Thank you.

As I stand at the end of this program, and the end of my journey that has moved across five cities and two countries, my heart is just filled with an immense amount of gratitude. It is filled not only because of all of the information that I learned throughout this month, but also because of the incredible people that I had the opportunity to do this with. From my professor, to my roommate, and everyone in between it was an amazing opportunity. Sure, I felt like I was in bootcamp on more days than I am willing to admit, but I wouldn’t take any of it back. As I sit and type this from my hotel room in Madrid, Spain, I am still thinking about where does one go from here? I’ve learned so much within this past month. I don’t know where to begin summarizing my experiences, but I do know that I feel incredibly lucky. I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity. I feel incredibly lucky to walk away with not only a renewed sense of gratitude, a deeper sense of empathy, but also an understanding (albeit baseline) of trauma and the importance of remembering. Among the many many things we did, the debrief was one of my favorite. It truly felt like it was the best way to bring things full circle, to hear what everyone was thinking and feeling was an experience I can’t quite articulate. I just know that I am walking away from this experience with so much more than the eight credits that I hoped to earn, and for that I can say that I am immeasurably grateful. Words will never be able to articulate all the gratitude that I feel so here’s to hoping that these words can suffice. Thank you for taking this journey with me, and my only wish was that you would have had the opportunity to do this as well because it really is something that everyone should do. 

I walk away humbled, grateful and immeasurably blessed. This is an experience that I will always remember. 

Empathy has always been interesting to me. Empathy is the emotion we feel when we are so deeply moved my someone else’s burden, story, emotion what have you that we feel exactly as they feel. We take on their emotion, their pain as if its our own. During our journey from Berlin to Warsaw, we somehow started to share our life stories. These stories evolved from life story to most traumatic experience. I’ve learned so many valuable lessons on this dialogue, but among them, I have become this person who is more willing to share her story than ever before. I suppose you can say that has been inspired by the people that I have met on this trip, but sharing your story allows people to learn from not only you but your story as well. During the last day on our trip at our debrief, the reoccurring theme seemed to be, what does one do with all this information—where do we go from here? Many of us felt that with all of this information, that we must physically do something. That somehow all of this information has physically called us to action. However, my professor said something that I will probably never forget. Essentially, we should abolish the notion that a physical action is the only action that we can take. It is arguably harder to feel and exercise genuine empathy than it is for someone to be the catalyst of an action worth remembering. 

Think about that.

Why is it necessary to go to Auschwitz? Shouldn’t books and vivid detail be enough? The answer to that question, in my most honest opinion, is a resounding no. While books and text might make you feel a bit of unease, there is nothing that compares to walking the grounds itself. To feel as though you can’t breathe. To feel so angry that this could have happened you might just combust. To get so passionate about people who do anything that you feel might remotely dishonor the lives lost there. To most importantly engage in thoughtful discussion and think critically about traumatic and the experiences thereof. All of these emotions happened to me all at once. Before I go on, I must say that I am not a crier. For several reasons that aren’t necessary to get into, I have learned to compartmentalize to my detriment. Often times, I feel as though I don’t have the right to feel, and that I should internalize my emotions, but every once in awhile they do come out either in the form of tears or anger, and the day I spent at Auschwitz was anger. 

With that said, it leads me to a little bit of an anecdote. While sitting in a discussion with the museum curator, she discussed the expansion of the museum to include several new things, however, among these items is going to be an exhibit that discusses the perpetrators the commandant of Auschwitz and the important SS officers there. My immediate reaction upon hearing this was anger. Anger for the victims. Anger for the people coming to see. Anger because they don’t deserve an exhibit. The Holocaust happened because of them, so I can’t think of one logical reason why they would need to have an exhibit. We come to Auschwitz to in one sense see where it happened. We go for the victims. We go to attempt to shoulder one sixteenth of what they might have felt. We go to say “I’m sorry that you didn’t get to.” We go to see if we can make sense out of something that was void of reason and sound logic. The curator responded to my question by saying the exhibit is for the people who don’t get to spend five weeks studying the Holocaust and its trauma. Not only was that comment riddled with being condescending, but my counter to that would have been why stop there? Why stop at one exhibit or even half an exhibit? Because of the voyeuristic nature of humankind, we want to know more. We want to know more about who these people were. Thats why we read their diaries, visit places like Hitler’s Mountain Retreat, we want to see what they touched or influenced because we believe that might shed more light on the ever-present question of Why? Why did this even have to happen? We don’t know. We will never know, and the sooner we stop trying to make sense out of it the better. 

I think a trip to Auschwitz is worth-taking not because we have the opportunity to be a tad bit voyeuristic, but because its important to learn about it. Its important to discuss the trauma caused by a place such as Auschwitz, and its important to discuss it collectively. Its important to do whatever is necessary to prevent something like this from happening again. 

Where do I even begin? Where does or even how does one even begin to discuss the atrocities committed at Auschwitz or even what one sees there? 

