Leaving Poland was a very bittersweet goodbye. It was refreshing to wake up and see North Ave outside of my window rather than Auschwitz I, but even now is difficult to find the words when explaining to my peers what I saw there and the experiences I had. "It was interesting," is often how I answered my friends and family when they asked how my spring break went. Birkenau is a place that I don't ever want to see again...and yet I am compelled to go back. I have learned so much on this trip and I feel like there is so much more for me to learn. You really don't understand what happened to the prisoners during the Shoah until you walk through Auschwitz, and even then, actually walking through their footsteps you can never fully feel their footsteps.
Since being back in the States I've had time to reflect on my journey in Poland, and I can say that although there are feelings of disgust and sorrow at what happened to these victims, I also have feelings of hope and resilience for the country of Poland.
Poland has been through so much, but they are recovering rapidly. Finally getting their independence in 1989 from the Soviet Union, Poland has already rebuilt some of the damages bestowed on them from communism. They're practicing all of their natural rights, such as freedom of religion and speech, and are shinning through their tough past with pure radiance. There are people still living in Oswiecim, as well as other towns and villages that were once taken over by the Nazis. Memorials are stationed all over the country for different heros of the war, such as locals like Oscar Schindler and members of the Resistance, and liberators like the Soviet Union. Victims of the Shoah are honored in countless ways throughout the towns we visited with beautiful statues, flowers, and of course rocks stacked on memorials.
Not everything we learned in Poland filled my heart with aches. We met a survivor who shared an incredible story of survival with us. This man was put through everything. He was put into a ghetto; which began the first taste of starvation for him. He lost his mother, and his brother when he left for the army. His father disappeared and was never found. He was shipped off to a concentration camp where his skills in the trade of electrician work saved his life by giving him a job inside away from the freezing snow. He saved his best friends by tricking the supervisor in his camp into thinking they were also electricians. He survived transports to other sub-camps. He survived unimaginable hunger and living conditions. He survived the nightmares that was actually reality. Him and his friends leaned on each other for support and had the will to stay alive, and I believe thats why they all survived the war; because they never left each other behind. He survived his death march by escaping and hiding in a sewer for days. And finally, he was liberated by American soldiers and was able to move on in is life by being reunited with his brother, getting married, and having a family of his own. The only way to move when having gone through something tragic like that is forward. You cannot look back at what was done to you because you will not be able to live your life. He was able to recover with his friends and continue his life by pushing forward. That is pure resilience. This story filled my heart with joy.
The picture I posted at the beginning of this blog is of students from Israel walking along the train tracks exiting Birkenau. I don't think there is a more powerful photo that I took while on this trip. This photo proves how far Poland has come from the Shoah. It proves that there is still hope, pride and resilience in Poland. And most importantly, it proves that life goes on. Life pushed onward in Poland after the great horror of WWII. This pictures gives me certainty that something like the Shoah will never occur again in Europe, especially Poland. People, and more importantly, children are being educated about it. People and children are celebrating their Polish and Jewish heritage.
This picture proves that evil is always destroyed by love.