Thursday, April 24, 2014

Goodbye Poland. - Kara Pacewicz

It has been over a month since leaving the most inspirational and moving trip of my life. When looking back on my old blog posts the emotions all came rushing back. The experience of Poland was so unbelievable that it almost feels as if I didn’t go on the trip. Since the trip any chance I get I share my photos and experience with everyone. The knowledge I achieved from this course and trip is more than I could have thought. Being there and experiencing it all made it all so real and it gave the history life. Not only did I learn an endless amount of information on the Holocaust but I also learned so much about history and the affect it has on our present and future lives. This trip has given me a passion for learning about the Holocaust and understanding the event in history. Since the trip I have done so much research on my own, read books, and looked up pictures from the Holocaust.

The thanks I have for those who helped make this trip happen can not be expressed enough. Dr. Procario-Foley has put together a trip for students that changes lives. With the help of Dr. Nadel, Sister Mary, Father Manfred and the rest of the staff at the center made this trip one of a life time. They all give students like me the opportunity to bring history into real life. It gives us a knowledge about the Holocaust and religions in a way we would never learn in a classroom. They also give us a chance to have a life changing experience.

I hope some day I can return to Poland and go back to the camps. I feel as if the knowledge never ends. A new goal of mine is to visit the rest of the concentration camps standing and to gain knowledge of what happened at those camps as well. The decision to join my classmates in Poland is the best decision I have ever made, the trip opened my eyes to history, gave me a passion for studying the Holocaust, and it changed my life forever.
New York City from the plane ride.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

For them, tomorrow simply never came. Today, we walk in their footsteps.

Possessions of the Victims of Auschwitz I

Display that contained 40,000 pairs of shoes left at Auschwitz

Prayer Shawls from the victims of Auschwitz I

Eye glasses from the victims

Pots and pans from the victims

            Going to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps was like entering a new world in which unimaginable suffering took place. When we walk through the camps, we are all trying to imagine what it was like for those who were trapped inside. And yet, no matter how hard you try, it is impossible to comprehend. What we have learned, however, is that seeing the possessions that were taken away from the prisoners makes it all the more real. 
           Walking through the camps, I already began to feel an overwhelmingly appreciation of just being able to walk freely in the camps. While my family members, and the families of so many others were confined in those spaces, unable to even think on their own, here we are getting the opportunity to walk on these grounds and witness the tragic history, all while being able to leave whenever we pleased. It may sound like something so minor, but seeing the sign that read "HALT" in front of the gate of Auschwitz I and knowing that it was nearly impossible to escape between the guards at every corner, the machine guns and dogs, the electric fence and the spotlights, it was unreal to be standing underneath it. For a prisoner, trying to get past the guards at the main gate meant making yourself susceptible to torture, surrendering your life along with the life of 10 others from your barrack or, the life of your family members. 
          As we began to see the possessions and the remains of the victims, the reality began to hit us hard. The first exhibition we saw included the hair from the victims, which was often used to create blankets, one of which was on display. I began to imagine how easily this could be the hair on my head, and to question why we are so lucky while so many others had to suffer for absolutely no reason. We then entered the room containing the shoes left behind by the victims. The display contained 40,000 pairs of shoes, and this amount was only a small portion of all the shoes that had been taken. We moved on to the display containing the eyeglasses of the victims, and then finally the prayer shawl. I quickly thought of my glasses, and of the prayer shawl I received for my Bat Mitzvah. As I so easily could imagine my possessions sitting in the display for all the world to view and learn from, I felt even more pain. Lastly, the pots and pans of the victims, which to me was symbolic of a traditional Jewish family. From my experience, nothing pleases a Jewish mother more than cooking and taking care of her family; and this is exactly what the women who came to these camps were planning on doing. They brought all that they could carry on their backs, but managed to bring with them the necessary tools to continue taking care of their children and their husbands. As our tour guide stated, "they truly were thinking about tomorrow. But for them, tomorrow simply never came."
          It is impossible to see the exhibitions and to not feel an overwhelming sense of appreciation for what you have in your life. There is so much we take for granted, and we are quick to forget how little freedom so many others before us had. The prisoners in Auschwitz had no rights whatsoever, something that just added to the dehumanization that they endured. They were viewed as an illness, a bacteria that must be removed, one that certainly does not have the right to keep the shoes on their feet or the hair on their head. And yet, with practically nothing left to their name, there were ones who still did not give up. One man was persecuted because he was not willing to give up his prayer shawl. We really do not know what it means to appreciate what little you may have with your heart and soul, enough to give up your life for it. The people who lost their lives at Auschwitz are brave beyond comprehension, and it was an honor to see that their legacy is not being forgotten. 

