Before AMHSI, I had surface level knowledge of Poland and the Shoah.
Before AMHSI, I had surface level knowledge of Poland and the Shoah. To put that statement into perspective, I couldn't even point out Poland on a map, and I didn't know the difference between death, concentration, and labor camps. What I did know was that Poland had an immense and thriving Jewish community however, the majority of them were killed when put into ghettos and camps. In fact, my great grandparents emigrated from Poland because it was too dangerous to be living as a Jew there.
My expectations of the journey was that my peers were going to need as much support as I would. Each long day of learning was going to be an uphill battle of being overwhelmed by disturbing and horrific information. I also believed that when the trip was over, our group would have a greater bond because we’ll be familiar with the vulnerable side of each other.
One of the most impactful sights we visited was Majdanek, especially when we visited the collection of shoes. I couldn't stop staring at the thousands of pairs of shoes, it felt as if to not look at each individual shoe was disrespectful. Somebody once laughed in those shoes, cried in those shoes, fell in love in those shoes, experienced heartbreak in those shoes, and experienced so much beauty and hardships in life before the Holocaust. But all their labeled as is a nameless victim who wore those shoes and never got their happy ending. I now have a better understanding of what people went through when being striped of their personality and what makes them who they are.
Chills immediately ran down my spine and my heart dropped the second I stepped foot in the cattle car in Lodz. Feelings of utter somber and grief consumed me. I leaned against the wall, sank to the floor, and closed my eyes so I could be in complete darkness. I imagined a putrid smell of body odor, fluids, and death that would have lingered in the car for weeks on end. I pretended I could hear the moans of the dying and the living crying for the dead. I fabricated intense feelings of hunger and thirst inside me that was unquenchable. I could see the hundred other people that practically piled on top of each other in the car. I tried to feel the dread of where I was going to be taken. Only I couldn't experience all these frightful feelings at once, I could only imagine one at a time. I left the cattle car feeling obstructed by frustration that I was never going to be able to comprehend what people went through.
Throughout the week spent in Poland, we were given extensive amounts of time to reflect upon how we were feeling as a result of the powerful sights we visited and activities we did. From my reflections I’ve learned that I could go to every museum, sight, read every article, listen to every survivors story, and never feel like I’ve heard enough to be able to understand how the tragedies of Holocaust made them truly feel. Many people were able to keep their faith to god because they believed that He would not put them through pain without a purpose. But I cannot imagine how we would have been worse off now without the Holocaust. Does the apparently better situation we’re living in now transcend to all of the affliction and death that millions of people experienced during the Holocaust; and all of the grief for the livings lost ones and PTSD that survivors had to suffer through after? I guess you could say we learned from our mistakes, but to call the massacre of millions of innocent people a mistake seems implausible, it dishonors the memory of those who perished. I could make the argument that “those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” (Edmund Burke) But then I could also quote the less famous line, “We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That's what it is to be alive.” (Kurt Vonnegut) We are already repeating the past in the present, people still target groups of certain ethnicities, religion, political beliefs, and sexual orientation, and that may never change. It’s very hard to conclude my reflections because I feel that I will always be thinking about this experience. As I mature and learn more about the Holocaust I know that my thoughts on it will continue to change.