Sadly this was our last day of the Eastern Europe Trip. This came to a bittersweet end. We were all so tired, but leaving Europe was sad. Starting the day our wakeup call was 7:45 in the morning and we had to leave by 9:00. All that time in between was getting ready, eating breakfast, and loading our luggage to the bus. Of course knowing me I didn't wake up too early even when I said I was. I guess the lack of much sleep caught up to me but it was all fine because I was on Europe. So I got breakfast and got on the bus. We were supposed to go hiking up a mountain at the 1936 Olympics Stadium, but the weather clearly didn't want us to. Amazing Julie set up a picnic and everything for us but there seemed to be rain in the forecast so we changed our plans. Instead we went to BMW Motors.
Let me tell you. The architecture was absolutely tremendous. Now that I think of it the architecture in all of Europe is amazing. So we went and looked around and saw beautiful and too expensive for my budget cars and motorcycles. We posted with them and overall it was a fun experience because I've never been to a place like that.
After we finished our time at BMW Motors we left and got back on the bus and went to the airport. We got lunch at the airport and if you're me that included bread. We gathered everyone and started checking in. Going through my head this whole time it felt like we were just traveling to another country for the trip, maybe going back to Czech Republic or something like that. But no. We were going home. This was all so surreal. Aside from being so tired and having to lug my million bags everywhere, p.s. if you're traveling PACK LIGHT. At least for next time I will know. But anyways we end up going on the plane and it was an 8 hour plane ride which was terrible. I ended sitting in between two strangers as did alot of our people too. I hate that. Especially when the guy in front backed his chair all the way back so I felt so trapped and couldn't get out. I ended up standing up and walking for quite a bit because sitting in one place for awhile is a no no for me.
On this plane ride I felt like I was being thrown back into reality and this trip was a whole dream. It really did. I felt so removed from the world in this trip it felt great. You come to realize that what you think is important in your life really isn't and you have seen the worst of humanity when walking the same steps that victims of the Holocaust stepped. I stood in the same place that people were gassed and thought that they were going to shower. The only difference is that they couldn't leave the room, but I could. I walked around knowing I am free and I could leave whenever I wanted, but that choice was never given to them. They were taught to believe that work would make them free. Isn't that what was above them everyday on the sign in Auschwitz? "Work makes you Free".
This trip was absolutely amazing. Wow, just wow. This changed my perspective on everything. People worry about the smallest things that when you finally take a step back you realize what's really important. I am so grateful for Ms.Freeman and all the chaperones. I will never forget this trip and Really it has changed my life for the better. I know now what's important in my life and I want to do better and be an upstander for people that can't, or even inform people that don't know better. This trip will forever be in my mind and heart. I want to go back and redo it all over again. Eastern Europe gang 2017 forever!
Today we are returning home from our memorable trip. I am excited to see my family, but I can't help but feel a little upset that we are done with the trip. It seemed to have flew by! This trip is truly like no other. The juxtaposition of having fun with my fellow students on the trip and the seriously emotional visits we made allowed for some unique experiences. Today, for our last day we hopped on the bus to go to Munich and go to BMW world for a little bit. It was really cool there, you could go inside and look at different cars, some really new and some older, retro looking ones. After our little adventure in BMW world we once again boarded the bus and set out for the airport.
It's really hard for me to say my favorite thing or place on this trip because we did so much! Berlin was amazing, we had four days to explore the city, taste some great food, and visit some historical sites. I can't forget to mention the extremely meaningful experiences we had at the various camps we visited. For me, the most difficult and emotional camp to visit was Majdanek. Ms. Freeman had some of us read poems/pieces of writing from the point of view of prisoners and this gave the structures real meaning. It gave a voice to those who perished in that gas chamber and that is what made visiting the camp so powerful and upsetting. Hearing my fellow students read these words brought the camp to life. We all struggled to comprehend how humans could treat fellow humans in such a cruel way.
This trip and the Facing History course have taught me that we always have a choice. We always have the opportunity to do what is right, to act in a kind, compassionate, humane way. At the Euthanasia center we visited, we learned that employees, before being hired, got to watch the euthanasia killing process occur before accepting the position. Our tour guide told us that only two people turned down the job after seeing the killings. Nothing bad happened to them, which means that everyone else who saw the killings and proceeded to work at that facility had total awareness of what was happening and was not being forced to do the things they were doing. We continued to learn things which continued to provoke the question: How could someone let this happen? This trip taught me the consequences of being a bystander.
The Eastern Europe trip is one consisting of sad and upsetting moments as well as heartwarming moments filled with friendship and comradery. This trip is not necessarily an easy one, however with the help of 46 uplifting students and 4 incredible chaperones, we managed to create a balance between both the upsetting and the happy moments.
To the 45 other students on this trip, I am so thankful for your humor and kindness. It is thanks to a great group like you that we had such a great twelve days.
To the chaperones, thank you for working so hard to make this trip meaningful and for keeping us all safe.
To Ms. Freeman, thank you so much for continuing to bring students on this trip. I cannot even begin to imagine the amount of work which goes into making this trip happen. You allowed for us to have an unforgettable trip.
The trip has come to an end, but not without one more moment of excitement. This morning we went to BMW Welt (BMW World) with a lot of cars and cool
architecture. I sat on a motorcycle and in a ridiculously nice car so that was fun.
As excited as I am to be back in Boston with my bed, friends, and family, this trip has been uber fantastic. From late nights, early mornings, and long bus rides we have all bonded a tremendous amount and I have made so many great new friends. One of the biggest things I'll take away from this trip is the responsibility we carry to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. At the museum we went to in Terezin the woman working there said our attention to the exhibits gave her hope for the future. It was easy to criticize the people we saw taking smiling selfies at Auschwitz or jumping across the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, but we forget that not everyone was taught to take in these topics with such thoughtfulness. Seeing this made me realize that we need to make sure we continue to educate and keep the gravity of the memory of the Holocaust alive in order to teach future generations.
One amazing part of this trip was coming to the realization that in order to understand the sites we were at it was essentially up to us. Our tour guides or Ms. Freeman gave us the facts and the information, but it was in our hands to really picture it, try to take it in, and to process it all in order to understand. Going through this together really bonded our group, and over the past 12 days I feel very lucky to have experienced the trip with these 49 other individuals.
Not everything was super somber though! Prague (Praha!) was really fun and definitely one of the most beautiful cities i have ever been in. Berlin was super cool, seeing all of the different architecture and learning the history behind it was very interesting. And going to the Bauhaus was amazing!!! I made new friends and bonded with old ones, and the food was spectacular!
At the beginning of the trip I joked and asked if my post could be a haiku. I was told no, so here is one added to my post that summarizes some feelings:
Long nights, early morn'
50 amazing people
A very good time
Lastly, I would like to thank our lovely chaperones for being organized, there for us, and a really good time. I would like to thank all of the other students for being so kind and respectful, and for naturally creating a support system for everyone as we went through these sights. And of course, I would like to thank Ms. Judi Freeman who is the queen of planning trips and miraculously has been doing this for 17 years. I feel very lucky to have experienced this trip and hope everyone has a good rest of the year.
I have the duty and pleasure of writing the last Eastern Europe travel blog post, and, wow, is it difficult! How does one even begin to make sense of this emotional, overwhelming, bluntly revealing trip? Writing this post brings me to tears because it is impossible to bring to justice the power of this trip. I present to you my most telling moment, a scene which I cannot push out of my mind, in an attempt to sum up this adventure.
For me, the most painful, enlightening, and memorable moment occurred at the end of our Majdanek visit (Lublin, Poland). We had just finished walking through a gas chamber, walls etched with fingernail scratches and stained with bright blue Zyklon B residue. The wind whipped around us, brutally cold, unforgiving, echoing the screams of the exterminated. The sun blazed, so intense it seemed determined to blind us. Some students frightfully held on to each other. Most of us were crying. We stood in that circle, together, linked, connected, us against the elements. It produced this phenomenal juxtaposition: 46 students, each with a personality and a family and a specialty, each who could have been a prisoner or a victim of the Holocaust, against an immense, almost blanketed number of prisoners and victims. It is not possible to fathom the scale of extermination of the Holocaust, and thus, you must focus on the details.
We did not embark on a trip with our family or good friends; we were 46 students, most of us unfamiliar with a significant number of new faces. We embarked on a trip with strangers, living and learning with each other for twenty-four hours for thirteen days, forcing us to intimately accept the habits and roles of other humans. In that moment at Majdanek, I realized we were each a detail. The gravity of the Holocaust suddenly dawned on me, the fact that so many details were lost, so many faces and stories and dreams, in the most atrocious slaughter imaginable. In that moment, I understood the dignity in humanity, and the weight of every single human life, juxtaposed against a myriad of people living in an endless expanse of time.
So, for me, the message of this trip was this… How can we preserve, cherish, and expand the life of every person around us? How do we harmonize our singular souls against the boundless universe? How do we notice the details when we are presented with vastly blanketed events? How do we recognize the 17 year old student, soccer player, and older brother, out of the unceasing flow of Syrian victims? We must face the details in order to stop the scope of tragedy.
One of the first targets of the Nazis were children. The Nazis, obsessed with a notion of creating a “biologically pure” Aryan society, deliberately murdered Jewish children in order to prevent the growth of a new generation of Jews. More than 1.5 million children were lost. Throughout the trip, I realized that we are the next generation to enter the workforce. We must continue to voice the cries of the children lost due to the Holocaust and every other genocide. The imprint left on us by this trip will allow us to leave a parallel imprint on the world. Our lives and our actions are each details that, when tied together by a common experience, can create a poignant picture of people who will change the world for the better. As a result of this trip and a year full of profound learning, we are 46 students who will pursue prospective futures with a level of empathy, understanding, and knowledge that not many others have.
I am eternally grateful for Ms. Freeman for being, as my mother says, a force of nature. You are truly progressing the future of the world, one student at a time. Ms. Freeman, I cannot thank you enough. Thank you to the chaperones for their steady, insightful presence. Thank you to every single student who made this trip a remarkable adventure. I will never forget this.
While our schedule was certainly packed today, and we made many an interesting stop, there are truly only two words to describe the day: imposing architecture.
After a waking up at 6:45 and eating the standard breakfast of the trip of yogurt, hot dogs, and gnocchi, we left Praha for Nuremberg. The three hour bus ride included a fifteen minute stop at a rest stop that mainly consisted of people spending all their remaining Czech Crowns on packaged corn dogs, excessive quantities of chocolate, and coffee in a can.
Upon arrival in Nuremberg, we stopped at our hotel for a quick baggage drop before heading off to lunch at a local mall. After lunch we made our way over to the courthouse in which the Nuremberg trials were held following the conclusion of the Second World War. While it is a museum, it also functions as a German regional courthouse. Since the military tribunal in 1945, the courtroom in which the trial was held has been renovated, meaning that it no longer appears as it did during the trial. The museum was packed full of information regarding the proceedings at the trial and the history/ precedent made by the allies' pursuit of justice as opposed to vengeance. Beyond the trial of the Nazi high ranking officials in 1945, the museum also emphasized the importance of the international criminal court at the The Hague, a crucial and under taught topic.
After this museum we made our way to Hitler's Nuremberg congress, a building designed to be one of the focal points of the party's parade grounds. While the building was very cool and the information very interesting, the prevailing sentiment at this point was certainly exhaustion. We were all quite tired and just about filled to the brim with information.
We then walked the short distance to the stadium in which Hitler addressed 65,000 people at the Nuremberg party congress in 1935. It was at this location the German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl filmed a number of iconic shots of Hitler for her propaganda 'documentary,' "Triumph of the Will". This was quite the experience as we stood in the exact same place as Hitler stood as he addressed tens of thousands of men, women, and children. Hitler's expensive, regal, and expansive building projects were especially impactful when juxtaposed to the numerous concentration camps we have seen in the last week and a half.
It has been truly astounding to experience the concentration camps as they are now and has displayed even further that one can only imagine the experiences of those victimized by the National Socialists. While the camps were horrific to a previously unknown degree, Hitler's stone "stage" of you will, was also extremely disconcerting. The overall sentiment was that the "stage" had "bad juju" which was certainly the feeling experienced while perched atop the imposing , somewhat rundown, gray, stone tower that Hitler used to rally his followers and generate political backing for his genocidal policies and beyond horrific actions.