Rest in Peace to all those who lost their lives in the Shoah. May you live forever in peace and happiness, in G-ds Eternal Kingdom. 

Birkenau and the Survivor - Joanna Ziegelbauer

Arriving in Poland, I was not prepared for the sites I was going to face.  After visiting the first camp, Auschwitz I, I was sure that I could not feel a deeper connection to this place and its history than I had while walking through exhibition blocks.  The next day, however, I found I was wrong.

Auschwitz II - Birkenau Front Gate

Our group visited Auschwitz II, Birkenau the next morning.  While driving up to the camp, I saw the iconic railroad tracks which led to the large brick building and gate.  I knew that this camp was much larger than Auschwitz I, but I had no idea how much larger.  Reaching the top of the front guard tower, I looked out over the 25 acres of land, unable to see the far borders of the camp.  Although not all of the buildings are still standing, the outlines of these barracks can be seen, reminding visitors of the camp’s size and its capacity; the view was truly humbling. 

As our group was guided through the camp, I saw so many images that I had previously seen only in books and on websites.  Even while visiting this historic site and having the infamous structures before me, it was hard to truly comprehend the atrocities that had taken place there not even a century ago.  Aside from our small group and a few other visiting tour groups, the camp was empty, creating a desolate and solemn feeling.  The barracks in Birkenau did not contain exhibits like the blocks in Auschwitz I.  Instead, these barracks were either empty, or contained some of the original wooden bunks from the time of the camp’s operation.  Even though I understood the events that took place in Birkenau, without the displays or other depictions of life at the camps, it was much more difficult for me to imagine human life there.  I was unable to put faces among the sites I was seeing, which is of great importance to me in dealing with this harsh topic of the Holocaust.

2014 Poland Group with Professor Długobroski 
Later that day, when we returned to the Center for Dialogue and Prayer, we were blessed to have an audience with a survivor of Auschwitz II, Birkenau.  The survivor, Professor Długobroski, was a young member of the Polish Resistance Army in 1942, receiving military training through the underground organization.  With the help of a translator, the Professor shared his story with our group. 
Unfortunately, because of his involvement with the Hope Army, the Professor was arrested in May of 1943.  Professor Długobroski and his comrades sent to a flat of the Gestapo in Warsaw where they were able to hear shootings from the Warsaw Uprising.  On August 28, Professor Długobroski was transported to Auschwitz Birkenau along with approximately 1,500 other men.  He told us of his experience in the camp as a non-Jewish Pole. 

As I listened to the Porfessor’s story, I thought back to my trip to Birkenau earlier in the day.  Having visited the site, I was able to visualize the places he was referred to and imagine the scenarios he spoke about.  Unlike with the other survivors I had met, I was easily able to follow the events of his story.  As the Professor recalled his sleeping quarters, I could vividly picture the long rows of wooden bunk beds that I had seen that morning.  I was also able to mentally follow his path from Birkenau to Auschwitz I, as he struggled to carry heavy stones and gravel with his commando.  Although it was sad, it was extremely helpful to me to add this human perspective to the Birkenau camp since I had a hard time connecting to the site earlier. 

Personally, I think that Professor Długobroski’s account of his time in the camp allowed me to connect in a different way than I had previously done in Auschwitz I.  Without this personal description, it would have been much more difficult for me to feel as though I understood the human experience in the camp.  Furthermore, having a personal interaction with a survivor of the camp just after having experienced the camp for the first time added a whole other remarkable dimension to me, allowing me to associate with the history in a very deep and meaningful way.

-Joanna Ziegelbauer
Class of 2014

Was God present during the War? - Kara Pacewicz

Franciscan Center at Harmeze.

