Thursday, March 15, 2018

Jews in Hiding

Hiding place in which Anne Frank and her family hid for 2 years before being found by the Nazis.

Today, I learned a lot from visiting the Netherlands Exhibit at Auschwitz 1 about how Jews hid and what they did in order to not get captured and brought to the camps. As you can see in photo 1, Jewish families in the Netherlands and many other places were able to build secret places in the homes and place of work. The most famous story of a Jewish family in hiding is that of Anne Frank and how she and her family were able to go two years living in that small space behind the bookshelf. This was a hard time for Jews because they had been hearing about what was going on and they knew what their fate would be if they were to be found by the Nazis, especially because they were hiding. According to the exhibit, Jews were summoned to Dutch labor camps and this led a lot of them to hide, but a lot of them did not because they did not have the connections or the means to do so. One fact that struck me was that from the estimated 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands, 40,000 of them were able to go into hiding, and only about one third of them were found and arrested. By 1942/1943 almost all of the Jews in the Netherlands had been found and sent either to the camps or arrested. The Nazis were able to accomplish this because they had Dutch citizens help them for a portion of money for every Jew they reported to them or told their hiding spots. I had not known how much of a difficult situation it was in the Netherlands for Jews there and the types of things that they had to do in order to survive even just two more years of their lives. When reflecting upon this story of Anne Frank’s family and many others hiding, I thought back to when Stan Ronell came to our class and spoke to us about how he had survived the Holocaust. Stan was able to leave Krakow and go to another place in the hopes of hiding and not being found by the Nazis after his father and uncle were caught and taken to Auschwitz where they unfortunately died. When Stan’s mother got a job working in a house in Krakow, the agreement was only for her but she would not leave Stan behind so he had to hide in the house for a long time. The only place for him to stay was in a small closet and since he was not supposed to be in the house in the first place he never really got to see the light of day. The only time he left the closet was very late at night, to a fire escape, when he knew that there was no chance of him being caught. He had told us to go into a closet if we felt so called to, to imagine what it would have been like to be in such a small space for a long time. After going through Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz-Birkenau, and seeing the types of small spaces people were put in and the small rooms in which people him, I give these people that successfully hid and survived the war a lot of credit.

Photo of the Diary of Anne Frank available in the bookstore at Auschwitz 1. Anne Frank kept a diary of great detail about what it was like to live in hiding for two years.


Nazi Cattle car used to transport holocaust victims from all over Europe.

As the days go on in Poland, the class has visited Auschwitz I three times and Auschwitz II Birkenau once. Throughout these experiences the most prominent thing for me as been the dehumanization of all prisoners of these two camps. My first realization of this dehumanization was my first time seeing one of the cattle cars which is placed on the tracks outside of Auschwitz II Birkenau. This vessel used for transporting live stock was used to transport hundreds of humans to the location their lives would end. I shortly there after realized that all these people were to the Nazis Cattle and they were going to the slaughter factory to be processes. This evil twisted ideology is what allowed this to continue for so many years. These were not cattle these were people with families and homes from which they were so far. Throughout the class we learned the dehumanization is what made killing more simple for the Nazis, but not until seeing the cattle car did the class lesion make the full connection. After walking into the Nazi Death Camp I had my second realization of dehumanization. The barracks where the prisoners stayed looked like farms, I had noticed this but I figured it was an easy design and probably the quickest way to construct so many buildings. However, while that may indeed still be the case, no longer believe that is the reason the Nazis chose this design. After walking in our guide brought out attention to metal rings twisted into the foundation of the barrack, for which I could not imagine a purpose. The rings were stable rings for tying horses down in their stalls. The barracks we were standing in were horse stables. They road in on trains meant for cattle and were living out of stables meant for animals. They were packed into one barrack with approximately 700 other inmates with nine prisoners per bed. The prisoners lived like farm animals beside rodents and lice. Further, the Nazis would shave the prisoner’s heads. For many women, their hair acts as a major part of their identity. This is exactly what the Nazi’s desired to do: steal innocent people’s identities.

The irony of all of it is the true animals were the ones not in striped pajamas, but in uniform. The animals were controlling the humans: a new breed of animal called the SS. Sitting in a class room and learning about how the Nazis treated the victims is incredibly important and I believe all should know how the Nazis dehumanized the victims of the Shoah. However, I do not know if my words here will truly allow people to understand what went on in these camps just as my professor’s words could have never made me truly understand. No one, but the survivors themselves could imagine the atrocities that took place and the way these innocent people were treated. I do hope that no human ever again will be treated even half as poorly as the victims of the Shoah were treated. Through those who immerse themselves in education regarding the Shoah and Jewish-Christian relations, perhaps we can stop history from repeating itself.


