Monday, May 8, 2017

Looking back on Poland

It has now been almost two months since our trip to Poland had begun and ended. I’ve been trying to figure out how to put into words my experience during this trip. Although it was overwhelming at times, I know it was something not everyone gets to experience. Going into this trip I had a lot of expectations and worries, like how would going to the concentration camps make me feel? I have always been interested in the Holocaust since I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was in elementary school. I also have always had a desire to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau for a few years now, so when I realized that Iona offered this course it was something I was extremely interested in. Looking back on the day we left for Oswiecim, Poland, I was super excited but also nervous. I had looked over the itinerary for the week and started to prepare myself for what was to come. I’m not a religious person, so after hearing about some of the tours I was a bit anxious. Although I didn’t really know what to expect from this trip I’m extremely grateful that I was given this opportunity, one that many people don’t have. The whole week that we had spent In Poland was something that I could never fully explain to someone who didn’t experience it first-hand. When we arrived back from our trip, all everyone seemed to ask was… “How was visiting Auschwitz? Was is scary? What was it like? How was Poland? What did you do?”. But, I couldn’t give anyone a complete answer. I thought I would come back and be able to tell everyone who asked just exactly what I did experience on this trip, but I couldn’t. I still can’t find the words to explain what it was like to walk on the same ground as millions of Jews did to their unknown death. It was eerily calm and peaceful when we visited both camps and thinking back it’s such a weird thing to say because of all the murder that happened at one time there. You heard the birds chirping and you saw the grass growing where it used to not grow. I don’t think that I would ever revisit Auschwitz-Birkenau, I feel as that it is a place to visit once to give your respects. But, I too am now a witness and it’s my job to make sure that this piece of history is never forgotten about.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Guilty Of Ignorance

As I am writing this on May 1st, 2017, it has been seven weeks since our journey from New York to Poland. Although I am finally settled back to life at Iona College, overloaded with work as finals are quickly approaching and surrounded by my friends in a residence hall that has become a place that I can call home, I am still constantly reminded of my journey to Poland. I knew that going to Poland would be a rare experience that I would treasure forever, but I did not know how many things in the United States would remind me about what had happened during these devastating times. For the past year, U.S. President Donald Trump has been compared to Adolf Hitler, but I have never focused or understood why people had this opinion. I thought it was nonsense and people simply being upset because they did not like this political figure, but after my journey to Poland, I understand peoples concern. Following my return from Poland, I saw an article about the early warning signs of fascism so I clicked it. The article was directed at Donald Trump, and his similarities towards Adolf Hitler. Some of these warning signs included a distain for human rights, rampant sexism, controlled mass media, obsession with national security, and fraudulent elections. While Donald Trump and the RNC deny this, there have been many allegations towards Donald Trump that go along with these warning signs. A few weeks back, White House press secretary Sean Spicer while talking about the danger of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad argued in a press conference that Hitler had not used chemical weapons for World War II. These examples of Sean Spicer and Donald Trump comparisons to Adolf Hitler make me realize that people are ignorant and ill-informed when it comes to World War II and the Holocaust.
I would have never guessed that my journey to Poland would affect my life so much and so deeply. I learned that this trip was not simply to learn the material, but to witness and reflect. I have many pages of notes, but it is not the notes that will stay in my head and my heart; it is the images and sounds of the Holocaust that will stay with me forever. Following my journey, I did not think that I would constantly be putting thought into what had happened. I consider many things that I would have never even thought of before witnessing the grounds of the Holocaust. I still have many unanswered questions, and I know that I will always have unanswered questions, but I know that I will always look at every question with multiple perspectives. Poland changed my life, and I have a whole new understanding of the Holocaust, but I know that there is still so many things to learn and witness. As I end this blog, I will finish the same way I started, constantly pondering about the Holocaust, Hitler, Nazis, Jews and Poland, but I am okay with pondering now, because that is what this journey was for.

A Day in Krakow

I woke up full of excitement to finally explore Krakow, the capital of Poland, also known to be the most populated Jewish town before WWII. During the Shoah, six million Jews where murdered. Besides the facts, about WWII, there was also a lot of division between religious groups, especially the Jews and Christians.
“After the war, 4,282 Jews resurfaced in Krakow. By early 1946, Polish Jews returning from the Soviet Union swelled the Jewish population of the city to approximately 10,000. Pogroms in August 1945 and throughout 1946 as well as number of murders of individual Jews led to the emigration of many of the surviving Krakow Jews. By the early 1990s, only a few hundred Jews remained in Krakow”.

Today, the city is slowly growing and increasing their Jewish population. We visited the Jewish Community Center in Krakow, where we were given the opportunity to meet and listen to a lecture by the director of the Center, Jonathan Ornstein. The purpose of the Center is to allow all Jews to become members of the center, allowing them to get a chance to understand and expand their knowledge on their culture and beliefs. Through our lecture he gave us an example of one individual experience from a young girl that had recently visited the Center. He explained her great grandmother was a Jew but during the Shoah she made it clear to her daughter the young girls’ grandmother, to deny her Jewish beliefs forever. Now, her grandmother is elderly, and she confessed to her that they came from a Jewish background. This was the opportunity for her to visit the Center and expand her knowledge and start a new life as a Jew.  
            Soon after we arrived in Krakow, we also visited a synagogue, and a cemetery in Krakow.  We came across a wall in the cemetery that was very special. It had many different pieces of stones, from a cemetery during the World War II, where majority of the Jewish cemeteries where targeted and destroyed. All of the stones on these particular wall where found individually, and they had no place to put it back since they wouldn’t be able to know where they belonged.
We also, attended a lecture in the University of Krakow, and listen to a lecture by Dr. Anna-Maria Orla-Bukowska. During her lecture she showed many pictures that justified the unity between many Jewish Students’ today with Atheist, and Christian students. She describes Krakow as a town filled with unity, even after all the division they faced during and after WWII.

                                                                (Cite Source)
"Krakow (Cracow)." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, n.d. Web. 05 May 2017.