The first day I spent in Poland, Father Manfred came to lecture us on his knowledge about the Holocaust. As I stated in earlier blogs, Father Manfred’s lectures are incredible. He is very philosophical and has realistic and relatable facts and opinions. The first question that popped into my head during his lecture was, “Where do you think God was during the Holocaust?” Today Father.
Manfred dedicated his entire lecture to God and if he was present during the War.
There is one idea that Father Manfred talked to us about that really helped me understand my beliefs and my thoughts on where God exactly was during the Holocaust. He told us that he talked to another survivor, and asked him where God was and his thoughts about the topic. The survivor answered back, “What about God? Of course we called and cried out, but it isn’t God who should save us but other people.” As Father Manfred said this, I sat and thought for a few seconds. I have been searching and searching for an answer on to where God was during the War, and what my beliefs were, and this simple sentence answered it all.
God loves each and every one of us; no matter our actions he will forever love you. God is one that we must never loose faith and hope in. We should love God with all our heart and all our ability. Some may believe that during the War, God was unfaithful to us, and some may ask the question, if he loves us then why let this happen? If we believe God isn’t being faithful that does not mean in any way that we should stop being faithful. God works in his own ways, just because you may loose hope for a little, it does not mean loosing faith is acceptable.
During the War the prisoners were crying and upset, they cried to God and prayed everything would end. God was also crying, he was crying from above because of what was happening to the ones he loved on earth. God isn’t one who wants to be seen crying, says Father Manfred. If we cry to God and show him anger, that will hurt him and make him more upset. Crying means care and love, and God will forever care and love.

Father Manfred’s lecture today gave me hope in where God was during the War. God was always there, he was always looking down, and he was always helping. God was also suffering, he was suffering from up above because those he loved were being tortured and loved, and the bystanders who he also loves, were not doing much to help. God had to wait and watch from above until Liberation occurred on January 27th, 1945 in Auschwitz. 
Father Manfred signing my book that he wrote, "And Your Conscience Haunted You."

Innocence by Thamara Diogo

The word innocence can be defined in multiple ways. One may say that innocence means purity or righteousness. But I believe that innocence can be interpreted in more ways than one. When analyzing what innocence means, I believe it is important to apply its meaning to children. What struck me the most today was learning about how children were mistreated and killed at Auschwitz concentration camp.
Clothes and shoes belonging to babies that died in Auschwitz.
Photo drawn by a child at Auschwitz.

Before coming on this trip to Poland to further analyze the Holocaust I was afraid of many things. I was afraid of not being able to handle seeing the concentration camp and I was afraid of living in a place that was previously occupied by the Nazi's and the Third Reich. My first impressions here in Oswieçim was very diverse. I love how the country is built on low lands and has many colorful houses with huge land properties. On the other hand, this town is centered on so much darkness and sad history that you can't help but feel upset.

The absolute hardest part about today was seeing pictures of the many children who suffered and died in Auschwitz. As I previously mentioned, children are the most innocent human beings in the world and to have them killed simply because they were Jewish is immoral and most importantly inhuman. In one picture I saw a baby who was skinny to the bone and a doctor who was cutting him open to experiment on him. This was definitely one of the saddest and most sorrowful moments here. Its disturbing to think about how many doctors were brought into Auschwitz to experiment on young children and babies. On another occasion, it was reported that a woman who was a Russian- Jew gave birth in the concentration camp and had her baby taken to have tests done on him. The doctor ran tests on the babies eyes and put chemicals in them, and as a result he died three days later. It is hard to understand the Nazi ideology behind all this cruelty.

Father Manfred has been giving us many substantial, knowledgeable and specific information on the Holocaust and the different perspectives of different groups such as bystanders, victims and perpetrators. Today he analyzed briefly for us the Nazi ideology behind their cruelty. The exact words of Father Manfred were, " the Nazi's thought they were performing the will of God". He further proceeded to speak to us about the conscious of these men that fought in the SS. Father Manfred expressed that as individuals he does not know if the men had a conscious but as a group they had none. I believe that this is an issue that will always be a question to the world.

I am trying to understand how these SS officers could have tortured those pure and innocent children and taken life away from them at such a young age. Again, I will never understand the Nazi ideology and I don't think no one ever will. I believe that its important to understand Carol Mata's quote that states, “We are alive. We are human, with good and bad in us. That's all we know for sure. We can't create a new species or a new world. That's been done. Now we have to live within those boundaries . What are our choices? We can despair and curse, and change nothing. We can choose evil like our enemies have done and create a world based on hate. Or we can try to make things better" (Mata).

