1. Hold on to the feelings, stories and information that's been shared with you; now it's up to each one of you to let those words, stories & places live through you & guide you as you settle back into the routine of your daily lives. There will be many simple ways in each of your lives to honor both the survivors and the deceased. Chapter 2......the rest is still unwritten. Safe travels to all. Mary McElroy

  5. It's hard to believe that your journey is already coming to an end. Thank you for sharing your insights and reflections. I get the sense that many of you will return home with a renewed sense of purpose and humanity. Have a safe journey home!

  6. Reading this blog and seeing you all progress in this journey has been a great experience. For all of you, seeing the memorials, synagogues, concentration camps, museums, etc. was clearly life-changing. Back home, we can only imagine the horrific details of the Holocaust. We cannot fathom the idea of a genocide amongst innocent members of a community. Seeing Auschwitz and other important areas of the Holocaust seems to me as a surreal and humbling experience that brings out such strong emotions that cannot be felt anywhere else. Your journey will allow you to help in the fight against preventions of other genocides across the world; knowledge that can help save lives. Reading your final reflections clearly shows that every one of you has taken back with you an important lesson and a new understanding of the Holocaust that will stay with you for the rest of your lives. Thank you for sharing your experiences with those back home who could not join you!

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  10. I enjoyed reading about your student experience son this trip. As an educator for the past 25 years, and someone who has taught the Holocaust to my 8th grade students, I find that no matter how many years pass the learning is relevant to us today! I hope the lessons lead to action in our world for you as young people. There's so much we gain in empowering young people with knowledge and compassion!