Judaism is a major part of my life and identity. This is an identity that I wear on my sleeve, devoting much of my time to working with Jewish organizations. My faith is at the core of who I am, which is why, despite having studied the Holocaust extensively, visiting Poland was extremely difficult for me. In Poland, I visited Auschwitz concentration camp for the first time. This devastating experience left me with two large takeaways that kept running through my mind while in the death camp. First, unsurprisingly, I was struck with pain and disgust at the inhumanity that occurred in Auschwitz. No matter how much material one reads on the Holocaust, nothing comes close to conveying the true horrors of the Nazis like seeing this place in person. When studying how the Holocaust happened, we generally discuss it from a “meta-level,” examining the political and societal downfalls that led to the atrocity. However, while physically being at Auschwitz, I was struck with the personal nature of the Holocaust. People perpetrated these crimes directly. The Nazis working at Auschwitz made daily decisions to murder, torture and terrorize. I truly could not understand how human beings could treat other human beings in such a way. This inhumanity was the most disturbing feeling when seeing the camp and the one that was most impactful as well.
My identity has played a large role in my experience on the Ohio State WWII Study Tour. I am a proud American, and many of our sites have only made this grow due to our valiant effort in the war. Surprisingly, despite my disgust and sadness, I felt a similar feeling at Auschwitz as well because of my identity. I am a proud Jew. With my faith, I feel as if I stand alongside the millions of Jews who have been persecuted or killed due to their religion. And yet, there I stood at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a Jew in 2018. The last of those who perpetrated the crimes of the Holocaust are finally dying of old age taking their warped and hateful ideology with them. I am member of a vibrant Jewish community back in the States and that is something I will never let anyone take from me.
Traveling to Poland and Auschwitz was a deeply meaningful experience for me. As a Jew, I was deeply saddened and disturbed. As a Jew, I am determined than ever to preserve my faith as well as protect others in vulnerable communities across the globe.