Europe Day 6
November 23, 2016 - Today, we woke up bright and early at 6:30 and began our day with the delicious hotel breakfast once again. We had potatoes, yogurt, white sausage, red sausage, and many other kinds of appetizing sausages. Some girls made yummy cappuccinos, but Jing was having a hard time. He was upset that he could not solely get a shot of expresso... and we all know what a lack of coffee does to Jing. Finishing our breakfast, we loaded the bus at 7 for Auschwitz. The ride was about an hour and a half where most girls slept or viewed the beautiful countryside of Poland. We arrived at the camp at 9, which was to our surprise surrounded by urban housing and businesses. Our guide for the trip, Sarah, allowed us to divide into groups and venture through the work camp. Luckily for us, arrows guided our way when we did not have a tour guide to take us through Auschwitz. Each original barrack was dedicated to a certain aspect of the camp in museum form with pictures, displays, and artifacts from that time. A few examples of the topics are: the Polish underground military, prisoners' life, camp sanitation, prisoners' belongings, execution, and disposal. With the descriptions given at each barrack, we were all able to be touched by the devastating experience the prisoners of war and Jews went through. Libby and I were especially touched whenever we would see real pictures taken during the camp of workers, especially children. We were equally saddened by the sight of the infamous "death wall," where workers were often shot in multitudes, with no chance left of surviving. The crematorium was incredibly shocking to see as our tour of Auschwitz came to an end. The crematorium was in tact just as it had been, with the furnaces that had burned millions of bodies. One of the most moving artifacts we saw displayed was a guest book with the names of Polish people who attended the camp. We were shocked to see the names "Bochniski" and "Doering" who were most likely ancestors of our own Libby Bochniak and Katie Doering. Another item that deeply hurt us was seeing the mass of women's hair that was so brutally collected by the Nazis at the camp, and the worst thing was that it was only a portion because most of the hair was used to make textiles.
After being educated at Auschwitz, we traveled just down the road to Birkenau, which was actually the most brutal of the two and the official death camp of Hitler's Nazi Party. Out of the 11 million killed by the Nazis, 6 million were killed there. As we walked through the infamous railroad tracks, we couldn't even estimate how big the camp was as it appeared at every view that the barracks, crematoriums, and gas chambers kept multiplying. Once again we split into groups to walk through the camp, silenced by the scene. Near the German-destroyed gas chambers and crematoriums (bombed to hide the Nazi's war crimes) was a pond that held the ashes of all the workers who had been burned at the camp, with a memorial stone declaring "To the memory of the men, women, and children who fell victim to the Nazi genocide. Here lies their ashes. May their souls Rest In Peace." As our group ended our tour at Birkenau, we were able to walk inside a barrack that had been used. The information boards told us that the barracks had been made originally as a stable to hold 52 horses, which was already a squeeze, but instead the Nazis crammed 400 people inside of them... imagine sleeping with 6 other people on a twin bed in this awful setting. Birkenau differed from Auschwitz as it was not as museum-like, which made it more real for a lot of us. The setting was almost too much to bear as we were shocked, disgusted, and in disbelief of the evil that had gone on. As Barbara pointed out, we somewhat understood how one man could go insane, but could not wrap our heads around the fact that he was able to influence and brainwash millions to create such a big destruction in history. Bob inspired us that it was our duty to ensure that nothing like this would ever happen again. He encouraged us to "make a positive difference" and "never forget" the atrocities.
Lightening the mood, we went to a nearby mall to grab lunch. Some girls tried cultural Polish food, while some went straight for the Mickey-D's. We all were embracing the culture of Europe, but desperately craved a good ol' American Dasani water. We rushed to the gym to play another match against a Polish team, this time a group of girls closer to our age. The team played well together, coming out victorious at 4-0, faster than Sarah expected so we were rewarded with a trip back to the mall for shopping! Several girls made purchases in lieu of the great deals and having to spend the last of their Zolty- the currency in Poland. We rode a short distance to a fancy hotel to have dinner made just for us. We ate in a conference room at a long table, resembling a Thanksgiving feast, besides the fact that we had salmon, tomato soup, pasta, and rice rather than turkey and dressing. Due to Libby's birthday today, Sarah surprised her with a slice of yummy chocolate cake. Making do with what we had, Libby blew out the candles that had been placed on the table, making her birthday wishes. The cake was delicious, and some of it may or may not have been smeared on her face by some wonderful teammates of hers, a reoccurring tradition that started on last year's Brazil trip :).
After dinner we rode back to the hotel to finally shower and pack for the trip to Prague. We are thrilled to move on to our next location of this great experience. All in all, today was a life-changing, once-in-a-lifetime experience that will never be forgotten, but forever learned from.
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