Following these educational endeavors, we filled our stomachs and quenched our thirst at a German style restaurant in the city before returning to the hotel to get some sleep before the impending transatlantic journey and subsequent return to school.
The theme of the day was certainly that the city of Nuremberg played a HUGE role in not only the Nazi's rise to power and success, but also in the 1945 quest for lasting peace and uncompromising justice.
I woke up today at 7:22 AM (even though the wake up call was 6:45) and had three mini croissants and orange juice for breakfast. Yum. It was our last morning in Praha and while we didn't do anything but file onto the bus for a three and a half hour drive spending my last krowns at a gas station convenience store on a 1 liter bottle of Fanta, Pringles, and a magnum ice cream bar.
After we got into the hotel and had lunch we went to the Nuremberg courthouse to see room 600 where the trials for the Nazis took place and the museum exhibit above. When I went to the exhibits I wasn't particularly determined to see one thing or read one plaque, but when I came across the area of the room for the Japanese my interest peaked.
We haven't really gone over what the Japanese had done during the war and their crimes against humanity including their massacre and rape of women in Nanking. What shocked me the most was that I had just been through the readings and long winded tape recordings on my Walkie-talkie device about the importance of the trials for the Nazis, how they departed and struggled over how to classify the crimes, coming up with true punishments for what perpetrators had never been punished for before (@Namibian genocide and Armenian genocide), yet some different but still extremely horrible crimes committed by the Japanese was treated a whole different way. Instead of being held by the allied forces the trials were conducted by the US, they were the ones to decide everything that went on, and instead of focusing on the crimes against the thousands of brutally murdered, raped, and tormented people by the Japanese, the focus was "aggressive Japanese foreign policy" and the personal grievances of the leaders of the 11 invited representatives of Australia, British India, China, France, Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, USA, Philippines, and the USSR.
Also, the constitutional leader of Japan was not tried as a war criminal because the US was afraid that if they did Japan would fall apart. I partially understand this the same way I understand not being able to try every Nazi just because of numbers but also if you were to convict and jail or kill every Nazi you would be wiping out a whole government and that doesn't do much good for those that already have to rebuild after a world war.
To me this part of the exhibit made it clear that the point of these trials wasn't to bring any reparation to the true victims but to just nip things in the bud and try and clean up a mess hastily, seeing as only in 1952 the US signed a treaty with Japan basically saying any participant in the crimes of WWII that hadn't yet been caught was absolved and granted amnesty whereas ever now and then you still here of a random 80 year old Nazi being arrested for their crimes. It baffles me that Japan just got to get away with it because Germany was all they had energy to deal with.
There was also a video in the museum with a man talking (his name escapes me) about how he was a member of this committee that met for 30 years in the mid 1900s onward to discuss the term "aggression" and define it, because if the world were to make a war of aggression illegal here better be a definition. After 30 years of talking and circling ideas they basically came he consensus that "aggression" can be defined by any country differently. 30 years to get to the consensus "it depends" or "it's a personal decision" just honestly annoyed me so much.
It made me think of a question I brought up to Ms. Freeman that you guys can answer or give input on: what is the use of having laws for punishment for crimes against humanity or war etc if they almost aren't or never enforced? Rape is clearly stated a crime against humanity yet it happens daily at almost every college campus in the US, not to mention in tons of other cases. Wars of "aggression" (as if there is a non aggressive type of war) were made "illegal" after WWI yet how many wars have we had since then? Do we just have these laws as principles or do they actually mean something?
Today was our last full day:( Everyone was sad to leave Prague, a place we all are sure to return to after falling in love with the beautiful architecture and scenery. After a 3 hour bus ride, easily crossing the boundary from Czech Republic back to Germany, full of sleeping teenagers (and 4 very sleepy chaperones as well), we went to a mall where we picked up some food. Then at 2pm we visited an exhibit about the trials that were held in Nuremberg.
First, we walked into an impressive room where the trials had occurred, and we were lectured through a 2000s walkman about what happened. The room was very beautiful, consisting of chairs for witnesses, judges, prosecutors, defense counsels, interpreters/translators, etc. The main idea of these trials was to convict people of crimes committed by Germans against citizens. This included violations of the norms of international criminal law- conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In August 1945, the prisoners (those preparing to go on trial and witnesses) had strict security rules, which I find weird because now they were the ones experiencing cruel treatment and no personal contact.
Those found guilty were sometimes arrested and sentenced to several years in work camps, but they were released before serving full terms which is not fair. Others were sentenced to death by hanging, shooting, or poisoned. Some were sentenced to life imprisonment, which for them was luxurious and empty. Someone was even released once he developed an illness, dying 2 years later.
But what I am left wondering is-- is this enough of a punishment for the terrible acts that took place? Does it seem like a justifiable or reasonable punishment? Is there something different that could've been done? I still don't have an answer. Especially since we are wrapping up our travels in Eastern Europe and considering everything we have studied thus far, this question now has a deeper meaning.
During this time, Francis A. Biddle and John Parker represented the USA. Biddle had no experience as judge, yet he was still considered to have the most influential legal personality during the Nuremberg trials as he believed in fair rules of procedure against those accused of being criminal (seems like we need someone like this leading our country now!!)
Overall, this exhibit was very cool as it included videos from trials and many illuminated pictures from the time.
It was noticeable that these trials were not easy, and most of the time there were seas of papers and endless testimonies in order to come up with a resolution.
At the documentation museum, which we visited next, the most memorable part was the exhibit about Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will", and her effect of portraying Hitler as a hero, which is a controversial subject, something that we discussed in class about a month ago. It emphasizes toughening the youth of Germany and being faithful to the country. If you haven't yet seen this movie, I highly recommend it!!
Then we visited Nazi party rally grounds, where Hitler stood above crowds of 65,000 people and gave speeches, of which one scene is included in "Triumph of the Will". This was amazing because it gave us a perspective on how large the area was and we were able to stand in the same spot that Hitler did, which made it all more real.
Lastly, we enjoyed a very fun evening at a restaurant where the room emanated with laughter and reminiscing about the trip. Mr. Lane is currently getting his eyebrows threaded. RIP. Clearly, we will miss you Eastern Europe. Gute nacht:(
So I am just about ready to go home. I think it is a combination of missing my family or being with the same people for twelve days straight but uh I really cannot wait for the Lufthansa home. Despite these feelings, Nuremberg was awesome.
We went to the Nuremberg trials courtroom after our three hour drive. The amount of detail packed into this small audio guide was amazing and I appreciated its availability in different languages very much. We spent an hour here then made our way to the documentation center, and it was a true challenge to keep our eyes open because we were so tired. Challenge accepted, every one of us made it through the exhibition in no more than an hour. The setup was very similar to parts of other museums we have been to but again the audio guide did its thing and helped me learn a lot more about the topics we've covered in class.
Then came the rally grounds. They were massive and today if you were not told you would not be able to connect that they were in fact the same grounds used in triumph of the will. Crumbling, Ms. Freeman asked us if they should be restored - why, who would pay, for how long, etc. On a plaque sorta thing, the nazis wrote that it would be there for eternity. Would a restoration be fulfillment of their wish?
While I have your attention, I'd like to bring up a few weird things about Europe:
1. Bathrooms: flushing is pushing a button, you even have to pay to use at some places (especially in poland), and the showers in the hotel were fun to decipher, as was the vacuum style blow dryers simply titled "vacuum blow dryer"
2. The food: curry wurst is NOT good. My little German heart was crushed. Subtopic: breakfast buffets: I'm usually a muffin gal, but have had to become a lunch meat and scrambled egg gal. The holiday inn even had meatballs as a part of the selection, capital D-elicious. Subtopic: ketchup: Europe isn't really big on condiments, and I thought that was okay because neither am I, but i assumed ketchup with fries is always a given???? One night, I accidentally insulted a chef by asking for just a small bit of this Crimson goodness. Oops.
3. Conversion has been a little hard, as it's made me disconnect from how much money I've actually spent but I am sure my dad will pursue this matter further upon my arrival. My answer will be "I dunno."
Dinner was my favorite, we made a phone tower at the table and I included my jinky German phone, too. The salad was lacking in dressing but not in love -- our waiter was awesome. The actual meal was superb, for me being Zander fish and potatoes. We got to order dessert, too. I went with the apple strudel and ice-cream. I love strudel and ice-cream.
I kinda felt that it was our last night, and I believe everyone else did too. Mr. Lane certainly did, and this ginger bear got his eyebrows threaded by our very own Molly. Hopefully my picture attaches. With a trip this heavy, it is really these moments that you look forward to.
At the hotel the wifi was not at all popping, so people say in waves in the hallway. At around 1 am, I finally found my bed. I cannot wait for my actual bed.
I'm sure if my family was here, I'd want to stay for so much longer, and after the BMW welt today I will be exploding with anxiousness and anticipation. I even picked out a really nice welcome home outfit. :)
Today we woke up at 6:30 and were off to the races as we left for Terezin (Theresienstadt as it is also called) at 745. The bus ride there was pretty quiet as people went back to sleep for those last precious moments of rest. Ms Freeman read us a beautiful article about Chris Hoeh, the dad of one of the guys on the trip, that was in the Boston Globe today; it definitely made everyone a little emotional.
When we finally reached the town of Terezin we were struck by how much it looked like a normal town. It was weird because there were houses, people living there and walking around, and parks for the public, and yet this was almost what it looked like during the Holocaust. It was not desolate and sad like Auschwitz or Majdanek, it was full of pink and yellow houses and buildings. It was the strangest experience and certainly hard to wrap our heads around.
In the town survivors of Terezin had remade a room to show the experience of living in the town -it was over crowded with limited heating but it made us feel connected to the people who passed through the town, almost 150,000.
The exhibition moved on to the art of those in the camp. I liked this part a lot because it allowed the art to get the recognition it deserves, instead of being hidden away like it used to be in the walls of Terezin.
From Terezin we hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Prague to see the castle that looms over the city. This castle had so many things going for it. Big rooms, a window from which people were defenestrated, a lovely view, the list goes on. Inside the luxurious castle was an even more luxurious church, decorated with bright stained glass and beautiful pictures.
After a few hours of going through these expansive lands we all crowded onto the underground and went back to the old town square and set free to meander through the town as we pleased, looking for food and lots of shopping. It was super fun, to say the least.
Today started bright and early with a trip to Terezin, a 45 minute bus ride from Prague. Terezin, originally a fortress built by the Habsburgs, was used by the Nazis in the Second World War as a ghetto/camp/detention center and prison for Jews and other prisoners and was one of the most confusing sights I think we've attended on this trip. The camp was used as propaganda for the Nazis so in it people wrote music, painted and sketched, and put on plays among other things to give the appearance of a lively community as opposed to an overcrowded ghetto. Definitely not what I think of when the Nazis are mentioned so seeing some of this work was pretty strange.
Walking through the museum dedicated to daily life and the art created though, I was amazed by the poignancy and beauty of the art. There was "official" work, sketches of workers and practical things like building plans, but artists had also drawn what they saw all around them, personal portraits of loved ones, people sick and dying, and the transports of people from across many different countries that arrived to live and die in the camp. These ranged from light pencil sketches to oil paintings, but all felt deeply personal, getting a peek into the world of Terezin through these people's eyes.
We visited several other sites after the museum and then ate lunch at a little restaurant in town. I got a Czech specialty, a fried block of cheese with potatoes and a ranch-like sauce. It was very delicious although also very rich and kinda made my stomach hurt, but worth it!!
After visiting the Small Fortress, we got back on the bus ( I took a lovely nap) and came back to Prague to visit Praha Hrad( it's a castle), the most beautiful place I have ever seen, hands down. Everything was bright and decorated in every way possible. In the church on the grounds, the windows were stories high filled with bright colors and intricate detailing. You could stare at one for hours!
We didn't have hours though and in true EE fashion rushed on to more sites within the grounds including the window of the famous defenestration of Prague(!!!!)and balconies with amazing views of the city. Everyone took some good pictures and finally we finished the night with some free time to eat and shop around the lovely center of town.
Today was our second (and last!!) day in Prague, which has been my favorite city on the trip so far. It looks like it came straight out of aa child's picture book, bursting with different colors and shapes and people.