Forever - Kara Pacewicz

Auschwitz II - Birkenau.
25 acres of land was devoted to only one of the horrific concentration camps. Auschwitz - II Birkenau is bigger than anyone could imagine. When driving up you could see the train tracks that lead directly through the entrance of the camp. When turning to your right you see barracks on barracks that seem to disappear in the distance. As we walk up the dipped in stairs from all those who have walked up and down them we see the view of the entire camp. As I take the last step up the stairs I lost my breath, the size of this camp is unimaginable. The train tracks seem as if they will never end, the barracks are uncountable, and the size of the camp goes beyond the trees.
Our tour guide took us around as she explained the parts of the camp. One barrack was filled with concrete circles in the ground for the prisoners to use for the bathroom. 2,000 people would fit in a barrack at time, due to the amount of holes in the concrete compared to the amount of prisoners, each person would only have 25 seconds to use the bathroom in order for all of them to have a chance to go. We also had the chance to go into the barracks where the men, women and children slept. It was devastating to see that they had to sleep on concrete or wood panels, and sometimes with no hay. The ones who were all the way on the bottom were most likely bitten by rats and or eaten alive by insects.
Our next stop was the platform. The platform meant death for most of the prisoners. This was the time when the SS officers would decide who would go to the chambers to die or to stay on the camp to work. This was the moment most died, it was the moment their lives would come to an end. Some like to say, they lost their lives on the platform not the chambers.
The bathroom for the prisoners.
How can this be real?
How did 6 million actually die due to what they believe in?
Seeing the gas chambers is a sight and memory I will never forget. Even though they were destroyed, seeing the steps that led to the “changing room” is an inexpressible feeling. The SS officers would tell the prisoners to go down the stairs and undress, along with this they would tell the kids to tie their shoes together so they wouldn’t loose them when they came back from the “showers,” as well with telling the adults to remember their hook number so they knew where their clothes were going to be when finishing. Of course, they weren’t showers, and they didn’t need their clothes and shoes after. The SS officers went as far as telling them little lies just so they would think they were actually entering showers and not gas chambers. The fact that they thought so deep to come up with these little ideas to trick the prisoners makes everything even sicker.
The stairs leading to the "changing room."
There were a few moments during this trip I was able to reflect upon what I have seen and experienced. One of these moments took place right outside Birkenau. There were three graves, each one read, “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.” Here we lit a candle and laid rocks on top of the grave. Doctor Nadel prepared a prayer ceremony for us to read. As we prayed and showed our remorse, thoughts and thoughts ran through my head. The hair, the size of the camps, the children, the drawings, the experimentations, the deaths, the railroad tracks, the wooden pole where those were hung, the poor and innocent people who suffered, tortured, and died. It all ran through my head at once, I became upset, angry, sad, heartbroken, and anxious. How could have so many human beings join together and believe that such actions are okay?

The grave we prayed too.
But with these feelings, I also overcame with honor, honor because I feel so incredibly blessed to be here in Poland with the other students and professors and to learn, experience, feel, and reflect on one of the most horrific events in human history. Words can not express how honor and proud of myself from coming here to honor all those who have passed and all those who have suffered due to this horrific event. I can never thank those who have given me the chance to be here enough, Professor Procario-Foley, Iona College, and my parents. Forever will this trip be with me, along with those who were prisoners and victims of the Holocaust.

Trust. -Jackie Martinez

Father Manfred Signing His Book for Our Group
"This world is not lost, and God does care." Today we heard a lecture from Father Manfred, and these words of his really spoke out to me. As I mentioned in my first blog post, Father Manfred spoke a lot about trust and healing, and in today's lecture on "Where was God?" he continued more on the topic of trust. At our first lecture, Father Manfred discussed trust in the context of the Poles/Jews and the Germans. Could they trust the outside world, both the perpetrators and the bystanders, again? Today, he discussed it in the context of the Jews and God. Instead of asking "Where was God during the holocaust," Father Manfred told us a more appropriate question would be "Can this relationship of trust still exist?" Well, can it?