A quote by Simon Peereboom about listening to the media throughout WWII.
A picture of a Hungarian woman before the Shoah next to a picture of her after the liberation.
“Where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again” -Anne Frank.

Reading that is quite uplifting, until one remembers that Anne Frank was captured alongside her family, sent to multiple camps, eventually died at Bergen-Belsen. Did she lose hope? Since her writings halted on August 1st, 1944, we will never know. But Frank’s diary depicts a very joyful girl despite the hopeless end to her life. This stuck out to me today as we returned to Auschwitz I. I recognized a reoccurring theme of hopelessness today.

But, this is not a foreign idea, as we read through The Holocaust Kingdom by Alexander Donat and noticed this constant loss of faith in the future. In the first chapter of Donat’s story, he describes life in a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, Poland. He speaks about the gradual changes that turned his every day life to misery. From the German soldiers robbing Jews without any repercussions, to their eventual beating and killing of people, these people participated in Donat’s eventual loss of hope. Donat’s story begins with the loss of hope by a loss of reputation. Early on, propaganda began to kill the reputation of the Jewish people. “Polish-Jewish relations deteriorated…the wartime sharing of experience had brought Poles and Jews closer together…but the idyl was short-lived. Poisonous Nazi propaganda soon reawakened native anti-Semitism.” (pp. 11). This exact quote struck me today in Block 21 of Auschwitz on the third floor. This area is a memorial dedicated to those who were killed during the Shoah, specifically from the Netherlands. An entire section of the area was dedicated to Nazi propaganda, which is a large reason they were so successful. These soldiers were able to recruit more non-Jews to join the SS and the non-Jewish citizens to remain bystanders, since they were fed lies. Reading these advertisements, posted publicly throughout the Netherlands and (in Donat’s case) Poland after German occupation, caused me to lose hope in people, especially those in power who used their media presence to spread false accusations.

Later in the day, I found myself again losing hope as I walked through Block 18 on the third floor. This section is a memorial to the Hungarians lost in the Shoah. Throughout the floor, there is no music, only a heartbeat playing on repeat. A section that struck me was from the time frame of 1944-1945, There were dozens of pictures of corpses of Hungarians that had starved to death in Auschwitz Birkenau and pictures of Hungarian women shortly after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. The skinny, sick bodies made me hopeless. I imagined the perpetrators and lost hope in humanity, most especially the lack of empathy throughout this time. How could they not stand up for those starving people? How could they eat their meals knowing that they were going to spend their days next to hungry people? I recall Donat facing the same thoughts in the Polish ghettos during The Holocaust Kingdom. “Even a crust of bread that went to sustain life was dearly bought with Jewish blood.” (pp. 31). Our author begins to lose hope in the perpetrators, who grew harsher and harsher each day.

A third moment of hopelessness came today during our lecture. We reviewed “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah”. It was written in 1998 by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. Although it was a step forward for the Catholic faith for addressing Judaism in a document, it turns into an apologetic for Catholics. An apologetic is a defense, specifically used to defend religion. In this case, the writers attempt to defend Christian participation in the Shoah; “many did, but others did not”(pp. 10). Being that Catholicism is the largest religion, the word “many” is a poor word choice because it makes it seem as though a majority (millions) helped. But, we know factually this is not true. Reading this brought me full circle to this morning, reading the propaganda and losing hope. This exaggeration by the writers, though not full propaganda, ruined the clean intention of defending the dignity of the Jewish people, and instead tries to make Christians look good.

I have hope, however, that through our trip to Poland this week, as well as the use of these blogs and social media, we can bring hope to preventing something like this from happening again. We can spread the truth and advocate for populations that do not have a voice, with the click of a button. As Dr. Procario-Foley said moments ago, “what is on the internet, is forever”, so let’s take that challenge and use it for good.

Look Me In The Eyes

Millions of people with ordinary lives had everything taken from them under the rule of Nazi Germany—their families, their belongings, and ultimately their humanity. They were even given numbers as a replacement of their names. The Nazis purposely treated them as if they were animals, and stripped them of all rights they had as humans. The one right they were given, according to these Nazis, was the right to die.