We left the hotel this morning and drove to Terezin, about an hour away. I was very anxious to visit here because I did a lot of research on for my targeted populations project (I was in the group that studied the Nazis' treatment of artists, writers, and musicians). Because of this, I already knew that Terezin was a very weird place. I've seen it called a concentration camp, a ghetto, even a "village turned prison", but none of these terms give a complete picture about the reality of Terezin.
On the outside, Terezin looks like a normal town. I was really surprised to see exactly how normal it seemed as we drove through. That's been a common theme of this trip for me at least- in many of the places we've gone, horrible things happened, but people who live there now just go on with their everyday lives as if they don't live just one wall away from a place where thousands of people were murdered less than 90 years ago.
After walking around the old buildings of the site, we went to a museum that had examples of work that was created by prisoners of the camp. Seeing all of that artwork and the poems and plays written at Terezin made the research I did on it seem so much more real.
Another thing that infuriates me about Terezin is the fact that members of the International Red Cross visited the camp in 1943 for the explicit purpose of inspecting the conditions of the concentration camps. Terezin was a "model" camp, and its deceitful facade was enough to convince the Red Cross that the conditions were fine, despite obvious red flags. For example, in the camp's prison there was a room with sinks and mirrors so that the prisoners could shave after showering, a practice unheard of in prisons. If the Red Cross delegates had just turned the faucets, however, they would have seen that the plumbing of the room had never actually been connected and the whole room was just for show. The whole camp had aspects like this, the Red Cross and the rest of the world didn't seem to care enough to call the Nazis on their bluffs and thousand of people had to pay the price of their indifference.
Tonight is our last night in Prague, and tomorrow is our last full day in Eastern Europe. This trip has been a whirlwind of emotions, and I can't believe it's almost over. I'm so grateful that I got the opportunity to go on this trip and get to know so many of my classmates better over such a short amount of time.
We started the day early for our long ride to Terezín. I didn't know what to expect because it was not a concentration camp in the sense that auschwitz was, but it was more than a ghetto. I knew going in that it was weird but I didn't know the full extent until we walked around the town and saw the exhibits about the different types of art that was created during the war. I didn't really know how to feel about it because it definitely wasn't a good place to be sent (especially after I learned that for most people it was just a place to stop for a few months before they were transferred to a death camp) but it was also better than all of the other concentration camps.
We heard the story of one survivor who was at Terezín as a teenager and how her life was completely turned upside down. Yes, it would've been worse if she were at Auschwitz but all she wanted was to be a normal 16 year old girl and "have a boyfriend" but that was taken from her. Instead she spent her teenage years picking up dead corpses lying around the street.
In the museum there was an art exhibit which showed a lot of the sadness of the camp through the colors and everyday scenes of the camp. Many of the drawings/paintings looked as if the artist and the subjects had given up all hope and happiness. There were a lot of pictures of midnight funerals and burials which made me really sad because it was at night either because Jewish burial practices weren't allowed or because there were just so many dead bodies that they had to berries at all hours of the night, both of which are depressing because it shows the complete change in the lives of the Terezín prisoners.
For the second half of the day, we went to the Prague castle (including the Cathedral and the garden with a bunch of peacocks) which is BEAUTIFUL!! It's up really night on a hill which can be seen from almost anywhere in Prague and also have the most amazing views. This city is just beautiful everywhere you go and I never want to leave. I've had so much fun here and learned a lot of Czech history (thanks Mr. Crane)!
The morning started off brighter and earlier than necessary, however was made immediately manageable with the reappearance of croissants in today's hotel breakfast buffet. A plane and bus ride later we were in the living post card that is Prague. After dumping our bags in the hotel we got ready for the day and debated whether ditching our layers was tempting weather to stop being beautiful. After a quick stop at the ATM, feeling rich with the 1,000 crown bills and the 23 - 1 exchange rate, we headed towards what was left over of an Easter market. Lunch was absolutely delicious and mine featured a waffle on a stick, which definitely has a real name, but was exactly as delicious as it sounds.
Fueled up on fried potatoes, we began the touring portion of our day. The first place we saw was the Pinkas Memorial Synagogue. It was one of the most breathtaking memorials I've seen here. Every Czech victim of the holocaust is painstakingly hand painted on the otherwise beautiful temple. Upstairs there were the original paintings and drawings done by children during the holocaust. This was especially haunting when seeing young kids accompanying their parents unknowingly looking at works of art by children their own age.
We visited a nearby old Jewish cemetery which was absolutely filled with grave stones. It's hard to imagine how many people are squished in the confined quarters, but it's believed to be over 100,000.
After visiting more synagogues, churches and temples, including a mass we accidentally joined, we had some free time. I was able to see the John Lennon peace wall and even got the chance to add my own graffiti to it (sorry mom.)
The highlight of my experience in Prague was absolutely the amazing jazz trio we watched. They were amazing and while it was not jazz in the traditional sense, it was very improvised and the whole room was nodding a long in a trance. Made up of a piano, customized 7 string guitar, and plethora of percussion instruments, the songs we heard were absolutely unique.
After a delicious italian dinner we settled back at our hotel ready to start again in less than 8 hours.
That's all!! Guten Prague!
Today was a rough 5:45 wake up. We left the hotel in Kraków at 6:45 for our early 9:10 flight to Prague. #Praha
We arrived to snow. Cole's luggage stayed in Warsaw. Everyone hoping for a warm April break continues to be disappointed. We arrived at the hotel and put our luggage down.
We quickly snatched a lunch in the Old Town Square of Prague. We were amazed at the scenery and the incredible architecture of Prague. What a beautiful city! Some of us over paid for lunch
After lunch we visited a synagogue that was turned into a museum dedicated to the Jewish victims of the holocaust. On the walls of inside of the building, there were names of all the known victims from Czechoslovakia on the walls. There were thousands of names, birth dates, and dates of death. It was incredible to see so many names covering over 3 entire rooms.
After lunch we had a wonderful tour through Prague by Mr. Crane. Ahoy! We walked from the Old Town Square across an amazing bridge with the most fabulous view. After a millennium of walking, we had some free time to explore Prague. Some of us visited the John Lennon wall and saw a reference to a familiar neighborhood in Boston. Prague is amazing!!!!
From there, we were escorted to a private concert. On stage we witnessed three men who have been playing together for over 30 years! They play a type of abstract interpretative jazz, that filled the room with eerie, funky vibes. They were amazing! Most of us couldn't resist dancing in our seats.
After, we went out in separate groups to go get dinner and eventually got to the hotel at 10:30. It's been a long day, but Prague was worth it.
Today was amazing!!!! The worst part was waking up at 5:30am to catch our flight to the most beautiful city I've ever seen-Prague! Our jaws dropped when our eyes were exposed to the beauty of the vibrant colors and the adorable culture of the Czech Republic! The scenery is beyond words, something a camera could never come close to capturing. Every turn you take your eyes are shocked with more colors and vivacity that you can't find in Boston!!
My absolute favorite part of the day however was our private jazz concert! Woah!! These men poured their HEARTS AND SOULS into the most uniquely improvised music I've ever listened to. Their connection on stage pulled me into a sway that felt so natural and carefree I could've stayed there all night!
Today was also one of the days where I was able to spend free time with people that I normally don't talk to in school, and they're wonderful! This trip has really brought me into contact with other amazing kids that I trust and love as a group- and after a very rough and emotional day yesterday, today was great to unwind and laugh with everyone!
Overall: amazing day in an amazing city with amazing people!
Today we began our day by getting up and checking out of our hotel in Warsaw and heading to the airport to go to Prague. The plane ride was roughly 2 hours. When we arrived in Prague, we got our luggage and then we got on a bus that drove us to our hotel. It was about a 45 minute ride, and the view was absolutely beautiful. When we arrived at the hotel, our rooms were not quite ready because we got there before 11am, the standard check out time. We put our bags in the lobby, and then we went out as a group to explore a little bit of Prague.
First, we went to get money out of the atms and then we proceeded to go to the remnants of what had been the Easter Market. There, we were given the opportunity to look around and get some lunch. I will admit, the initial scene and aromas were a little overwhelming, but after a little bit of an adjustment, my friends and I ended up getting foods varying from grilled cheese (which was essentially fried cheese on a piece of wheat bread), sausages, and waffles on a stick, which were incredible.
After lunch, we visited a synagogue, which was very sad, as it had the names of Czech families who were wiped out by the Holocaust, and contained original pictures drawn by children from the camp Terezin (which we will be visiting tomorrow). We then visited a cemetery and another synagogue, and saw a jazz concert before dinner.
My favorite part of the day had to be when we were exploring, especially when we were walking over the bridge, which gave an absolutely incredible view of the city, and the architecture was absolutely incredible. All of the food that I tried was delicious, and I have never seen a more beautiful city.
It is 100% true when they say Prague resembles a wedding cake. This is definitely one of the most memorable days on this trip.
Today, we arrived in the Czech Republic! We woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:30 AM to board a plane to the beautiful city of Prague. As soon as we arrived, we dumped our bags at the hotel and rushed out to explore Prague. Apparently, Prague is a popular favorite amongst Eastern Europe alumni and I can totally see why. The buildings are all extravagantly decorated and painted fun colors that you wouldn't typically see in Boston, like pink and yellow. We went to the old city for lunch and split up to find food at a medieval festival in the middle of the town square.
Afterwards, we went to the Jewish Quarter of Prague. We went to a synagogue that had a special memorial for the Czech people killed in the Holocaust. Throughout specific rooms of the temple, the names of the people and their dates of birth and death were hand painted in long lists. It was a moving memorial but it was personally hard for me to see the huge lists of tiny handwriting that filled more that three rooms. The temple itself was grand; there's no other word for it. We also visited the Jewish cemetery in the back of the temple, which was damaged from frequent flooding and the tombstones were pushed together because of it. Next, we explored the Jewish quarter some more and visited a small Jewish museum in another synagogue.
Afterwards, we met up with our guide/veteran teacher, Mr. Crane. He has been guiding the Eastern Europe travelers from BLS for 16 years! When we met him, we said "Ahoy, Mr. Crane!" (Apparently, that is the standard greeting for students to Mr. Crane.). He told us about the history of the square, which had been bombed in WW2. There were a couple of interesting stories he told us about two churches in the square. One church is believed to have steeples made by God and the other has a clock that doesn't work well because the architect threw a dead chicken into it. I know. I was just as surprised as I imagine you all to be.
Mr. Crane took us across the Charles bridge to another part of the city where all the artists of Prague used to live. The bridge itself was a work of art, with giant statues lining the walls and a small fence that was covered in locks with lovers' names written on them. Across it was a view so breathtaking, it's difficult for me to put it in words. The city was laid out in front of us.
The entire group seemed completely awestruck by Prague. Once we crossed the bridge, we went to a church that had a Jesus Christ doll that is famously dressed in a different outfit every single day. It has clothes from all around the world. This church is a very significant site for Christians around the world because of the doll.
We were given about an hour to explore a little bit Prague on our own. A couple of people visited a famous graffiti wall and were able to spray paint on it.
When we all met back up again, we went to a jazz club. We had a private viewing of a band that has performed for the Eastern Europe folks for a very long time. The band was made up of three men, two of whom had connections of their own to Boston. One man played piano, one man played guitar, and one man handled percussion. They played a few original songs and one inspired by Miles Davis. They were all so incredibly talented and we gave them a standing ovation for their last song.
Dinner was around the area we were in. Everyone split into groups to eat at different restaurants.
This day was more relaxed, since we spent a lot of our time getting to explore and understand the city of Prague.
Today was a tough day to say the least, we were in Lublin, Poland. We started the day at 7:30 which was a little difficult considering we got to the hotel last night at close to midnight. At the hotel breakfast was hotdogs, eggs, yogurt, and cereal. The hotel had been a former school for Jewish boys. Remaining at the hotel was an active synagogue that we were able to go into and see. In the synagogue there were a few Hasidic men very devoutly praying and we were able to see another religion's practices and rituals.
Following that we left the hotel and headed to Majdanek, a concentration camp that was captured by the Russians and left almost completely intact. The camp was extremely chilling to walk through and was impossible to walk through and not be affected by in some sort of way. It is sad to see a place so rooted in history slowly becoming decrepit and nonexistent. I am very conflicted on how I feel about this fact because on one hand I think that this part of history belongs in the past, like Plaszow is now a public park where happy things can happen, and the memory of the lost lives there lives on in celebration of those individuals, but on the other hand, with the ignorance, hatred, and betrayal in the world I think seeing these sites is important and should teach us a lesson in loving and not fighting, caring rather than tearing.