Some people believe that if God truly loved His people, then He would not have stood by and let this tragic event just happen. He should've done something. After all, there existed a covenant with the Jewish people in which God would help them through anything. However, WE are the ones who are supposed to remain faithful in the covenant. Furthermore, God was not responsible for the deaths in the Shoah because he did not kill those people. Humanity was responsible for the Shoah, and because of that, Father Manfred explained that God turned away so that we would not see him crying. He cries and turns away so we do not see because He is upset that we would be the ones to be unfaithful to the covenant by not respecting the dignity of all humans. By weeping for humanity, though, God is revealing His love for us. He did not abandon the Jewish people and all those suffering during the Shoah. I mentioned in my previous post that God was present through the acts of those who saved or improved the lives of others during the war and the Shoah, and He was. Furthermore, because He was present, this trust between God and His people has not been broken.

Today's lecture, as well as our first lecture from Father Manfred, definitely helped my understanding of trust and healing. He said, "The real wound of Auschwitz was not the killing of people but the killing of relationships." How could a group of people forgive and ever trust another group that wanted them exterminated? We can use God's love as a template for beginning to trust again. The way we have to listen to God is the same way we have to listen to others. By listening, we are able to open our hearts, according to Father Manfred, and I agree with this. Something I learned from today's lecture that helped me to understand what was taught at the first lecture was that even though we may come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives on different situations, we have a lot more in common than we think. In the context of the Shoah, the Jewish, Christian, and Polish perspectives all have one thing in common: the foundation of the Bible, that God is good and created everything in his image and likeness, thus making humanity inherently good. In order for healing to occur in a post-Auschwitz world, healing must first occur in relationships so that trust can be built again.

I mentioned in my first post that what I learned in the first lecture could be applied in everyday life, and the same can be said for today's lecture as well. Trust goes beyond just the Shoah; trust is important in any relationship, no matter how big or small. When that trust is broken, it may seem like it can never be healed. But it can be. Because of this common belief that humans, being made in the image of God, are inherently good, we can infer from this that humans are also capable of redemption and forgiveness. If people are willing to be faithful towards God and loving towards others, healing can occur.

Always Remember. Kelly McGovern

March 20, 2014

Today I went back to Auschwitz 1. I was a little nervous as I walked up because I was expecting to become flooded with emotion like the first time. For some reason, I saw it in another way. Sorrow and anger were still emotions that filled me. When I walked through the gate all I wanted to do was walk the dirt paths within the camp. All of the information that I learned about Auschwitz 1 was jumping around my head. 

Auschwitz 1 
Walking through the camp I came across a block, which I had not seen during my tour. Each country that was involved in World War II has a block, which contains information about their struggle during the war. I went into the Polish block today. It was heart breaking, and fascinating. I feel that people forget how greatly Poland was affected. Non-Jewish Poles were one of the first groups of people to become imprisoned in Auschwitz. People’s homes were destroyed, ghettos were put into effect, and strict laws were enforced. Warsaw contained one of the largest ghettos in Poland and the main idea according to the Nazi’s was to completely wipe out Poles.

Seeing what Hitler said about wanting to wipe out the Poles with no pity is disgusting. Knowing hundreds of people heard Hitler say that and did not think to do anything or think it was wrong is horrible. People were hung, shot, and starved to death simply because of where they grew up. You are supposed to feel safe in your home and town. This comfort was taken away from these innocent people in the blink of an eye. During World War II, about 3,577,000 Polish citizens entered the death camps located in the Third Reich, Poland and the USSR. 1,500,000 were ethnic Poles. 

"The destruction of Poland is of the utmost importance..Danzig is not the object in question. The object is the expansion of Lebensraum for Germans in the east. There can be no question of sparing Poland, and that is why we stand on our decision to attack Poland at the first opportunity. -Adolf Hitler" 

"On September 17,1939, the Red Army crossed the Polish border, implementing an agreement concluded earlier with Germany on dividing the Polish state." 