Throughout this week in Poland, we as a group have seemed to create a unique emphasis on eyes. This was very apparent at first in pictures of the prisoners at each of the camps. Our tour guide, Lidia, would ask us, “What do you see in their eyes? Do you see fear? Or sadness?” at first, I thought “Yes, they were mostly likely about to be murdered, so of course they are afraid”. Lidia reminded us that the Jewish people were told they were moving to the East to start a new life, so they packed their clothes and belongings and imagined this new life that they were promised. Perhaps I had failed to truly look those photographed soon-to-be prisoners in the eyes, as I would have instead seen the utter confusion that they felt.
Pictured here are Jews walking to the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. At this point, they were still ordinary people in ordinary clothes, with no idea where they were going. You can truly feel the emotion behind this image by looking into their eyes and seeing the ordinary confusion.

Another time that this concept of deep eye contact with another person came up was during the third of Father Manfred’s lectures, in which he talked about God’s presence, or lack of presence, at Auschwitz. He talked about the importance of relationships in our lives, and referred to those relationships as our responsibility. The best way, he said, to develop and to deepen relationships in our lives is to look into somebody’s eyes rather than at them. By doing that, he said we are looking at something behind the eyes and inevitably forming a deeper connection with that person.

Upon creating deep, meaningful relationships with people after looking through the windows to the soul, we instantly recognize their humanity. No matter their occupation, race, or religion, they are humans and we can connect with them even just on that level. Christians know that, according to the Bible, all humans are made in the image and likeness of God. This is emphasized in Nostra Aetate, which we reviewed in class. Nostra Aetate is the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions. Here is the final paragraph from the document:

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to "maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.(15)

In conclusion, we can clearly see the lack of respect for the humanity of the Jewish people by the Nazis during the Shoah. With the fact that this could all happen again since it already happened once, it can be prevented by simply forming deep connections with others, who may happen to be different than us, and looking them into their eyes and thus into their soul. Hopefully this will allow better understanding between people and ultimately create peace.
Pictured here are the photographs of the prisoners at Auschwitz I. Seeing these, I remembered that there were real people behind the numbers, and there are real emotions and feelings behind those eyes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

My Precious Ones

“And we were carried off, killed, exterminated. Not a trace remained of my precious ones! Woe unto me, woe.” – Yitzhak Katzenelson

My time in Poland thus far defies words. In three days, I have experienced such an array of emotions that it has left me both speechless and bursting with thoughts. I have so much to express, and yet at times, I feel that my vocabulary is useless in describing what I have witnessed and felt. What words can capture the atrocities of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau? Despite this, I write still.
I have entered this immersive, academic experience equipped with the lens of a student, yes, but also a woman, a daughter, and an extension of the Gallagher-Kealty family lineage. The relationship that I share with my family- though complicated- is the closest to my heart. Though leaving the United States was exhilarating, I have felt a pang of longing for my family each day. I have set aside time each night to communicate with my mother and share my thoughts and experiences that have come and gone. We speak, and listen. We pray. We trade perspectives (as she has been to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany). It is in these conversations that I feel gratitude for her, and the pang of separation fades with thoughts of returning home.

It is also in these conversations that I am reminded of those who would never return home, whose pangs of separation were infinite, agonizing, and beyond their control. Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau have triggered within me a multitude of thoughts, feelings, and words. In this context, I can only think of the separation that ran rampant throughout these death camps.
My exposure to this separation began in my personal readings. Since middle school, I have immersed myself in Holocaust literature capturing the stories and experiences of survivors. In each work, there was an element of familial separation. Every book and every story contained these separations- sometimes intentional, other times unintentionally, never controlled. More recently, I encountered familial separation in Alexander Donat’s [Michael Berg] The Holocaust Kingdom. Donat’s detailed recalling of being separated from his wife, unsure of her fate but convinced of her demise, is almost too agonizing to read:

“I had been hit at the core of my being. Night descended and I had no will to live. Every night I died with Lena…I mourned her with all of my heart, reliving our life together, regretting the moments of separation.” (pp. 201)
And yet, I could not fully grasp the element of separation until I stepped foot onto Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau. Upon entry to Auschwitz Birkenau, one is greeted with the concept of familial
separation in an unlikely form- a cattle car.

A cattle car looming over the train tracks at Auschwitz Birkenau. Cars like this were used to transport Jews to various camps throughout Poland

Hundreds of Jews were crammed into these cars for hours, even days at a time, in their transportation to concentration camps. This on-site cattle car symbolized, for many families, the last instance of unification. Upon the car’s arrival at its designated camp, people would be sorted into two groups. Placement in each group was determined by the German guards, based on physical fitness, health, and ability. Those who were deemed unfit (either too old, with child, too young, or disabled) were sorted into one group- and immediately executed. At Auschwitz I, I encountered a photo of these two groups, which has been burned into my mind. Hearing accounts of children torn from their mothers, spouses forcibly separated, and elder family members being herded to the slaughter made this photograph more unbearable.