Reading poetry written by survivors of the Holocaust after seeing the worst in humanity sent chills down my spine and made me really ponder my life as well as my actions as a bystander in society. I don't use my voice nearly as much as I should and I also don't use my white privilege to help others who need assistance. In a world where hatred and making money is more important than feeding people and providing people with necessary human rights, I think that it grows more and more important that we should learn from our past mistakes as a human race and move forward together.
From Majdanek we boarded the bus again and embarked on our way to Warsaw, yet another long bus ride. At one point we stopped at a supermarket and bought our own things so we could make lunch, and test our skills in the culinary arts. And let's just say some people are better chefs than others.
Once in Warsaw we went to the Polin Europejskim Muzeum Roku, a museum giving a history of the Jews in Poland as well as anti Semitic rhetoric throughout the course of time. Some of the time periods I had no idea were so uncomfortable for Jewish people. Different things I saw while at the museum just broke my heart because of how screwed up it was. The museum also celebrated Judaism and its triumphs and overcomings which gave a nice balance to our day, ending it on a more uplifting note.
~Stephen (aka: Shart)
Today we woke up at a hotel that was a Jewish school before the war, and was only recently turned into a hotel. The top of the building was still used as a synagogue and we went to the very top (the women's section) and looked down on some people at morning prayer. The last time I have ever seen people that devoutly religion was in Israel, but these men were actually from New York!
Our first stop today was Majdanek also known as "the warehouse" of all the camps, meaning all the shoes, hair, personal items etc. we're stored here to be sent to Germany for repurposing. In the camp stood a monument that the Nazis forced prisoners to build in honor of the Nazis ( The Three Eagles Column) and we learned that the prisoners hid the ashes of the deceased in the monument. They thought people would never find out what happened at these camps and tried to hide messages such as the ashes.
At Majdanek there is a memorial named "Shrine" and it is inside one of the barracks. There is no way I can use words to describe how powerful it is, and a picture or video can barely do it justice. Shrine is only lit by lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling, each lightbulb surrounded by barbed wire in an almost perfect circle. Under the bulbs and wire is a bed of black rocks, and this set up spans half way through the barrack. It is then followed by empty balls of barbed wire lying on the ground, creating a contrast between lightness and darkness, "cruelty and hope" as the description read. The back wall was covered with white squares filled with back circles and a book of all the nationalities of the prisoners of majdanek. I believe the most powerful part of the memorial was the sound, the room was filled with the voices of people praying in multiple religions and there was an underlying grumbling coming from the speakers as well. Shrine was the first memorial that physically made me take a step back. You can hear the music as you walk in but the sight of the hanging bulbs was so heavy and powerful I took an instinctive step back. The power of the memorial was also in its lack of words. It used space, light, sound and emotion to have an impact and highlighted the fact that many of the nameless victims were of many different origins, religions and ethnicities.
Majdanek has very well preserved gas chambers, due to its proximity to Russia, when the Russians came to liberate the camp the Nazis didn't have time to destroy the chambers like they did in Auchwitz, and today the chambers stand. Walking through the chambers was the last thing we did while at the camp, and awoke the emotions I believe people have been holding back this entire trip. Immediately after we stood as a group in a circle and read aloud poems written about the holocaust. No one could read more than 4 lines without breaking down in tears, and passed the poem to the next person who could barely gasp the words out between sobs.
These camps we have seen are the most beautifully sinister places you will ever visit. They are covered with the bright green grass, flowers peak through the ground at your feet, and the sun warms you even as the wind whips by. We stand and look at empty rooms that we know were filled with suffering people or dead bodies, but we can't fully imagine. We walk the same path that thousands walked to their death but how can we truly comprehend? The two places I have seen the most emotion on this trip is at the Yad Vashem memorial at Auchwitz 1 (the room where the stood surrounded by the videos pictures and voices of Jews before the war) and when we read these poems today. Those videos and poems bring to live the emotions, the horror and the reality of the Holocaust. The voices and words are what make the grass die beneath our feet and make the sun disappear, and sink us into the true pain of what happened.
Change of tone: lunch was a blast. On our way to Warsaw we stopped at a polish grocery store in a small town. All 50 of us flooded in and stormed towards the bread and chocolate. In a mad frenzy everyone tried to put together their lunches and decipher the Polish written on items. Our dear classmate Eddie Sanchez stuffed 5 sausages into a entire loaf of bread and walked away with a smile. I was glad everyone got some of their spirit back.
Our afternoon was spent at the Museum for the History of the Polish Jews in Warsaw. The museum was very interactive and lively and we tagged along to a tour for part of the way. I think the museum was important in understanding the long history of persecution of the Jewish people throughout Europe. This museum also focused more on the life and culture of Jews rather than seeing them only as victims.
and today was Lucy's birthday, happy birthday!! (We all got kazoos at dinner to celebrate)
Today was a very all over the place type of day. We were all very happy in the morning and ready to take on the day but our happiness shortly diminished once we got to Majdanek. As you may or may not know, this is the death camp at which when the Nazis heard the Russians were coming they literally grabbed a few healthy prisoners, padlocked the gates shut, and fled. Thus meaning that virtually everything was left in tact when the Russians arrived. Before coming on this trip I watched the footage of the liberation of the different camps and all the horrors that the liberators found there. I thought that after seeing this and having already been emotional about it that I would be prepared for our trip to the camps, but I was wrong. While watching the videos it's easy to not think about the piled bodies that much but walking through the camps all I could think about was the life these innocent people were forced to live in the camps and the lives they could have had if it weren't for the Nazis.
There was an exhibit at Auschwitz that we saw which showed amateur films of Jewish communities and families before the war. Seeing their happy and fruitful lives humanized the victims. While at Auschwitz, since so much of it is destroyed, it's hard to picture those lives; but at Majdanek seeing the crematorium, the immensely large pile of unburied human ash, the unstable barracks, the crowded beds with mattresses and blankets still there, the stolen shoes of victims, and finally the gas chamber, it is easier to picture what it would have been like. Of course there is no real way that anyone would able to understand or fully comprehend what it must have been like for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust to live like that. However, at Majdanek while reading the quotes of survivor testimonies or diaries and seeing all of these things I could paint a picture in my mind of what it would've been like and it's devastating.
They had a memorial in one of the barracks to honor all of the nameless victims at Majdanek and one of the cooler things within it is the voices of people praying in different languages. Hearing it, I could picture the people of the camp praying for their lives and how scared they must have felt.
But hardest of all the see was of course the gas chambers. We had the option of not going in, but I felt like I needed to go to see what those thousands of people would have saw in order to get a sense of what it would have been like. The museum provides glass walls with quotes of people's witness accounts of what went on inside and reading them along with walking through it was very emotional. I ended up spending a lot of time in the literal gas chamber. I saw the blue residue on the walls from the zyclon b, the size of the rooms, the empty containers of gas pellets, placed my hand over the scratches and traced them with my fingers, read the quotes, and thought of once again all of the lives lost. I thought about all of the generations that never got to live because their ancestors were murdered, and all of the beautiful lives these people could have lived. What is even more heartbreaking is thinking about all of the children who all they ever knew was death because of the Germans. They never got a chance to live their lives and have children of their own. I started touching the scratches and thinking of the person behind them and how they must have felt while breathing in their last breaths. I couldn't fathom the pain they must of suffered. I probably could have spent more time in there reflecting, imagining, and letting all of my emotions pour out of me through my tears but we had to move on.
We then read poems of survivors which broke my heart even further. There is never any good enough reason for one human being to do that to another and their words were incredibly powerful. I'm going to share one of them with you now. It is titled "I Cannot Forget" by Alexander Kimmel -a Holocaust survivor :
Do I want to remember?The peaceful ghetto, before the raid:
Children shaking like leaves in the wind.
Mothers searching for a piece of bread.
Shadows, on swollen legs, moving with fear.
No, I don't want to remember, but how can I forget?
Do I want to remember, the creation of hell?
The shouts of the Raiders, enjoying the hunt.
Cries of the wounded, begging for life.
Faces of mothers carved with pain.
Hiding Children, dripping with fear.
No, I don't want to remember, but how can I forget?
Do I want to remember, my fearful return?
Families vanished in the midst of the day.
The mass grave steaming with vapor of blood.
Mothers searching for children in vain.
The pain of the ghetto, cuts like a knife.
No, I don't want to remember, but how can I forget?
Do I want to remember, the wailing of the night?
The doors kicked ajar, ripped feathers floating the air.
The night scented with snow-melting blood.
While the compassionate moon, is showing the way.
For the faceless shadows, searching for kin.
No, I don't want to remember, but I cannot forget.
Do I want to remember this world upside down?
Where the departed are blessed with an instant death.
While the living condemned to a short wretched life,
And a long tortuous journey into unnamed place,
Converting Living Souls, into ashes and gas.
No. I Have to Remember and Never Let You Forget.
The rest of the day was far easier emotionally. We got to sleep on the bus from Majdanek so that we could reflect before and then recuperate. We got lunch at a grocery store and it was funny to see what everyone got. I was able to put my polish to the test trying to communicate with the workers in the store which I love getting the chance to do. Eddie made a massive sandwich which was rather comical. It was an entire loaf of bread with 5 sausages in it. He never fails to lift our spirits! :)
We then went to Warsaw which was very pretty. We went to the Warsaw ghetto memorial which was one of my favorites. Also the stones used in the memorial were originally nazi building supplies ordered by Albert Speer to use for Nazi monuments. I thought that was also funny. We then went to a museum which was all about Jewish history starting from the Middle Ages. It was so interesting to see that the idea of anti-semitism was not new. I never knew that Jewish people have been persecuted for so long. Quite frankly it made me very disappointed in humanity.
We had yet another three course meal at the museum and it was delicious as usual. Overall, I thought that the day went as well as it could have given the places we went to. We are all currently extremely excited to get up at 5:30 in the morning to fly to Prague! Goodnight! #prahain1
I don't think “looking forward to” is the right term, but with a lack of better vocabulary, Majdanek is what I've been looking forward to see since I was writing my application. In comparison to seeing Auschwitz,
Majdanek had me and everyone else more emotionally struck. There were no other visitors to the camp. The first part of the tour was seeing a memorial of the ashes found at the camp. There was a large disk hovering over a massive mound of ash and dirt. Despite the wind, the ashes stood still. It felt kind of amazing that the weather could blow away the remains of the deceased.
Next, we saw the mass graves of those who weren't cremated. Some decided to walk over and inspect the visible graves but I decided to go to the side and watch the others. It was disturbingly peaceful and seemed like a beautiful park. We then walked into the adjacent crematorium. There seemed to be more ovens than we'd seen before one this trip.
After we walked to the camp itself. Unlike at Auschwitz where we expected our worst nightmares and surprised by a camp much less conspicuous, Majdanek looked like the hell we expected. The barracks fit so many more prisoners than in Auschwitz because there weren't heaters in this camp. One exhibit, the “Shrine”, was an artistic representation of the fields and what occurred at the camp. Also in the exhibit was a book of the 52 ethnicities in the camp. I had been flipping through mindlessly when I saw “Spaniards” written in English and Polish. We learn in the course of the targeted groups of the Holocaust but it's still easy to forget that more than just targets ended up in there. I found it strange to think how far west they reached.
The gas chamber came next. There was an undressing room, a shower, and then to different sized chambers. On the walls were scratches from victims and remains of the gas on the wall that turned them blue.
As soon as we all walked out, we circled up and listens to selected poems concerning the poems that Ms. Freeman had us read in an order that she chose. I stood hanging onto my friends for comfort. All I wanted at this point was to be with family and hug them. I felt so lucky after being out of the camp to have a life I live my way. We take for granted our autonomy and privilege when we forget the tragedies if the past. In the vicinity of the camp is the city of Lublin and directly next door was a Polish Catholic cemetery which are visited weekly. Also, directly after the war, people said they didn't know what was happening. That would be impossible, since the camp is extremely visible from a major roadway and visible from the taller buildings of the city.
On the bus ride out, I felt to emotionally exhausted and fell asleep instantly when getting onto the bus. I later woke up when we reached the Polish grocery store for lunch. I astonishingly only spent $10 on a baguette, way too much chocolate, prosciutto, brie, and a salad mix. On the bus everyone formed their lunches. It was fascinating going through the grocery store to see the differences of what another country buys. There were less fruits and vegetables available than I'd find in the Roche Bros in West Roxbury.
