Monday, March 28, 2016

The First Days In Poland

Polish crest eagle

After a lot of waiting and a couple of plane rides, we finally made it to Poland. Initially, I was expecting Poland to be more like suburban U.S., but just spaced out. Little did I know that while it was suburban, it was also quite rural. The small cluster of houses and large amounts of open or farm lands was quite surprising. I was amazed at how peaceful and serene it was. Even when people were outside working or travelling to wherever they needed to go, the serenity was unaffected. Right then and there, I knew that this was going to be an amazing trip.

The first two days in Poland have flown by and have truly been extraordinary. We traveled around Oświęcim to learn about the past as well as the present and Wadowice to learn about one of the most significant popes in history.

We spent the first day in Oświęcim and it enforced my respect towards the challenges others face. We visited the only remaining Jewish cemetery and synagogue as well as a Jewish museum. At the cemetery, we learned that the Nazis, during their attempt to eradicate Judaism from the town, destroyed the cemetery. They caused the destruction and dislocation of the headstones, which when recovered were not necessarily put back in the right place. A man named Szymon Kluger initiated the effort to restore the cemetery. Thus, the headstones no longer commemorate the memory of the person buried in that particular location, but rather honor the memory of the events that occurred and the people that are buried there. No one was buried in the cemetery once the war broke out in 1939 until 2000 when Szymon Kluger passed away. We also visited the only remaining synagogue in the town connected to a museum. In addition to learning about some of the history of the town and that the war should have destroyed the synagogue, we learned that because the synagogue was used for storage, it was able to survive.   

The second day was uplifting and inspirational. We traveled to Wadowice to learn about Pope John Paul II. We visited the elementary and secondary schools that he attended as a child as well as the museum that also contains part of his house. We learned of his struggles as a child and that he was able to overcome them to achieve his goal to become the Pope. We learned about his respect for the various religious beliefs and ways he used to embrace them. He illustrated that it is possible for people of different faiths to get along and be respectful people towards one another. Additionally, we attended a mass since it was Palm Sunday. We experienced the veneration that the Polish people have for Pope John Paul II and all the good that he did for the Catholic faith. Finally, we ended the day with a lecture from Fr. Manfred. He spoke to us about the different perspectives of the Germans, Jews, Polish and Russians during World War II and their influence on their actions in relation to various religious beliefs.

All in all, the first two days in Poland were quite exciting!  


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