I’ve decided that I’m going to write this post regarding Auschwitz in two parts. The first part will discuss the physical attributes of the camp what it looks like today and how I felt walking through it while the second part will discuss why its important to even take a trip to Auschwitz and why I believe that a trip to this camp is particular is one worth taking. 

So firstly, what does Auschwitz even look like today, some 70 years after the end of World War II? The camp of Auschwitz was first turned into a museum in 1947 just two years after the end of the war. Today, there are several exhibitions that display liberation photographs, remnants of the crematorium, former jail cells, pounds of shaved hair from the prisoners before they were gassed, and countless other items. A recently erected exhibit displays the lives the Jewish people had. The birthdays, the Christmases, the Passovers, and all the celebrations they had before they were violently ripped from their lives to become numbers. People that were hated by a group of people who were convinced they were the enemy. 

Concentration camps are a bit unnerving to me. They are unnerving because you know the history behind the location despite the fact that they often look peaceful with trees and flowers blooming. These places were anything but peaceful. Children running around. People carrying on as if they aren’t aware that they are treading on the dead. Its just very interesting to me to see life move on even at a place that was a former concentration camp. Each time I stepped into a camp though, especially after Dachau, I had to ask myself: What exactly are you expecting? Are you expecting to see the original barracks? The malnourished bodies? The absence of humanity and the cruelty of it all? We had a reading that discussed the fact that we go to see concentration camps as memorials, but exactly do we even want to see? And this is something that I had to personally grapple with. I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that these sites of death and destruction weren’t nearly as upsetting as I had pictured them to be. Dachau, especially, was beautiful. Almost park-like. 

At Auschwitz, a lot of the building facades remained in tact, but naturally, the insides are repurposed to house museums for the visitors that they attract each year.

Kids say interesting things. Kids have the courage to do a lot of things that adults wouldn’t do, and obviously that comes with maturity. As a child, I can remember saying the title of this blog post. Physical objects can break your bones, but words will never hurt. Although I’ve become this person who is often perceived as a tough as nails individual, the phrase words will never hurt isn’t quite true. 

Lets think about how the Holocaust all began. It began with words. Hitler installed the office of Reich Propaganda Minister for a reason. If you tell a child that the sky is green, the grass is blue, and the sun isn’t in fact yellow—they will believe it. While these things might seem inane to the adult hearer, for a child it can be completely believable. Adults aren’t that far off from children. Sure, we are responsible for ourselves, and we pay our own bills (maybe), but if something is repeated to us often enough, just like a child, we will eventually believe it. Okay, so lets rewind. The Reich controlled everything. The radio, the television, the news. You name it, it was controlled. Words are so powerful. They always have been. They have the power to be so destructive. I remember when I was younger, I was quite the mouthy little one. My mother would always say to me “Rebecca, watch what you say. Words have the power to tear people down.” While there were obviously a lot of circumstances that contributed to the events of World War II, the crux of the start of the Holocaust started with words and the intense propaganda machine ran by Goebbels. There many lessons that I can walk away from this program with, but this one about words is a powerful one indeed.

Does anything have the right to be forgotten is a question that I have found intriguing and one that has been on my mind since the start of the program. I don’t think I will ever have a definitive answer for this question. On one hand, sometimes events or occurrences can cause us so much pain and trauma that we would prefer to forget them. Push them into a space within ourselves that we repress them so far that we usually don’t remember them, and only small triggers would cause us to remember. However, on the other hand, the benefit of remembering is so that the pain, the hurt—the part that you wish to forget—is never repeated because you remember what it felt like the last. 

I can imagine plenty of examples where this is applicable. Whether it be that professor that I found to be disrespectful whose class I learned nothing from to a food item that made me sick to a really traumatic life experience, I remember all of these things because I can’t forget. I don’t want to forget because I can’t ever feel that way again. 

The same is true for the memories of the Holocaust. Should any part of this history-altering event ever be forgotten? We should remember everything. We should talk about it even. Thats not to say it will get less painful every time but because talking brings awareness. It reminds you of how painful it was, and how we should actively work to prevent something like this from happening. Among the many museums we visited, I read a quote that went something like this: “It happened once, so therefore, it can happen again.” That struck me for two reasons because A. The thought of another Holocaustic event happening again is simply mortifying but B. the more horrifying fact is that its true. It can happen again. 

So should we forget? No. Does anything have the right be forgotten? Perhaps. Maybe that really bad night you had once or that awful date you wish you hadn’t ever been on, but anything worthwhile, anything that was a catalyst of any kind? Never. Events like that should never be forgotten. 

With the end of this program drawing to a rapid close, I’ve now begun to consider what I hope to take away from my time spent traveling so far. This also allows me to consider what I expected from this trip in relation to what I hoped to gain, and I can’t say with any certainty that I know how to answer that question. I could say that I hoped to gain a new perspective, but what does that even mean? In the most fundamental way possible, I feel as though this trip has made me critical of everything. I feel as though that I’ve begun to question everything and even myself. Tomorrow as we head to Auschwitz, I want to really get a grip on what my expectations were and what exactly I’m going to leave this program with. 