Then we were on a long bus ride into Warsaw to see the Polish Jewish History Museum. It did a great job of showing how Jews were treated from the 1300s till contemporary times with an extensive exhibit on the Holocaust. After a couple hours in the museum we had a delicious meal there and headed to the hotel. Despite an early wake-up call for the next morning, I organized with one of our resident Poles to see the Old Town of Warsaw. It was stunning to see how beautiful the reconstructed city looked. We simply walked around and took pictures of the city. With a 10 o’clock curfew, we power walked to the hotel.
Poland is so extremely beautiful and it has quite a troubled past. It made me think of something that was said to me, “I can't live somewhere where there was such a tragic history” which I disagreed with at the time but couldn't into words until later. I disagreed because if we lived like that, there would probably one square mile of land that has been untouched by the poor decisions and monstrous actions of the past. It makes me think of how the death camps of Poland are breaking down and if we should let it fall or preserve it forever. I personally believe that we need to commemorate the events but preserving too much is unreasonable. All of history moves on as do the people and nature especially.
Before I sign of, thanks to Seamus, Dan, Eden, Lucy, Alex, Dr. Prosper, and Mr. Lane for comforting me after a rough morning. You made me feel loved and I don't know how I would be feeling now without your shared support. Thank you.
Today was a long but really interesting day for us. We started out bright and early with a visit to a restored synagogue in the top floors of our hotel after breakfast. I've never personally been to a synagogue and it was interesting to see a place of worship that's different from mine. The people praying were Hasidic Jews, which is a devout, Orthodox sect of Judaism. Ms. Freeman later told us about the movement from certain Jewish communities, particularly in New York, to restore old Jewish buildings and communities throughout Europe, especially Hasidic practices.
Then we headed to the concentration camp of Majdanek. It was located in the city of Lublin in Poland. Originally it was created as just a work camp but it also became a death camp later in the war. The people there worked in the camp storage units, as Majdanek was the main shipping location from Poland to Germany for goods taken from prisoners, or in the city's factories. The barracks were really crowded and the conditions for health and sanitation were low. Some prisoners were commissioned to make a stone column for the middle of the camp for the SS there. The prisoners hollowed out the center and out letters telling about there experiences because they so strongly held the belief that their stories would never be heard.
We saw an amazing memorial inside one of the buildings called "Shrine". There was a series of light bulbs surrounded by barbed wire and then balls of barbed wire in an area of stones behind that. At the very back was a total of 12 black circles on white paper. Playing through speakers was a series of prayers from different religions in different languages to show the diversity of the camp. It was very dark, simple and quiet which I though made it more personal and effective. After that memorial, we walked through the gas chambers at Majdanek. It was hard to walk through the showers, disinfection chamber and then see the gas chamber, along with old zyklon b canisters (zyklon b was the gas used in the gas chambers for a large portion of the war.)
After that, we all were standing in a circle to read a total of 8 poems/pieces Ms. Freeman had chosen for some of us to read to the group. There was a poem about being a bystander until you became a victim with no one to help, one that was a list of items but instead had people as the items, and a third was about orders given for the destruction of the targeted groups in the Holocaust. Mine was a message to the people unaffected who did not help that take their lives and happiness for granted. The pieces were effective and very moving but it was hard to hear. That part of the day was very emotionally draining for all of us I think.
What really struck me was how close the camp was to the city. Along one side and the back of the camp, there was a cemetery that was actively used during the war and the camp was very much visible from the city and the street. Additionally, Lublin was a highly industrial city and maybe if the camp prisoners left everyday to work in the city's factories. It's crazy to me that people said they had no idea what was happening at the camp or notice the people in their terrible conditions that walked through the city every day. Additionally, the tortures that one person would put another through and the all encompassing hatred that the victims faced is something I don't know how to put to words.
After that, we stopped on the way to Warsaw to get lunch and had a great, lighthearted lunch. We drove some more to the POLIN Museum for the History of the Polish Jews. This was a very interactive, modern museum. I liked the flow from room to room a lot and the time periods of the exhibit we saw were all coordinated differently. While it was not my favorite museum we have been to on the trip, it was definitely a fun and intriguing experience that I would highly recommend.
Lastly, we had dinner as a group at the restaurant there. We also celebrated our friend Lucy's birthday as a surprise for her! It was a long and kinda hard day but like every other day, it's been so rewarding and such a great experience.
Double-tap to edit.
What follows are the poems we read at Majdanek.
Today we traveled around krakow and saw a lot of sites from Schindler's List which was really cool to see where some of the sites were filmed, such as the stairwell some had hid when the ghetto was being liquidated. Also the actual area that was being used as the ghetto. We also saw Schindler's factory, which was nice to see where this historical place was and where everything happened in real life. We also saw where Amon Goeth's villa was in real life, which is being turned into a luxury villa which does not seem right at all. I mean this guy was brutal, and now this place is gonna just be a luxury place as if there was no significance to it, there just semis to be something wrong with that. Along with that, we got to see the house Spielberg used as Goeth's villa which was just down the street. It was really interesting to see the different places that were used in the filming of the movie.
We then got to see the area that the Plasźow concentration camp was in. The area is now a huge field of grass with some trees leaving barely a sign that such a place was actually there. The only thing to really show it are the memorials in the area, but also the sights that there are mass graves there. which one can tell because of the mounds or ridges in the area. It's still just hard to believe such things happened but they did and we can see the evidence right in front our eyes.
Later, that day we got to go to Stare Miasto and the Rynek which was really fun and probably one of my favorite parts of the day. We got to shop at an open market and eat at local joints, which was really fun. Through out this trip it's a lot of moving from place to place, seeing so many things, so this was a nice break to relax and do some shopping, and see some local culture. Also, during this time it finally stopped snowing, yes I said snowing, which was crazy to see in April. Overall, the day was eventful, with some interesting weather.
After waking this morning in a non-haunted hotel (unlike the night before), we travelled to see many different synagogues over town. Unfortunately, due to some issues involving Passover and synagogues not being open, we ended up walking around the neighborhoods of Krakow where parts of Schindler's List was filmed ad where the Schindler factory still stands. Specifically we saw the neighborhoods where the ghetto scenes were shot, which was weird.
After that we walked to the Galicia Jewish museum. The museum was full of photos depicting, through modern photographs, Jewish culture before, during and after the Second World War in Poland. It also "discussed the dialogue between Jewish cultures and the surrounding cultures", which was interesting. The photos themselves were beautiful; a personal favorite being a photograph of a stunning synagogue with the inscription "How awesome is this place! It is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven".
After the exhibit we went to the Empty Chairs Memorial at the site of the main square of the Krakow ghetto, which was, as its name suggests, a courtyard full of empty chairs. It's a reminder of the atrocities carried out against the Polish Jewish people; The chairs are a reminder that people are missing from this neighborhood, from this country. We didn't stay long, but I still felt not exactly heavy, but definitely weighed down by something as we drove away.
That's another thing about this trip, it's really hard to explain exactly how I'm feeling at the moment in most cases as I can't exactly put it into words.
After that we drove to the site of the former Nazi concentration camp Płaszów, which we had to hike up a hill to get to. At the top of the hill was a memorial: the stone statue of 5 men looking down the mountain, with the base of their feet covered with small rocks and candles. The monument is huge, and looks away from the camp. Directly behind the memorial is a small valley, surrounded on all sides by little walls of earth. Like most things on this trip, it was beautiful up until we learned what that area was: the site of mass graves. I felt, and still feel, really small and exhausted when coming to face with what was, yet again, another in person example of what can only be described as Hell. Needless to say, I left as soon as I could.
After that we were released into Krakow for a solid 4 hours alone to get our own lunch and dinner and check out some local attractions. I followed Dan (Wilk) and a few other to get some authentic pierogi which was awesome (even though I spilled soup all over Stephan, sorry!), as well as checking out St. Mary's Basilica, whose altarpiece and trumpeter were amazing. This leads us to now, where I am laying in my bed, at the hotel, after a 5 hour bus ride to Lublin, ready to pass out. Day 7 was amazing and I'm so excited for day 8!
Hello everyone!! It is currently a mix of snow and rain in 46 degree weather...in April :( This morning we walked along some of the streets in Krakow. I loved the designs of the buildings and the vibrant colors such as light pink and teal blue! We walked past two synagogues. Unfortunately, they were closed because of Passover, but we were able to see them from the outside. One of the synagogues was used as a weapons depot for the Nazis. Before the beginning of the Nazi regime, the synagogue held a cemetery. When the Nazis invaded Poland, they smashed the tombstones. Today, the pieces of the tombstones make a wall outside of the synagogue.
We visited the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow. The exhibition is called Traces of Memory and it was created by Sladami Pamieci. He collaborated with two photographers to assemble an exhibit that showed Jewish heritage from 25 years ago and how it has evolved today. The exhibition displayed the present-day realities in color pictures of the remains from the Jewish past after the Holocaust and to suggest insights into what they mean. The photographs were taken of the landscape of the southern region of Poland named Galicia. The exhibition was arranged into five sections: Jewish life in the Ruins, Glimpses of the Jewish culture that once was, The Holocaust sites of massacre and destruction, How the past is being remembered, and The revival of Jewish life. I really enjoyed visiting this museum because its objective is to avoid inappropriate, stereotypical generalizations, but instead, offer a multi-dimensional set of perspectives on the subject. It honors the Jewish past of Galicia.
We continued our day by visiting key places from the movie, Schindler's List, the Facing History class was able to watch at the beginning of the year. We visited multiple scenes from the movie, where ghettos were being liquidated. We also stopped by Oskar Schindler's factory, in which he employed Jewish people to work in. We finished our morning visiting a memorial at the top of a hill, in which there were four huge stone statues looking down towards the ground. Ms. Freeman talked about how the memorial overlooks the Plaszow camp and how the uneven mounds were due to mass burials by the Nazis. While it was extremely upsetting to look at, it was something that reminds one of the extent of the Nazis.
We took the bus back to Old Town of Krakow. There, we were able to go out in groups and get food, visit places, and go shopping. The center of Krakow-like much of Poland-was so beautiful. I went out with Soumia, Ellie, and Jaileen. We first visited the church in the town square. From the inside to the outside, it was so magnificent and decorated so extensively. Gold filled the inside of the church and stained glass windows surrounded the walls. Photography was not allowed in the church in order to show respect, so I was not able to share any pictures with you all.
After, we went to the market in the middle of the town square. There were so many different little shops to look at. Many of them held jewelry, bags, and clothing. There were many restaurants and chocolate places and shops. When it came to paying for items, it was really hard trying to figure out what the conversion from Polish money to dollars was! We ended up eating at the Hard Rock Cafe. The food was delicious. I ordered a pasta with Alfredo sauce and French fries.
At 6:00 pm, we all met back at our hotel and boarded our bus for Lublin. Currently we are about 5 hours into our ride, and will be approaching Lublin shortly. We got stuck in traffic because of the rain and a car accident.
So far, the trip has been amazing, but one that is also extremely upsetting. We are visiting another concentration camp tomorrow, but I will let others tell you about that tomorrow. Bye thanks for reading and we will see you soon!
Good day, parents and students! Since we last left off, the group has traveled into Poland, land of potatoes, potatoes, and more potatoes. It's day 7. It's been 7 whole days since we left, but it has honestly felt like an eternity, in a good way. The trip has been filled with an expansive range of different emotions, but today was really more of a lighthearted day.
To start off, we visited the Remuh Synagogue and cemetery where we learned a lot about the neighborhood of Kazimierz before and after the war, as well as within the context of modern society. Though we were unable to go inside of the Synagogue because of Passover, we did get to see the cemetery and the wall that was created out of tombstones of perished Jewish people. After that, we were able to visit this absolutely incredible little museum called the Galicia Jewish Museum which had really horrible white chocolate, but an incredible exhibition that celebrates and honors Jewish life.