"I am keeping death's head units, to kill men women and children of Polish birth and Polish tongue, without pity or mercy. Poland will be depopulated and Germans will settle there." -Adolf Hitler 

Block 11 at Auschwitz 1 is called the punishment block. Those who were thought to be breaking any rule were sent here. In the basement, there were cells, which were called the starvation cells, or the standing cell. This was hell. Looking into the starvation cells, you could see marks on the wall. In one particular cell there was a cross, and about 15 vertical dash lines in 3 rows. These were marks made by the prisoners who had to endure this awful prison. To me, the cross symbolizes some sort of hope, which I am sure was an extremely difficult feeling to have. The dash lines could have been some sort of a calendar. The markings on the walls show that those who were sent to these cells were kept there for a long time. 

After re-visiting Auschwitz 1, we went to an art exhibition. The artist is Professor Marian Kołodziej. Professor Kołodziej was on the first transport to Auschwitz. He was known as number 432. The art exhibition contained drawings that Professor Kołodziej drew. It took him 15 years to complete his work. Professor Kołodziej never talked about his experience at Auschwitz, until he had a stroke. He used drawing as a type of therapy to help him heal. All of the pictures that Professor Kołodziej drew were extremely ghostly. The way he interpreted the prisoners in Auschwitz showed them as walking skeletons. There was one picture, which really touched me. 

Taking the mask off from Auschwitz 

The picture featured below, shows the faces of prisoners and how weak and deathly they became. At the bottom of the picture there are a few gravestones shaded in black with numbers of different prisoners. This picture was extremely upsetting to look at. The detail that Professor Kołodziej put into the eyes of the prisoners he decided to draw was exceptional. Capturing the fear, despair and sadness of people who experienced something unimaginable can only be done by someone who experienced that fear and sadness themselves. 

A drawing of prisoners in the camp

Professor Kołodziej passed away in 2009. His ashes are in an urn, which is behind a plaque within the exhibit. Professor Kołodziej was a brilliant artist who endured so much pain and suffering. He will forever leave behind a legacy.

"Always remember" 

My trip to Poland is almost over. I can honestly say I have learned so much, and intended to learn more about the Shoah after my trip. 

Kelly McGovern 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Forever. Kelly McGovern

March 18, 2014

Today we visited Auschwitz 2-Birkenau. Standing at the front gate looking around, I could not believe how large the camp was. It went on for what seemed like forever, which is probably the reality of those who were imprisoned in the camp. The number of buildings that are standing, and even the number of buildings that are no longer standing amazed me. I learned that all of the prisoners of Auschwitz 2 had to build the blocks themselves. The more I thought about it the more I could not believe it. They did not have the proper equipment, safety procedures let alone the proper clothing to build these blocks. They were building their hell. 

The front of Auschwitz 2- Birkenau

One of the first blocks we entered was solely for sleeping. Standing in front of a wooden bed that someone actually slept in, even could have died in with just some straw and a blanket filled me with emotion. Our tour guide told us that 9 or more people would sleep together in one bed not only because the block was so over crowded, but for warmth. I can only imagine the different emotions the prisoners felt. Anger, sadness, loneliness, hatred, fear. 

The wooden beds that prisoners slept on 

The block where prisoners slept 

The next block we entered was where the prisoners would wash up and use the bathroom. Holes in a cinder block, this is what 2,000 men and women had to use within 5 minutes. The way these ‘toilets’ were designed shows how inhumane the Nazis were. The prisoners were treated like animals. The longer I stood there, the more I thought about how they did not have any privacy. Back to back with one another trying to take care of their business. Toilet paper was not even an option. 

The toilets the prisoners used 

Auschwitz 2-Birkenau is known as the main death camp. Here, all Jewish prisoners were expected to die. Four gas chambers were built and used. Although they are not standing today, the horrific memory of their purpose will forever be in the minds of those who visit the camp. 

The ruins of one of the four gas chambers at Auschwitz 2- Birkenau 

The ruins of the changing room the prisoners entered before the gas chamber 

I believe that every single person needs to experience this life-changing trip. I have been learning about the Shoah since middle school and thought I somewhat understood the events that took place; I was wrong. From walking on the same dirt path that an innocent prisoner could have walked on, I now believe my knowledge of the events that took place at Auschwitz 2-Birkenau is slightly better. 

Kelly McGovern 

Every Person Has A Name. Kelly McGovern

March 17, 2014

It is our third day in Poland, and today we visited Auschwitz 1. An overwhelming feeling of sorrow, anger and guilt overcame me when I was standing at the front gate looking up at the words, Arbeit Macht Frei (work makes you free). 