Today we visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum that honored those who vigilantly attempted to save their country from the impending Nazi-occupation. It was incredibly intriguing to see an entire museum dedicated to the resistance movement. While here in Poland, I’ve begun to notice that the pervasive narrative Poland would like its visitors and residents to remember is the victim mentality. They were victims to the Nazi occupation, and for that we should feel sorry. However, in Germany, the country has taken to laying out all the facts for one to gather their own opinion. While they accept the blame as perpetrators, to an extent, there were some victims residing within Germany as well. The juxtaposition regarding memory in the two countries is one thats interesting to examine.

stephynow:

Balance the mind, balance the body. #forearmfridays
22nd Jul 201415:452,892 notes
22nd Jul 201415:452,427 notes

I feel as though its necessary that I write a blog post entirely dedicated to Berlin because damn what a city. I mean really, if you’re ever wondering if you should go, please do. My best description of that city is that its if you bottled all of NYC’s lower east side and made an entire city out of it. There is an amazing food scene, its multi-cultural, everyone loves riding bikes, the transportation system is incredibly comprehensive, and its very walkable. What else could anyone want in a city? Theres so much to see and do always that a week in Berlin wasn’t nearly enough time. Truthfully, I couldn’t even begin to sum up my time in Berlin or even in this program because its just been so incredible, we’ve seen done and learned so much that its impossible to articulate it honestly.

I can’t believe it ya’ll. Ive been traveling for 3 weeks already, and have made my way to Warsaw, Poland. Germany was fantastic, and Berlin was definitely amazing. Someday, I will make my way back there. 

We’ve only been in Poland for two days so far, so we haven’t seen much. This evening, we had the opportunity to walk with the community to commemorate the 72nd liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. The walk was special because we started in reverse, meaning we went from the point at which they were deported back to where they had lived. 

I look forward to what Poland has to hold!

The history of National-Socialism is so pervasive throughout much of Germany. However, what interests me is the ways in which Munich and Berlin as cities have both decided to deal with their Nazi past. While walking through Berlin today, I noticed that Berlin’s attitude regarding National-Socialism is similar to “This was us, but this is us now.” They’ve, for lack of a better word, embraced their role in the development of national-socialism, created monuments and memorials when it was appropriate, but have otherwise decided to pick up the pieces and move on. For example, on the grounds of the former Reich Chancellory and bunker where HItler committed suicide now stands a parking lot and and an apartment complex. For some, this might seem quite odd, however, personally I believe that it is justified. There is no right or wrong way to move on, and at some point you have to. In contrast however, is Munich. A city that has had a far more troubling time dealing with their part in the development of National-Socalism. Allow me to make one observation: the demographic of both cities is incredibly different. Munich caters to a more wealthy and older crowd which quite obviously possess different feeling and emotions regarding the Holocaust and for lack of a better word might feel more ashamed for it. In subtle ways, Munich has also moved on however they are still quite hesitant. For example, the much anticipated but highly controversial development of the Documentation Centre on National Socialism or even erecting a modern art museum in a place that was influential for the party, and deciding to make it a modern art museum because the Nazi party disliked modern art. Additionally, the demographic of Berlin is very young compared to that of Munich and ostensibly more progressive. The younger demographic who probably and approximately two generations removed from the Holocaust has an easier time dealing with the Nazi history than their parents or grandparents which could be an explanation for the shameless embracing of the National Socialist history. Another thing to note is that much of these monuments and museums were developed in the 2000s. Very recently. 

These are the thoughts that have been running through my mind all day, and its just been such an interesting comparison.

Earlier this afternoon, we arrived in Berlin! So far, Berlin reminds me so much of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Its as if someone captured the entire LES of NYC and created an entire city that encapsulated just that vibe. Berlin is one part hipster, another part fun, and another part funky. Its a pretty interesting city, and I can’t wait to spend my next seven to eight days here. After a pretty long day of travel, touring and finishing a paper, I am very ready to relax and have the day off tomorrow to root for Germany in the final game of the world cup! 

Today, again, we ventured into the city of Nuremburg where the Nazi party held their rallies during the second World War. In addition to that, we also spent time exploring the Nuremburg Documentation Centre on National-Socialism which seeks to illuminate the history of the party by revealing the truth and the ways in which Hitler and his regime came to power and categorically took possession over most of Europe. 

After the museum, we spent some time walking and engaging in brief discussion about what are the appropriate uses, if any, to the former party rally grounds. Should they be used? Should they be preserved? Should they decay? Should we just leave them alone? There is no right or wrong answer here, however this is quite an interesting notion to think about. It sure did give me a lot to contemplate.

Opaque  by  andbamnan