The "Traces of Memory" exhibition was divided into different sections. The start of it was more of a background of Jewish history, but as we walked on, we were able to see a series of photographs with captions and descriptions citing what the photographs were of or represented. For example, there was one wall of photographs from Auschwitz I and Birkenau that showed things like the memorial that used to be in one of the gas chambers and the densely packed barracks. Other walls showed different things, like photographs of mass graves dedicated to the Jewish people who perished or pictures of anti-Nazi graffiti and Antisemitic graffiti. This exhibition incited both disgust and hope into those who really took a look into each individual picture. Throughout the stroll through, I really wanted to know why each photograph was put where. Artists almost always have a reason for doing things, though sometimes they leave those reasons up to the viewers. The exhibition ended on a happier note, filled with modern examples of the celebration of Jewish life. I remember a photograph of a man who was very dedicated to teaching about Jewish history. There was also a photograph of tombstone rubbing during the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow. This is an annual festival that has been happening since 1994 in which thousands of young Poles participate in. Ending the exhibition on such a positive was a lovely change of thought and really made me think both of the past and the future, not just one or the other.
So, after grabbing weird tasting white hot chocolate drinks and perusing through their pretty expansive selection of books, we were off to the Podgorze ghetto, Ghetto Heroes' Square, and the Museum of the Under the Eagle Pharmacy in which we spent not nearly enough time because of the rain/sleet and the oppressive Polish parking regulations that really put a strain on the best Polish bus driver ever, Yanoosh (I'm gonna need a spellcheck on that one).
We then visited the Schindler Factory where we again spent little time and then to the remains of the Plaszow concentration camp and what was left of Amon Goeth's villa, which is now being turned into a luxury villa. A horrible piece of history is being made into this deluxe villa, which I personally find to be unfortunate.
Then we were given several hours of free time in the main square of Start Miasto in which we basically followed a sketchy, but nice guy into an alleyway into a restaurant just to get some really bad pizza, got ripped off by a cute Polish guy adorned with many a fur, and got ripped off even more by tourist shops with cute dragons and Star Wars music boxes. Overall, it was a day that really distracted us from the things we may have still been thinking about in terms of what we had seen in the previous days, specifically day 6. We are now on a 5 hour bus ride to Lublin where I will most definitely knock out, along with everyone else. Dobry noc to you all!
Wake up was 7:30. There was a lot of sleep lost last night, the anticipation of going to Auschwitz paired with trying to sleep in a former SS barrack for the night made for a lot of restlessness. Everything in the morning was a little quieter than normal, a little more hesitant. There was a lot of nervous laughter. Going through security I filmed some people's initial feelings and most of them were: I'm nervous. Ever since we've heard about the Holocaust we've heard the name Auschwitz, and now we were actually GOING there.
The first thing I noticed was the barbed wire fence. It's very present, wherever you look it's there to remind you where you are. Looking around and seeing trees and grass, hearing birds singing, and then being interrupted by grey concrete and wire is...jarring.
Our tour guide [Wojtek] was spectacular. He wasn't afraid of Ms. Freeman, for one thing, and he gave us just enough time to process things without making the tour too long. He hit key points and knew what he was talking about.
Everything in Auschwitz one gave me a sad, weary feeling, but there were three installations in Block 27, placed one after another, that hit hard. First: a room filled with projections of Jewish life before the war. These floor to ceiling videos and pictures showed life before the horrors of Auschwitz, normal people doing normal things, skiing, getting married, going to the beach, having birthdays. It was backed by happy music that filled the room. After seeing what was done once people passed under "Arbeit Macht Frei", seeing individual stories, peeking into individual lives, was powerful. It made me remember that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in Auschwitz had their own personal story that was ripped away from them the moment they stepped through that gate.
The second installation was a memorial to Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust, and it was simply a blank room with children's drawings of concentration camps and deportations.
Finally was the book. A massive, tiny-print, take-up-the-whole-room book filled with the names of Jewish people murdered in the Holocaust. After seeing the room with the videos and recognizing victims as individuals the number of victims, the size of the book, the sheer mass of the murder was overwhelming. That room pushed a lot of people over the edge.
Birkenau was a lot more walking but less emotional. It was harder to imagine atrocities there because it was so spacious and kind of pretty. There were a ton of flowers and trees and birds, more like a picnic area than a death camp. It gave me an eerie feeling.
We also went and saw an exhibit in the basement of a monastery filled with drawings created by Marian Kolodziej when he was in his 70s. This was a good way to end the day because we had seen a lot of where people lived, how people lived, etc. This exhibit put faces in those places. His drawings were full of gaunt, haunted, tortured faces: the faces of Auschwitz.
The rest of the day was basically bus and dinner. We laughed, played music, joked around with Mr. Lane, and had a lot of fun. It's almost like we're on two different trips: the one where everyone is psyched to be in Europe and goes out with friends and has a blast, and the one where we deal with the worst of humanity. I'm trying to make a film at the end of this trip and I already know that I'm going to struggle trying to bring those two experiences together into one cohesive piece, but I don't want to split it up ether. I want to capture the concentration camp and the Bauhaus, walking around Berlin and walking through the Fallen Leaves exhibit, all the laughs and all the tears.
Today was a roller coaster. Many of my friends were very scared of the hotel. The breakfast was D1. They had sausage and eggs. Better than Westbury!!!! But not as good as Rox's Diner. The day took a sharp sad turn quickly.
Auschwitz 1 was not at all what I expected it to be. I did expect it to be emotionally grueling but I expected more memorials than museum-like exhibits. I expected the buildings to be restored to their original inside form like Birkenau. I did like the headphones we had in order to hear our tour guide because I could still hear the tour but be able to look around and read many information sets while listening to the tour. The first haunting thing for me was looking at the hair from many of the Auschwitz victims. I had an unsettling feeling that rose in the bottom of my stomach. As we progressed through the tour I became more and more saddened. I began to tear up during the touching music tribute in the dark room to the victims of Auschwitz. As we walked upstairs we came across a room dedicated to the child victims of Auschwitz. The screams playing in the background and the drawings were truly haunting.
The picture of the 3 people hanging really got me in the heart and finally the book with most of the names of the Holocaust victims got me extremely emotional. The book truly captured the scope of damage that the Holocaust done to the targeted people the Nazis slaughtered.
Birkenau was a different experience. It wasn't as emotionally as Auschwitz but the fact that most of the buildings were restored to original form made it seem as if we were stepping in that time. The memorials there were especially moving. The nature at Birkenau also made the camp seem peaceful in a very creepy way. It was creepy because of the horrors that occurred there but the nature made it seem so beautiful with the vegetation growing back.
The rest of the day was an upward mood. Dinner was very trill. Westie has a new rivalry Eduardo Sanchez vs. Mr. Lane. This mans almost exposed your boy in the BUGACCI group chat. The bus was very lively on the way to the hotel and we lifted everybody spirits with Spanish music and dancing.
All in all today was an emotional rollercoaster. I felt like we all got more close as a group. We all as a group cried together and laughed together all day and I think we couldn't get a better day than that.
On Easter Sunday, we arrived at the old SS barracks building some time after 10pm. Ms. Freeman had told us it was right across the street, I still wondered what "across the street" meant. It. Was. Right. There. Quickly, especially with the kind company of Lucy, I acknowledged that the creepiness of the hotel was 93% me projecting creepiness onto it, and the other 7% was the flickering of the light when you turned it on and the ghost beds (though some rooms had only two people assigned, they still had a third unmade bed, i.e. ghost bed).
Auschwitz one neither exceeded nor failed my expectations-- I had virtually none. I could not place it on a scale I simply had no left or right to. The conditions were no longer photographs. Their belongings were in piles as tall as I am - even taller. The book of names was my breaking point, though I feel like I never stopped breaking. the exhibition dedicated to children will stick with me forever. The drawings produced by children younger than me, even younger than the little brother I left at home, humanized them more than any film has for me. That is what they saw every day. That is how they lived.
The gas chambers were the focus at Auschwitz two - Birkenau. Regardless of how long it took, their fates did not depend on the journey there. I drew a visual guide:
Flowers now grow alongside the ash-filled waters. They've even taken over the mass grave. We even saw two deer dance over this -- and this is odd to say -- beautiful field.
It really makes you think.
Today I learned a lot about the resiliency of the human spirit. We've learned about Auschwitz many times this year, seen pictures,heard stories and watched movies. But even after all of that, nothing could ever prepare someone for the things they see and learn once they step foot through the gates. At first, I was taken aback by the cool and casual tone of our tour guide and wondered how someone could be so calm while discussing one of the greatest crimes in all of humanity. By the end of the tour however, he taught us about distancing himself in order to convey the power of the camp and allow people to have their own feelings. And trust me, there were a lot of feelings. The tour went through many buildings from actual barracks where people stayed, to where they worked, to where they were ultimately killed. We saw memorials and restorations and some of the most powerful art work I've ever seen done by children who were victims of the Holocaust. There were horrifically large displays of hair that had been cut off of the woman and lost shoes,collected luggage and old glasses. The amount of objects never got less shocking. We then had a disruptively good lunch in the cafe there (in my personal opinion that is a mad strange place to have a cafe)
We then headed to Auschwitz 2/Birkeneau which was absolutely massive and disturbing beautiful. There was the greenest grass and colorful flowers which gave the bizarre and relatively scary realization that there must've been nice weathered days there, something you don't often picture when you think about the concentration camps. We saw the mass graves left there and also got a little bit in almost trouble with security because I guess we walked somewhere we weren't really supposed to.
The stop after that was in the basement of a church and the things we saw there are things I will never forget. A man named Marian Kolodziej who was number 432 in Auschwitz (meaning he arrived in 1940 at the age of 18) made incredible art work in his late 70's after surviving a stroke that left him unable to talk and walk. He had not shared his experience in the camp all his life but with these haunting images and chilling work he expressed his experiences in such an incredible way I really don't have the words to describe it. Even pictures don't do it justice.
Today was one of the most difficult and eye opening experiences of my life. I truly believe that this is the way everyone should learn about such an important pieces of world history.
So I failed at my attempt to try every single type of coffee that they offered at the hotel breakfast in Berlin. There were like 8 different kinds! I never got up early enough to have time to try more than one, but since today was the last the day there, that just means I have to come back to try again.
Since it was Easter (happy Easter btw), our first stop of the day was to a mass service for Easter and the kids who signed up to go were with Mr. Lane and Julie. The rest of us then headed to a museum, and let me tell you, the walk there was absolutely gorgeous. It had finally stopped drizzling and the sun was glistening off all of the domed roofs and the cobblestones and it was just so beautiful.
Anyways, we arrived at the DDR museum, which turned out to be possibly the most fun museum I've been to in a really long time. Think the Boston children's museum mixed with the science museum in the sense of fun and hands on stuff, but now picture it as an interactive historical museum about East Berlin under communism (1950s-80s). I guess kind of hard to imagine, but I just learned so much about what it must've been like to live in East Berlin then, and I had so much fun while doing it.
I'm pretty sure everyone's favorite part of the museum was the super cool "elevator" that transferred us to an apartment set in the 70s. The "elevator" basically just demonstrated how janky their elevators were, but it was kinda spooky the first time I went on it. The floor moved and jerked to demonstrate the shakiness, and it also involved flickering light and sounds you probably wouldn't want to hear while on an elevator. It was basically my worst elevator nightmare, but I had a lot of fun "riding" it a bunch of times afterward and showing other friends how it worked. I really enjoyed the museum.
After that, we met back up with the church-goers and went to a memorial commemorating the books burned during the Nazi regime. It was a large rectangle or square room underground that you looked into through glass from above. The walls were lined with white, empty book shelves. For how simple it seemed, I though it was very effective. Ms. Freeman even told us a story about people protesting it being destroyed to make space for a "car park" (that's a parking lot for my American folks) and that they ended up building the car park around the memorial because of the outrage.
Then we had lunch at a Turkish place, where I had doner and fries.
After that we headed to the Jewish Museum, where we specifically visited three areas:
1. The Garden of Exile
It was similar to the memorial for the 6 million Jews in the sense that it was also a maze of tall concrete slabs, but these were all the same height and had trees growing out of the tops of them. The ground was slanted, and the effect was strengthened (I think) since it rained today, so it was very slippery and we had to be extra careful. I lost the people I was walking through the exhibits with while I was in there, and even though it was so much smaller than the memorial for the 6 million Jews, it still took me longer to find them again than was comforting. I honestly felt a real sense of relief when I finally ran into them. After that we headed to...
