Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Cześć! Intro & Auschwitz I-Ashley Tigershtrom

"Arbeit Macht Frei" Gate at Auschwitz I

          Cześć! My name is Ashley Tigershtrom and I am a sophomore at Iona College majoring in Psychology. On Saturday, March 15th, we arrived in Oświęcim, Poland. After months of preparation and a 24 hour journey from the college campus to the Center for Prayer and Dialogue, we are finally here. Although we worked hard to become both intellectually and mentally prepared for this trip, it quickly became apparent that even with all the preparation in the world, you will never be one hundred percent ready for what you will experience here. 

          Prior to the trip, I had several concerns, along with many reasons for coming to Oświęcim. Coming from a Polish Jewish background with a lot of family history regarding The Shoah (also known as the Holocaust), I knew that this was something I had to do. As afraid and reluctant as I was, I saw it more of an obligation to honor my family, rather than a choice. Upon our arrival, I realized that this trip would be difficult in even more ways than I had imagined. However, having the support of incredible individuals has allowed me to push through thus far and to see the light in the darkness that surrounds us. 

          Today, March 17th, we had the first part of our tour of Auschwitz I, the most notorious concentration camp used to carry out Hitler's "Final Solution." Being there was very difficult, and in a way it was much more intense than I had expected. As the only things remaining are the buildings and the possessions from the prisoners, there is much left to your imagination. There, you must listen to the voice of the soil. The walls scream with history and are the only "witnesses" left behind at the camps, therefore you must be attentive to the stories your tour guide tells you and create the images in your mind and in your heart. Another important thing to keep in mind was that we were in not only a museum, but in a cemetery. Being the site of such a mass murder, as well as being the location where the ashes of many victims has been scattered, we were walking in the footsteps of death itself. 

          As we began to walk towards the gas chamber and the crematorium, I could not shake off the notion that we were freely walking in a place where others were forcibly confined to, walking towards a much different fate. It truly gave me goosebumps, but I could not ignore how lucky we are in comparison to others, just two generations before us. Being that my family members were Jewish Poles, there isn't a doubt in my mind that if they hadn't decided to flee Poland right before it was too late, I would not be here typing this post. And although my grandparents were lucky enough to escape, many of my relatives and the relatives of many others did not share that fate; the majority of Jewish families in that area ceased to exist after the Shoah. Having the opportunity to walk in these footsteps and honor my family and the family of so many others is truly life changing. I know for certain that we will all come home with a unique perspective and a new found knowledge, one that we have each felt in our hearts and souls in Oświęcim, Poland.


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