Above: Men separated from women and children prior to medical selection.

Unfortunately, avoiding initial execution did not imply an eventual unification. If anything, it furthered the separation. Unsure of the fate of their family members, “fit” prisoners were sorted into various barracks based on gender, race, and status. I witnessed this as I walked through the barracks for men, women, children, and ethnic groups such as Roma (dubbed “Mexico)- all separated from each other.

Prisoners were even separated from memories and intangible connections to their family. Belongings of prisoners were forcibly surrendered and confiscated at arrival. This included photographs of beloved family members. Any shard of “home,” of life before this hell and bearing a reminder of their family, was separated from each person who arrived. A final act of this separation materialized in the dehumanization of prisoners. Prisoners were forcibly shaved, stripped of their garments, and given a new identity in the form of a tattooed number. In Auschwitz I, I encountered a room containing myriads of human hair. Hair not only symbolizes a connection to one’s personal identity, but also family lineage. My red hair calls to mind the red hair of my mother and relatives, my family, and my heritage. Similarly, my Irish Gaelic name calls to mind my parents naming me, and its relation to my family. In losing one’s hair and name, the familial separation that defined Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau was furthered.

Partial display of items confiscated from arriving Jews at Auschwitz Birkenau. Here, family photographs were removed from arriving prisoners and either preserved or destroyed.

In encountering these elements of separation, I think of Michael’s longing for Lena and Wlodek- his “precious ones,” in the words of Yitzhak Katzenelson. Throughout his time in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Lublin concentration camp, Michael is separated from his family multiple times. These times of separation are sometimes intentional (e.g. in bringing Wlodek to a Gentle family, and deciding Lena should stay in Majdanek), but overwhelmingly unintentional (e.g. initially being separated from each other, sorting into various barracks, and Lena’s transport to Auschwitz Birkenau). Each time is more agitating than the next- the sense of anxiety that comes with no promise of reuniting is made palpable in his accounts.

“My mind was in turmoil, my thoughts filled only with self-reproach for having left Wlodek with Lena instead of taking him with me. I had committed the unpardonable sin, and I felt suicidal.” (pp. 74)
The Holocaust Kingdom, coupled with bearing witness to the atrocities found in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau, highlighted the inescapable separation- and agony that followed- of families. The account of Donat illuminates how it is only through eliminating that separation that inner peace is restored. I wish to close this personal reflection with a striking quote.
In Donat’s writings, he shares the story of a mother and son, forcibly separated within the Warsaw Ghetto by SS soldiers:

“One ten-year-old boy called out hysterically but determinedly, ‘Mama, Mama, keep right on going. Don’t look back on me.’ And then he ran out of the ranks, hoping…to save his mother’s life. But unable to accept his sacrifice, [she] ran after him. Clinging together, they rejoined the column and walked on, released from all fear, possessed of a new peace.” (pp. 79)

This anecdote captures how, in spite of this boy being sent to his death, unification defied primal fear. I am moved by this display of unity and the freeing nature, despite imprisonment, of the unification of family. In closing this, I think of the universal longing among the victims of the Shoah for their precious ones- a longing that, for many, never ceased.

The Worst of Humanity

The entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau, sometimes called the “Gate of Death”.

Upon hearing the title, “the Gate of Death” I immediately thought of hell. However, now that I have been to Auschwitz Birkenau, I can see why it is given this nickname: it is not very different from the horrors of hell described in afterlife.

After joyfully writing my last blog post about the best of humanity, I feel it is only fair to force myself to let go of the core optimist in me, and face the truths I witnessed today. The last two days at Auschwitz I and Auschwitz Birkenau showed me the worst of humanity. Put simply, the worst of humanity is genocide. In class we learned that this term was created after the Shoah, as it is the killing of many people from one specific group. In the case of the Shoah, it was the intentional, planned out, mass murder of the Jewish race by Hitler and the Nazis. But what brings one to this point?

The term “mass murder” already haunts me, after I sat in lockdown for four hours in 2012 as 20 children and six adults from my community were gunned down at a local elementary school. This mass murder left me with nightmares, worries, and profound thoughts about humanity. Here in Oświęcim, I have no choice but to accept the fact that the grounds I walk on, sleep on, eat on, and pray on are the graveyard to six million. Not 26, but 6 million. How does one come to terms with this? The only thing that comes to mind is that the perpetrators in both situations were the worst of humanity. The way they treated their victims is so horrific, I now believe, because it began as hate but turned to indifference.