2. The Holocaust Tower
Now, when I say this place was suffocating, I mean it literally. I really did feel a heaviness on my chest when I walked into the exhibit. The tower was as tall as a building, that's maybe three stories, and it's walls slanted up into a hexagon shape at the top. You walked into it and all you could do was look up and feel how massive it was and small you were. The only light was a short diagonal slant at the top of the tower. It was really cold and it was designed so you could hear the noises from outside. It was extremely chilling.
3. The Memory Void
"Shalekhet", or Fallen Leaves, was created by Menashe Kadishman, and it was 10,000 heavy iron plates cut to resemble faces, laid out as almost a thick rug on the ground. I don't think I really have words for it, I can't explain how it felt. But for me, it was intense. I think it's one of the most effective memorials I've seen so far.
Following the museum, it was time to go back to the hotel, grab our bags, and get to the airport. We walked back, and walking through Berlin really feels amazing. I really miss how clean it smelled. We walked past two playgrounds, and I'm jealous of the kids who get to play on them because they looked super fun.
But we finally got back to the hotel and boarded the bus. Good bye Berlin! I'll miss you a lot!
As we were driving to the airport, I saw five different casinos, one right after the other, it was the most bizarre thing ever. We also passed the Victory Column, and it was very beautiful.
The plane we took to Poland was very strange to me. It was pretty small, but the weird thing for me was that the wings were attached to the top of the plane, not the sides, and they had propellers on them. The whole flight was incredibly loud and jerky, and it took me longer than I'd like to admit to figure out how the sink in the bathroom worked, but the view was so beautiful.
Once we landed and got our bags, we got on another bus (which we learned was special because they got a new, bigger one specifically for us since we're such a big group) and started the drive to Oswiecim. The countryside was quiet and picturesque. The houses were very colorful, which I liked, and everything was a lot more spread out than in Germany.
When we got to Oswiecim and the hotel (aka the former SS barracks we were staying at), we all got a little bit nervous. It's kind of creepy knowing that after I write this that I'm going to be sleeping in the same place that a man who aided in the killing of countless innocent victims in the holocaust slept, and that just across the street from us, literally, is the concentration camp Auschwitz I. I'm nervous to visit tomorrow, but I am also interested in seeing it for myself.
Frohe Oster (Happy Easter)!!!
Today was our last day in Berlin. First we split up into the group who went to Easter mass and another group who went to the DDR museum. I went to the DDR museum. As we were walking to the museum we walked past the Berliner Dom; it was really beautiful because the bells were ringing for Easter and the morning sun was shining on it.
The DDR museum is an interactive museum that is about life under the Soviets in East Germany. It was very interesting because we got a different perspective about what life was like. The museum didn't only talk about how there was little food available or the restrictions of living under a communist rule. It also talked about what these people did for fun, what their houses looked like and where they went for vacations (nudist beaches apparently!)
For lunch we went to a Turkish restaurant which was really good! After lunch we went to the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Unfortunately we did not have that much time there since we had to get to the airport. However what we did see was really amazing. We saw the holocaust tower which is a naturally lit unseated concrete tower. When you go inside of it you really get the feeling of being alone even when there were other people in the tower as well. It also evokes the feeling of helplessness because you feel very small standing in the tower.
Next we saw The Garden of Exile which is slightly similar to the Jewish memorial in Berlin in that it is also concrete blocks standing on an uneven surface. When you walk through the blocks you loose your way a bit and feel very unstable due to the changing elevations of the ground.
Lastly we saw the Fallen Leaves exhibit which is a room where people walk over 1,000 metal faces. They represent the innocent people lost during war and walking over them shows that we often forget about them and their lost lives. I thought that all of these exhibits were very interesting and effective in getting their point across. My personal favorite was the Fallen Leaves exhibit due to the interactive nature and how it makes you really think about all of these innocent people lost during wartimes.
Unfortunately, we had to leave the museum to get on our plane to Poland!
Today we were really sad to leave Berlin but we're excited for what Poland will bring us!
Happy Easter! Today was a nice relaxing day.
For the day's first event, our group split up, with some of us going to church and the rest of us going to a museum. I went to church and it was quite the experience. The building was beautiful inside and filled with incense that rose to the top of the dome. The mass was in German, with a bit of Latin, and though I couldn't understand much, it was beautiful. The orchestra and choir were what made the mass so impressive. They played and sang for the majority of the mass.
After we left the church, we saw the memorial of the book burning just outside. We then set out for our last meal in Germany for this first third of the trip.
After lunch we visited the Jewish Museum, which I found to be pretty powerful. The three exhibits Ms. Freeman told us to visit were definitely the most powerful. The fallen leaves exhibit, the garden of exile, and the holocaust remembrance tower were so well thought out and created emotions in me that would be hard to achieve without so much thought. I think the remembrance tower was my favorite, particularly because I walked in and just stood looking around the tall, cold, and empty tower feeling a helplessness and longing that actually left me speechless.
When we left the museum, we made our way to the airport and departed for Poland. Many of us were tired during the flight and after it, but I could not contain my excitement. Being 100% Polish and visiting Poland for the first time was truly an amazing experience. The plane touched down and all I could think was "Jestem domu" (I'm home). I couldn't help but smile and not stop. The ride to Oswiecim was very beautiful and I couldn't take enough pictures of the incredible landscape. I'm so happy to be here.
But then I realized tonight would not be the fun night in Poland. Tonight we sleep across the street from Auschwitz. And tomorrow we visit Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II Birkenau. I just don't feel right. Just being here I feel so spiritually unsettled and I fear for tomorrow. So much horror and I am about to become a second hand witness. I also however look forward to the enjoyment of this beautiful country and I have faith that we will, as a group, be there for each other during the emotionally difficult parts of the trip, and enjoy the lighter moments together.
The sites we visited today were closely tied to issues in the present day. The juxtaposition of Syrian protesters alongside the Brandenburg Gate provided us with the realization that issues tied to racial and religious prejudice so overtly plaguing Germany in the past continue to scourge not only this country but worldwide. The protesters were also very close to the memorial to the Murdered Sinti and Roma, another group throughout Europe that continues to be targeted and unfairly treated. What we saw today expressed that the issues we learn about on this trip, like the past events of war and genocide, are not only things that we read about in textbooks but rather things that happen to real people currently. In visiting the Bundestag we could also see the endurance of social issues and divisions, as we could see how German lawmakers continue to pass laws concerning the lives and treatment of their citizens and people around the world.
Additionally, in learning about the Berlin Wall and the several fatal attempts to gain freedom in the west illustrates the fragility and near-preciousness of democracies at a global level. As Americans we often take for granted our ability to speak and act freely, and being able to stand in the exact spot that those elementary freedoms were stripped from people is something almost impossible to comprehend. Walking along different areas of the wall and being able to view Berlin from the top of the museum made the irrationality of dividing a city and the seemingly immature and hasty decision to separate ideology and citizens even more inconceivable. How the Berlin Wall served as a manifestation of the division of rhetoric and political and social values is resounding, and illustrates how deeply the contrasting principles governing the east and west were engrained to everyday life in Europe.
Today contrasted from other days on the trip as the sites we viewed today clearly showed that as many improvements and advances we have made in the treatment and tolerance of different groups of people, many remain disenfranchised and ignored. The primal rights and ambitions of these people cannot be denied, and in today's political climate, the urgency of these issues seems to be especially remarkable.
The trip has been absolutely amazing so far. I'm loving Berlin and all there is here. The food is delicious, the people are nice and the buildings are just beautiful.
This morning, after breakfast we headed out to see the remnants of the Berlin Wall. Seeing tup close really made me think of how drastically different life must have been in East and West Berlin.
A peer told us a story about a man who in order to escape East Berlin, made his own air balloon out of a motorcycle motor and not only flew into West Berlin but way past. After American soldiers found him, he was able to live his life on West Berlin! After seeing the walls, we saw an actual part of the wall intact with a no man’s land. Ms. Freeman told us that the width of each no man's land between the two walls varied but I found it to be quite wide. Little did I know that the width of this wall was considered narrow! Then I began to realize the bravery of those who made an attempt to escape for the sake of their lives. These men, women and children had to risk everything in order to cross the Berlin Wall. And it was certainly not easy with the no man’s land and watchtowers. We then visited the Mauer museum dedicated dedicated to the Berlin Wall where we gazed at photos between 1961 to 1989 and heard stories of those who escaped East Berlin. As part of the museum, there was a remade watch tower that we could climb. We could see everything from up there. Overall I thought it was such an inspiring experience seeing the Berlin Wall and acknowledging the challenges that many people had to go through.
The next stop was so to see the remains of the border houses. Here we took shelter from the rain and read about the influence of these border houses during the time the walls were up. Then we had lunch at the Haeckescher Market which had plenty of small carts, textiles, and gorgeous flowers! The neighborhood was quite beautiful with plenty of small shops and alleyways. For lunch, I had a Doner Kebab sandwich which was so delicious and flavorful, oh and cheap!
After lunch, we went to the Rosenstrasse Memorial which was dedicated to the women who protested the release of their Jewish and part Jewish husbands captured by the Nazis in 1943. The memorial had figures of women kneeling to their captured husbands and pleading for their release. I found the memorial to be quite beautiful and perfectly placed.
Before heading to the Berliner Dom we saw the head of Nefertiti at the Neues Museum which was so beautiful, her features were perfectly preserved. Next we went to the Berliner Dom which is the big cathedral that lasted during the wars, despite its slightly dusty appearance on the outside, the inside of the cathedral was absolutely breathtaking. My love for cathedrals has certainly grown!
Next stop was the Pariser Platz, which is this beautiful square in central Berlin right at the Brandenburg gate, here we also saw Hotel Adlon which was the hotel Michael Jackson draped his son Blanket on the hotel balcony.
The first memorial we saw today was dedicated to the Roma and Sinti group who was also targeted by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Here I have attached a bit of what I wrote in my journal (see photo at the bottom of this post).
Bundestag time! This was the large building that currently holds the German parliament and former Reichstag. The most interesting part was seeing the graffiti by the SS soldiers in 1945 on the many walls within the building. I was so impressed by the architect and elegance of the building along with its modern wing where we saw the Parliament room and the beautiful dome up top with gorgeous views of the city from all sides. This was definitely a highlight of my day.
After the Bundestag we visited the memorial dedicated to the homosexuals persecuted during the Holocaust. It was nice however I wish there was more to it, many of us thought the same time thing. Next stop was the memorial for the disabled which was a blue wall representing the color of the triangles many disabled people had to wear. The memorial was quite informative and definitely relayed the message.
Dinner time! I had an amazing dinner with Marina, Isabelle, Paloma, Cole and Claire. We found an Indian Restaurant in the Potsdamer Platz area which was quite affordable and delicious. I loved being able to connect with my peers during this dinner especially those I never had the chance to get to know. We ended the night with ice cream of Haagen Dazs which was so yummy! Banana Chocolate Brownie all day all night!
Today was an amazing day and I'm glad I had the privilege of attending this trip. I can't wait to see what else Poland and the Czech Republic has in store. Gutenacht to all! :)
Today was filled with many eye-opening things. First, seeing the Berlin Wall was extremely interesting because it's something I've learned a lot about in school. Something new I learned was that there were two walls separating the east and west, making it even harder to escape the horrific life east Berliners had to live. The Berlin Wall museum was interesting as well, because they had many stories of people who attempted to cross the wall, some who succeeded, many who didn't. The stories amplified how bad life was in east Germany, because people were willing to do almost anything to escape.
We visited many memorials, but my favorite was the one dedicated to the Disabled who the Nazis targeted. It was a long sheet of blue see through material on the side of a busy road. I interpreted it to mean that disabled people see the same world as us just a little differently, because when you look through the memorial your vision is a little skewed. I liked how it didn't explicitly say what it was about because it makes people stop and think about the meaning.
I also really enjoyed the market we went to for lunch. It gave us a view of what Berlin is really like. There were so many different kinds of foods you could buy, all for an affordable price so that you could try so many things.
Today we got up at the early hour of 6AM. We departed from the hotel at 7:45 and made our way to Bauhaus.
We all took tours of Bauhaus and learned about the amazing architecture and history of the building and school. Everything from the doors to the lights to the type and placement of the chairs was carefully though out and it was incredible to learn about why everything looked the way it did.
