Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Day at Auschwitz

Yesterday I got up and had some breakfast and prepared myself for a day at Auschwitz, though how anyone can be fully prepared I'm unsure. I was curious if this time would be different since I had been here 4 years before. For Auschwitz I you have to be escorted through the camp by a guide, so I joined in a group of about 10-12 other "individual" visitors and was very impressed with our guide. She was not only knowledgeable, but you could tell she truly understood the weight of her task, and the importance of what she was showing us.

One of my favorite things she said was right at the beginning, she said "This is not a tour, or a guided museum, this is truly a pilgrimage." This not only set the tone for the rest of her tour of the first camp, but it also gave me a lot to think about. Many people have asked me why I would come back to Auschwitz since I was just here, what was the value in it? I think this is the answer. In some ways I came to learn, but in another way it truly is a pilgrimage. With what I study, and what I do for a living, how could I not come and pay my respects and remind myself why I do the work I do?

Following the tour of Auschwitz I, we had a break and needed to meet the guide at a bus at 12:30. After a quick bite to eat for lunch I went to the bus only to find out they had left early, thinking they had everyone! So it wasn't a problem, the hotel I'm staying at was across the street, so I grabbed the car and drove to Auschwitz II and gave myself the tour. Auschwitz II is 17x the size of Auschwitz one, it is so big that words cannot adequately describe it.  It looks like there is quite a bit of preservation work currently underway, which is good that they are doing it, but some buildings previously available were now closed.

After several hours in Auschwitz II it was time to say goodbye to, as the guide said, "the world's largest graveyard." I went back to the hotel and relaxed, and then out to dinner. After dinner I looked up the Auschwitz Jewish Center and realized it was only about 2 minutes away if I walked. This is the center that has generously offered to be the proxy for all of the Polish survivors that would like to apply for the Polish Pension, which previously you couldn't get if you lived outside of Poland. It is cook, but a little surreal, to stand outside of this building that has a direct connection with the work I'm currently doing at JFS.

Today I will pack up and head towards Lublin. I'll stop at Krakow, Plaszow, Belzec, and Majdanek and then spend the night at a hotel in Lublin.

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