How could this happen? – Day 8

Phoebe Katz, May 15

I have been dreading this day since I first saw the rough itinerary for this trip. Two years ago, during a semester abroad in Israel, Three years ago, during a study abroad program in Israel, I traveled with 80 other Jewish people to Poland and we visited both Majdanek and Auschwitz. It was challenging in a way that I reflect on positively now. We had ample time to walk around and experience whatever feelings we had on our own, but we were also surrounded by our friends and so it was a communal reflection that felt very healing. We focused on the humanity, on individual people, on survival as resistance and at the end of the day, I spent three hours in Krakow hotel room talking about it with one of my close friends. It was absolute hell, but it felt meaningful. I had low expectations for today because the structure of this trip is very different. Obviously, we are learning about it in the context of German history rather than Jewish history, as I had previously. Our group is not Jewish, so the connection to the material is very different. And I just didn’t want to go. Having had a similar experience, I did not want to go through the panic and pain again. 

Despite my reluctance, the day proceeded as planned. I woke up an hour early and had a leisurely breakfast. I was able to do some deep breathing and prepare myself for the day. Then we left for Dachau. We walked around with a tour guide, who was pretty good. I appreciated that she let us choose shade or sun and she answered everyone’s questions effectively. However, I didn’t like her little quiz things. Like she asked us what religions were brought to Dachau and obviously that’s something that we all know at least part of the answer to but what a weird structure. Or she would ask how many people we thought could fit here and stuff. Just tell us. No one needs to guess. I have no interest in playing a little game at a concentration where thousands of people died.

The crematorium area was very difficult to walk through. The gas chamber looked identical to the ones in Poland and it reminded me of standing in those with my friends from Israel while we all stared, crying, at the walls and the floor and each other in disbelief. I left that building quickly and walked around the green space outside. It was actually a beautiful area and I’m glad we got to walk through that building by ourselves. The rest of the tour was fine, but it was very emotional, of course. When the tour ended, I walked to the Jewish memorial section. That part was very well done. I am always impressed by the ways in which architects and designers are able to reflect emotions and religious values in the shape and structure of a building. I appreciated the time to walk by myself around the camp by myself. It gave me a minute to think about the victims and the survivors without all the facts and other people around. 

I walked through the museum briefly, but did not really read anything. I think that the exhibits and layout of information at Auschwitz was done a little better, as it felt more human. But I didn’t spend a lot of time with it, so I’m not the best judge. Overall, our time there felt a little rushed. I would have liked having more time to process it all. We left after only three hours and had sandwiches on the bus back and then I took a nice long nap at the hotel. My Webasto group worked together for a bit on our project at the university. This meant that we took the train by ourselves for the first time, which was fun. I never ate dinner because I napped for too long, which sucked. 

Overall, it was a horrible day. 

P.S. There is not a featured picture for today because I did not take any pictures at the concentration camp. And I decided not to choose a random Internet picture of aforementioned concentration camp.

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