The gate at Auschwitz 1 

From the front gate I could see many brick buildings. One very long building with many chimneys was in the front. Our tour guide told us that this was the kitchen. She stated that if you worked in the kitchen you were considered one of the lucky ones because you would not starve to death. It is hard to believe that anyone could be considered lucky at such a horrible place.

Kitchen block in Auschwitz 1 

The very first building we went into contained maps, pictures and facts about those who were brought to Auschwitz. One of the plaques said, “Auschwitz was the largest Nazi German concentration camp and death camp. In the years 1940-1945, the Nazis deported at least 1,300,000 people to Auschwitz.” Seeing this number literally made my jaw drop. It is so hard to believe how many innocent lives were lost during this time. 90% of those who were in Auschwitz were Jewish. I am in shock that someone would want to kill a group of people because of their beliefs. Throughout the Shoah, Jewish was said to be a race, which to this day I can’t understand because it is not a race, but a religion. These people were murdered over something that was not even true.

In this building, there were numerous pictures of individuals getting off the train, not knowing anything that was going to happen. Seeing the newly arrived list of prisoners deported from various countries to Auschwitz was astonishing.  

List of newly arrived visitors at Auschwitz 1 

Within the building there was an urn of ashes from those who perished at the hands of the Nazis. Our tour guide stated that there was so many ashes the Nazis did not know what to do with them. They would dump them in rivers, and eventually spread them as fertilizer around the camp. A main point that was constantly brought up today was how Auschwitz is the largest graveyard with no tombstones.

The urn which holds the ashes of the prisoners 

A huge part of weather someone lived or died in Auschwitz 1 was the selection process. Those who decided who died right away, or who got to live and work studied to be doctors. Our tour guide brought up a great point, which was, when an individual decides to become a doctor he or she usually pursues the profession to help people. At Auschwitz the doctors who selected the fate of innocent people was not doing what a doctor is suppose to do, help people. They were in fact killing people no matter which way they pointed for them to go. Personally, I was baffled by how someone who vowed to help people could do this. Studying to be a social worker, I can’t imagine knowingly doing something to put someone else’s life in such grave danger. 

A picture taken by an SS officer of the selection process 

There was one picture where I just became engulfed with sadness, anger and tears. It was a picture of children with who looks to be their mother, as well as others in the background. The caption of this picture is, on the way to death. These three young children in the front holding one another’s hands had no idea that their life was about to end. These three young children were completely innocent but put to death because of their beliefs. It is extremely hard to comprehend something to this magnitude. 

Prisoners on the way to death 

Learning about the gas chambers within Auschwitz 1, and seeing how the Nazis wanted to construct it and the fact that they actually followed through with it was a true eye opener. This was one of the main sources of how those who were prisoners in Auschwitz were killed. The gas chambers were constructed underground, so that those who were awaiting this tragic fate had no idea what they were going into. These innocent people thought they were simply going to take a shower, and instead cyclone B was poured onto them and they were killed. This truly shows the loss of innocent life. Standing there in the gas chamber I even felt a sense of betrayal, and complete distress for those whose lives were lost in these chambers.

Front of the gas chamber at Auschwitz 1 

Opening in the ceiling of the gas chamber in Auschwitz 1 

Within the next block, there were numerous displays that helped me visually understand how many people were murdered in Auschwitz 1. There were displays of eyeglasses, prosthetics of individuals, shawls, pots and pans, hairbrushes, makeup, and so many more things. There was one room that was specifically designated for people’s shoes. Walking into this room left me wide eyed. There were shoes filled from the floor to the ceiling. Knowing that someone wore those shoes walking to their death made chills run up and down my spine.  

80,000 single shoes of prisoners from Auschwitz 1 

A quote that I saw towards the end of my visit to Auschwitz 1 really moved me, it was titled every person has a name. That one specific title really stuck out to me in the sense that there were so many people murdered that it is hard to fathom who everyone was. Something that has been said to me even before coming on this trip was that one Jewish person died 6 million times. 6 million is the final number of Jewish individuals who died in the Shoah. Even though so many people passed away, it is extremely important to remember that every single person had a life, purpose and name that was horrifically taken away from them. 

"Every Person Has a Name"

Kelly McGovern