So today was the day that I was interested in the most. I've always been drawn to learning about WWII and the reign that Nazi's had on Germany and Europe as a whole. My english teacher from the 8th grade, Mr. Gibbons, whose wife had family that died at Auschwitz visited the concentration camp right before I had him as a teacher. One of our units was to read the book Night by Elie Wiesel (which incidentally was one of our required readings for the study abroad), so he showed us pictures from when he went. Ever since then I was intrigued and I wanted to visit it myself.
Driving to Auschwitz was in itself an interesting experience. It was about an hour drive to get from Krakow so the bus ride started just like all the other ones where everyone was talking and laughing, but as we got closer we got more and more solemn. I think everything started to feel real to us, that where we were heading was a place of nightmares.
When we pulled up there were tons of people of all different nationalities lining up to learn and visit. Since we had set up a group tour for us we were able to skip the lines and go right in. They had headsets for us so that our tour guide wouldn't have to yell and so she could give us information as we were walking through. One thing that was a little funny (while still having proper respect) was that even though our tour was supposed to be private random people joined at different times and then followed us around.
^^^ Arbeit Macht Frei
^^^ Shoes from the captured
^^^ suitcases. This exhibit was especially sad because one suitcase was from an orphaned child who most likely was killed right after arriving at the camp.
^^^ Gas chamber.
To be honest this was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. While it was interesting and necessary to learn, I felt really sick the whole tour. The thought that people could do something so heinous and despicable made me physically ill. Human nature is a fickle thing. There can be so much light, but so much darkness and hate. There's a book that addresses this called Ordinary Men about how normal men became cold blooded killers of thousands of Polish citizens and Jewish people. I highly recommend reading it. Incredibly eye opening.
We took a short break after the Auschwitz tour to eat lunch in the bus and then we took the short drive to Birkenau. We also did a tour there. There was this couple who was in our group that disgusted me. There is a railroad line that came through the middle of camp that would drop off the people that would be left at the camps. The women was on her knees on it posing like a model while her boyfriend took pictures of her. So terrible.
^^^ Barracks behind the fence
^^^ "For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about tone and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries in Europe."
They had those plaques in all different languages. When we got to where the plaques were there was a Jewish school group who were doing a ceremony of remembrance.
^^^ Crematorium that the Nazis bombed to hide the evidence of their acts.
^^^ "To the memory of the men, women, and children who fell victim to the Nazi genocide. Here lie their ashes. May their souls rest in peace."
It helped that I had reread Night before coming because it dulled some of the shock of the horror. A preparation, if you will, for what was shown. One part that really struck home for me was a hallway that had pictures of prisoners with their names and whether they made it out alive or if they died while at the concentration camp.
I think everyone was feeling really heavy, which is the only way I can describe the feeling, so by the time we drove away on the bus everyone is in a somber mood. Like the morning when we were driving to Auschwitz, except the opposite, we started talking more and more with the passing miles we put between us and the camp.
That evening we had our final group dinner at a traditional polish restaurant. After such a grim start to the day it was nice to end on a happy note. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was fun and light. There was this very drunk man that approached my friend Tashia at our table and asked her to dance to the band that was playing. Since it was her last night in Europe (she and Madison were leaving a day early), she said yes! It was so funny!
^^^ You can see her behind some of the beams. Everyone was very entertained!
We thought when the dance was over that would be it, but he came back to the table and kept asking the rest of us to dance! He was so drunk it was starting to make us nervous! But his friends finally came and took him away!
After dinner we headed back to the hotel and Tashia, Madison, McCall, Lauren, Catherine, and I had a girls night where we stayed up and talked super late about all the stereotypical "girl talk" things. It was one of the most fun nights, just talking and laughing about everything! I can't believe how fast we all got to be friends, but I guess it makes sense since there were only 30 of us and we were all together 24/7 for 5 weeks! Only a few days more in Europe!