This indifference is exemplified in the lack of dignity they gave their victims. This was directly spoken of in The Holocaust Kingdom by Alexander Donat and his wife Lena. Lena describes the awful treatment from the guards. “Half an hour later those selected to die would be marched slowly to Barrack 25. An hour before they were all fighting for a piece of bread, for an assignment to a Kommando…the Kapo would be very impatient: why did such carrion move so slowly? And would urge them on with kicks and abuse.” She describes the pain they faced in the moments before their death, being yelled at, pushed around, and made to be inhuman.
What made me recognize the worst in humanity was truly the photos. The land may not always tell the entire story, but the photos, especially those taken by Wilhelm Brasse, hurt the most. Seeing the children who had experiments done on them, and then later hearing of them during the documentary Portrecista displayed the indifference clearly. Brasse vividly describes the horrors he witnessed first hand. One example was when he watched Dr. Mengele pull out a woman’s uterus and inject a disease into it.

The sights, sounds, and stories of Auschwitz are emotional and scary. But, I need to leave here in advocate. I need to leave here and give voice to the 6 million voiceless whose stories can’t be told by their family, friends, or communities, because they crossed through the “Gate of Death” as well. So, instead of running from it, I need to remember it and always seek to learn, empathize/understand, and speak up. I will not be a bystander now that I have seen the worst of humanity.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Best of Humanity

A statue of Saint Pope John Paul II in front of the cathedral he was baptized in.
“Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create” - Saint Pope John Paul II. 

The wise words of this new saint, who I now feel strongly connected to. Today we stood in the kitchen of Saint Pope John Paul II’s childhood home, and I could not help but fall in love with who he was.

Only miles from his childhood home, millions of Jewish people were murdered in the Shoah at the Auschwitz death camps. Through his outreach to the most simple organization of society, family, he restored faith in the hearts of many. Alongside his work in building up an image of peace and solidarity for the future, brave scholars like Seelisberg in Switzerland spoke up about violence and hatred against Jewish people during this post-war era. To me, both men were brave and exemplify the best of humanity.

Walking through the Family Home Museum in Wadowice taught me so much more about him. Starting with the foundation of family, he created multiple documents like the Theology of the Body. This clarified and informed young people about significant parts of Catholic Social Teaching. For example, he touches on relationships, purity, specifically touching on the dignity of human life. On top of that, I learned about how he created World Youth Day, where he invited thousands (and soon, millions) of Catholic young people to gather in one place. He educated them, prayed with them, and set grounds for them to build from so that they could change the future. Through this extensive and hands-on outreach he restored many people’s faith in the Catholic Church by embodying what it truly means: universal. The universe church accepts all, respects all, and forgives all. His dedication to this was just one of many ways I believe he brought out the best of humanity.

At the Family Home Museum we heard many stories of him living out these values. I noticed that his actions always spoke louder than his words. A perfect example of such was his response to his assassination attempt. A man named Mehmet Ali Ağca tried to kill the Pope in public on May 13, 1981. However, it only injured him, bullets going through his stomach, even damaging his index finger. Almost immediately, the Pope responded saying, “pray for my brother who I haven forgiven”. Despite the pain he faced, the Pope fully forgave Ağca. He even went above and beyond to show love him, meeting him in prison and later meeting with his family. This act clearly changed Ağca’s heart, as he remained friends with the Pope until his eventual passing. This ultimate forgiveness, is another way I saw the best of humanity displayed today.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience in Wadowice, following in the footsteps of this saint. I was able to return to the retreat center and dive into our Course Pack One, Part A. I reread “An Address to the Churches” by Seelisberg in 1947. Being that this was so soon after the war, this document was courageous. It truly represented accountability on the part of Christianity for it’s role in the Holocaust. In the document, Seelisberg states, “the Christian Churches have indeed always affirmed the un-Christian character of antisemitism, as of all forms of racial hatred” (page 1). This act of standing up for a marginalized group after the Shoah was the good, positive side of life. However, Seelisberg does not stop there; he goes on to state ten points to draw attention to anti semitism to prevent it from growing in the Christian Church. He uses comparisons of Judaism and Christianity to make connections, and later suggests that people not utilize the scripture references to Jewish people as the killers of Christ alone, since it was truly the Romans. Picking this apart in our class proved to me the importance of being an advocate instead of a bystander, and that speaking up, though difficult, can pull back stereotypes and hidden prejudices that lead to the worst of humanity.

Both Saint Pope John Paul II and learning in class about Seelisberg showed me the best of people. The best people are those attempting to replicate our perfect, loving, forgiving God. I will be holding onto this later in the week as I travel through the “Gate of Death” and witness the polar opposite of humanity.

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.