Poland was a surprising place. I had very few expectations going into the country except for it to be a place still stuck a few years in the past and struggling to catch up. This is not necessarily the case. Yes, there are some buildings where you can see the influence of Soviet occupation, but Krakow appeared to largely be a city of the present day both in architecture and technology. One glaring thing that I did notice in Poland was its lack of racial diversity compared to the more urban areas that we have visited like London and Paris and even Bayeux. I don’t at all feel like my interactions with people in the city had any racist leanings but I did notice that people would stare at me as I walked through the street. In one instance, it was pointed out to me that as I walked by, a group of school children stopped and pointed amongst each other at me. I imagine that if these children are from rural areas in Poland, it is likely that I could be the first black person that would have seen. It was definitely an interesting change of pace compared previous Columbus and previous areas visited on this trip.

I found the Schindler museum to be one of the better museums that we attended on this trip. It focused a lot on the history of Poland as a whole throughout the war which was beneficial because, as Americans, we don’t really here about Poland during the war at anything more than surface level generally. The museum also did a good job in the way of its lay out which allowed you a better ability to place yourself in this time of Poland. For example, when the Nazi invasion is first introduced, three large Nazi Flags are hung up in the walkway that must be passed through to get through the rest of the exhibit, this is a very obvious display of the abrupt occupation in Poland. In the next few rooms though, swastikas are present but in much more subtle ways such as hats, stamps, there was even a room where the floor design was tiles with swastikas on them. I think this was meant to display and represent the ways in which Nazism slowly overtook all aspects of life in Poland, in ways that sometimes may not have even been noticed. Continuing through to the end of the museum, I was struck by the final room which was small and all white with type script accounts of the occupation in varying languages. This room, to me, represented a very hopeful future where differences in background, race, and ethnicity could come together unified while also acting as a commemorative room of narratives from the groups of people terrorized in Poland by Nazi rule.

Our final day in Poland was spent at Auschwitz. Witnessing this site in person was a very humbling experience and it will be a place that I remember for a lifetime. To stand in a place where over a million victims of the Holocaust were murdered was overwhelming. We began our tour of the camp in Auschwitz I which functioned as the concentration camp. It had one gas chamber and crematorium which were destroyed as the allies got closer to the camp. It was rebuilt to replicate the gas chambers and crematoria in Auschwitz II- Birkenau which was the death camp. The gas chamber and ovens which were in the following room were surreal to see. In the moment that they are seen it becomes all too real the horrors that occurred to Jewish people and other outgroups in the Nazi territories. The area that made the deepest impression on me was the room with the shoes from prisoners. The gas chambers which were empty and, while still exuding a deep emotional toll, presented their use without any human element present. This missing human element was probably because previous information had been given about the human toll of the camp and the area was meant to connect that information with the most destructive part of the camp. The room with thousands of shoes left so great an impression on me because it quantified and to some extent, showed the lives of those killed in the camp. The style of shoe could be indicative of the class or gender, even age of a victim of this camp. In that moment it became clear that those were real people who had lives and jobs and people that they loved just like I do and that they were not just some people that I read about in a history textbook.

Walking into Auschwitz II-Birkenau, I was shocked by how expansive this camp was compared to Auschwitz I. After entering the gate and looking to the right, all that could be seen were barracks or remains of barracks. It is hard to imagine that there was a time when that whole camp was full and all 4 gas chambers and crematoria were functioning. After listening to the site reports given on the atrocities that occurred in Auschwitz and going through the camps, the question was posed to our class: How should the preservation of Auschwitz and our opportunity to see the camp first hand relate to the phrase “Never Again”? I do think that after experiencing the camp I have a greater sense of the individual human toll Nazi atrocities took on the European landscape. In a more preventative view, I see this site as a reminder of the dangers of dehumanization. The more that a group can be made into “other”, the more acceptable it becomes to push individuals and groups out of society. We all know that hatred and discrimination of groups of people did not end in 1945 with the holocaust and is still very present today. The memory of Auschwitz however, can remind global society that taking away the total rights of a group and causing further dehumanization can only lead to tragedy.


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