After we departed Bauhaus, we drove to Bernburg. Here we stopped at the euthanasia center which is still part of a functioning hospital. We first talked about the history of the center which was used from 1940-1941 by the Nazis to brutally murder 9,384 old, ill and disabled people. We walked through the gas chamber where people were loaded into with the belief that they were to take showers. They closed off the chamber and pumped carbon monoxide into the room until everyone was dead. The Nazis could watch them die through a viewing window in the wall. Then the oven operators, called "Leichenbrennern" or "corpse burners", dragged the dead bodies through the dissecting room and then to the crematorium. In the dissecting room, doctors cut up marked bodies of people who either had gold teeth or were of scientific interest to the Nazis. The rest of the bodies were burned in the crematorium and a mix of random ashes were sent to the families of the deceased, along with a death certificate announcing a fake cause of death.
From Bernburg, we drove to the Buchenwald concentration camp outside the city of Weimar. The camp was filled mostly with Jews, homosexuals, Roma Sinti, and political prisoners. We also learned about the multiple layers of the camp. After the USA liberated the camp in 1945, the Soviets took control of the camp and created a secret POW camp [for German soldiers] on the outskirts of Buchenwald. They also used Buchenwald as a sort of propaganda site in Soviet-controlled Germany to say that Communists were mostly kept at the camp and Communists were the real martyrs of WWII and the Holocaust. We got to explore in small groups for 30 minutes before all waking through the crematorium of the camp. From there we drove into the city of Weimar to have dinner.
During dinner we all went through a buffet full of authentic German food. We all had the option to try sauerkraut, goulash or Thuringian potato dumplings which contained a singular crouton in the middle. Who knew? Everyone had a great time at dinner and had plenty to eat. From the restaurant we got back on the bus and headed on the three hour bus ride back to the hotel.
Overall, we had a great and tiring day. It was a lot to take in, but it was still incredibly interesting. That being said, I think everyone it still very much looking forward to a good night's sleep. I think I'll get a head start now on the bus.
This morning we visited the Bauhaus, an institution where people were taught to embrace and express themselves via art AND technology.
Can I just say WOW. It was incredible! Walter Gropius, the main architect who worked on the building was an outright genius. His methods of combining the beauty of art with the necessity of technology was absolutely brilliant, and it ignited such a passion in me that I squealed. Art here was thought of as a form of education and the value of it was beyond amazing. There was a theater as well and the way the curriculum was structured made it so that the performances were beneficial for the audience AND the performers because it required them to go through three stages of preparation that would enhance their educational experience! There was creativity in EVERY aspect of the building from the doors to the chairs to the colors painted on the walls! The Bauhaus was a breeding ground for brilliant pieces of art and architecture that highlighted the unique perspective of Gropius, and to be able to see a glimpse of our world through his eyes was an unreal experience.
Today we also visited a Euthanasia center where victims who were considered disabled, or unworthy of life, were murdered in gas chambers. One of the most bizarre aspects of this trip so far has been the somewhat disturbing reality of change over time. When visiting the euthanasia center, it was mind blowing to me how such terrible things took place on a site that was now so beautiful-it was almost as if Mother Nature had felt so personally disturbed by these practices that she put extra care into contravening them.
One thought I had as I went through the gas chamber at the euthanasia center, was the absurdity in the juxtaposition of the two places we had visited in the same day. Seriously, think about it. There was an architect, there was someone hired to construct these gas chambers. It was someone's job to make it look like a shower in order to fool the victims into a state void of paranoia. Then you compare it to the architecture found in the Bauhaus AND THE MOTIVATION AND IDEAS BEHIND THE FORMS OF TECHNOLOGY WERE SO DIFFERENT.
Overall, incredible experience!!!!!!
Hallo, lovely parents and fellow students! It is currently nearly 12am here in Berlin, but I bring to you a blog entry. Though this is not my assigned day, the amount of thoughts racing through my mind throughout today was too much not to record. Instead of just diving into one of my long-winded, seemingly endless rants, I will first start off by giving a brief outline of what we did today.
1. We woke up early (even for BLS students), ate breakfast, and hopped on the bus.
2. The bus brought us to the Bauhaus, an art historian's dream palace (ahem, Ms. Freeman).
3. We then went to Bernburg to visit the euthanasia center at the Stiftung Gedenkstätten Sachsen-Anhalt Fachklinkum.
4. Afterwards, we visited the Buchenwald concentration camp for (sadly) not as much time as needed to fully take in its meaning to an individual. But, one could argue that there really never will be enough time in the world anyway.
5. We then had a sort of wind down buffet dinner in Weimar where we talked of riddles, how insulting ketchup is in Germany, and non-alcoholic cocktails.
6. Finally, we got back on the bus for the long bus ride "home" while watching The Sound of Music. I would have preferred Frozen so I most definitely took a short nap until I heard everyone singing (or, trying to sing, as Ms. Freeman put it) which startled me out of my comfortable bus slumber.
The main focus of this blog post will be on the euthanasia center and the concentration camp that we visited, but I would like to say that the Bauhaus was exciting, even for an amateur (and I mean amateur in every sense of the word) art enthusiast like myself. Bauhaus used to be an art school that taught a mixture of craftwork and architecture focusing on functionality. Think industrial. It was located in three cities: Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin. It was essentially forced to be shut down by Nazis since it was seen as a place of American/Jewish influence and communist intellectualism. Bauhaus was really a place where a lot of modern architectural ideas were born, like using copious amounts of glass in buildings, a design clearly adopted by the U.S. Though the Bauhaus was both fun and educational, the next couple places that we visited were a lot more thought-provoking.
The bus drove us a long way to Bernburg where we were able to learn more about the euthanasia center where many were sent to die. I especially connected with this place and its history because several classmates and I did a project just a couple weeks ago on the disabled and euthanasia, or assisted suicide. I could go on and on about the questions that arose in my head whilst walking through the gas chamber, dissection room, and crematorium. But I will simply leave you with this: Two women denied jobs at the euthanasia center because they believed it to be too cruel. These same two women were never killed nor were they tortured. They chose to be autonomous. They chose to pave their own paths. Why didn't all of the other workers at the "hospital" do the same thing if they knew they were not going to be punished? They all had free will too—they all had a choice. Did fear of leadership and death really pay that significant of a role or were these workers really that unconcerned with what they were doing, especially if it raised their status in the industry and/or paid big money?
At the euthanasia center, I felt myself attempting to question the world's humanity and wondering where it had gone. Did it escape? Or did it disappear completely? Is it like the Law of Conservation of Matter, where it never really can be created nor destroyed, only recycled and conserved? Was there some sort of balance restored in the world at the same time that these murders were taking place, like a kind of divine justice? I think it would be a mistake to think that last one is true. I also think it's a mistake to say that these people were outliers of true humanity. Humanity isn't just the good. It's all the bad too. People like to distance themselves from Hitler, the Nazis, and their followers, but they were very much human. They weren't some weird "other race" nor did they all have mental problems or daddy issues. They were all people, just like you and me. Our race, the human race, did this. We have to realize that.
Even though all of these questioning were running through my mind at the euthanasia center, at Buchenwald, it was difficult to even consider humanity. To fully encapsulate the feelings that emerged from visiting Buchenwald would be outright impossible. For the sake of getting a decent night's rest, I will keep this shorter than I would like it to be as it is now 12:31am on the dot.
I cannot deny the beauty of the camp and its surrounding, though beauty may not be the right word. The contrast between what had been done there and how incredible the nature around it is just astounding. For once, I am at a loss for words. To walk through the camp and mentally complain about how cold my hands were was frustrating considering what the prisoners of the camp went through. I spent most of our time here comparing my own humanity with the ones who built the camp and ultimately coming to the decision that our humanity is the same. All of ours are. But it's what we do and think individually and as a group that changes what our humanity could mean in the future. There is just too much atrocity going on even today for me to consider that the humanity of the 1930s-40s did a complete 360 in less than a century. With that, I end this post. Gute nacht."
It's crazy to think that we've only been in Germany for 3 days, it feels like so much longer. Our day started with a 6 am wake up call, how fun. We left the hotel at promptly 8:15 so that we could get to our first stop on time.
Our first stop was Bauhaus. To be completely honest with you I am not an art person, it's just not my cup of tea. But it was really crazy to see Mrs. Freeman so excited about something. And I mean very excited. Kinda like a kid on Christmas morning. And seeing her so excited made me so excited. It was well worth the excitement. We received a tour from a guide whose "name in English" was Frank. He was so personable and obviously loved his job. We learned a lot about the history of the Bauhaus and he was really good at putting everything into perspective. What I mean is that some things we wouldn't think was very modern or anything special but then he would remind us about what was going on around this time in Germany. Everything looked very compact and very neat. It definitely surpassed my expectations and left everyone in a good mood. In the gift shop there was a little stamp table and all us BLS kids were getting these stamps. Thank you Isaac for my sick stamps that I can not wait to have to scrub off!
When we got back onto the bus we were all bustling about and laughing. For lunch we had sandwiches (either ham, salami, veggie or a salad) which were pretty good. While we were eating Mrs. Freeman came over the speaker to tell us that she was glad that we were all having fun but that the rest of the day would be sad and that we should prepare ourselves.
We then drove for about an hour to the Bernberg Memorial for the Victims of the Euthanasia program. This experience started by going upstairs into a little information section. Our tour guides name was Maxi. She knew a fairly good amount of English but would sometimes get confused with the translation of individual words from Germany to English. I worked on the Disabled for my Targeted Population of the Holocaust so I pretty much knew all the information she was telling us.
After we went into the basement we first went into the dressing room where they were told to undress before entering into the gas chamber. I already knew that they disguised the gas chambers but I was so surprised with how much it actually looked like a shower. Then we walked into the dissection room which contained a stone slab that was used as an operating table. The part that really got me was that there were two different colour tiles. Most of it was red tile but there was a little pathway with blue tile. When someone asked why that was, our tour guide answered saying that the blue tile yeah. The part that got me the most is that we walked into the "medical examination" room (where the doctors would dissect the people) and then there was like the regular tile and then a different tile which was the path that they used to drag the bodies and it became slippery when wet so they could more easily drag the bodies. Then we entered the room where the oven would have been that was surrounded with pictures of people who were killed there.
Our last stop for the day was Buchenwald Memorial Concentration Camp. We received an audio tour and was given 40 minutes (which wasn't nearly enough). I walked around with a small group of people and there wasn't much talking. We all just kind of walked around in silence, and we all just kind of understood each other and there was no need for words. We walked around into the extensive infirmary which we thought was ironic because they had so much space for medical help but gave no one medical help. We spend more time walking around as a full group before going back into the bus.
We drove to the time of Weimar and had a buffet dinner at Hanz and Franz. It was a good way to end a difficult day.
"Bauhaus", more like "completely ordinary house". At least, that's what some people have been saying. However, those people are mere plebians. They lack a certain level of sophistication that is required in order to fully appreciate the architectural and artistic beauty of this historic landmark. I pity them. Bauhaus was, simply put... magnificent. The chairs- so screwless, the doors- so black, the floor- so smooth, the bau- so haus. Truly wonderful. It was enough to bring even the most solemn of teachers to tears. I had to take a few minutes to compose myself. Every minute detail in that building represented countless hours of careful and thoughtful deliberation. I think that Ms. Freeman summed up the Bauhaus the best when she very eloquently said "YEEEESEYEEESYESSSSSYEEEESEYEEES".
Though the Bauhaus was fun, the mood quickly took a somber turn when we got the the Bernburg Euthenasia Memorial. We learned about the way in which the disabled were forcibly euthenized during the Nazi era. I felt pretty sick when I was standing in the gas chamber. I felt dizzy. I didn't really know what to make of it exactly. I've never stood in a place like that. I could never fathom a reason why a place of that nature should ever have to exist. That's really all I have to say about that place.
After that we went to Buchenwald, a concentration camp in Germany. It wasn't a killing camp, but it was a labor camp. People would either die from starvation or they would die from exhaustion. Conditions in this camp were inhumane. When we went there today, there was hardly anything left there. If I hadn't know that it was a concentration camp, I would've thought that it was just a pile of rocks just what it looked like. It's so hard to imagine the horrors that took place within this gate. For the most part, we walked in silence. Nothing could be said. No words could be said to make it better. As someone who likes to talk a lot, I was shocked to find myself at a loss for words. The crematorium was sick and creepy. That's really all there is to say about it. I kept wondering how someone could justify such horrific actions, but I still had no words.
After all that we watched "The Sound of Music". It was awful. I wish the hills would shut up tbh.
That's really all I have to say about today.