A group of 15 tenth grade AIS students toured the sights of Birkenau and Auschwitz in Krakow last weekend. They were embarking on an emotional and unforgettable journey.
After an eight hour night train ride through Hungary, the group arrived in Krakow at 6:00 on Saturday morning. We immediately set out for Birkenau with the bus after a quick stop at our hotel. The vibe was somber throughout the bus ride as we watched a graphic movie about the life in Auschwitz.
Emotions ran high as we approached the main gate of Birkenau, seeing the old train tracks leading through it. After meeting our tour guide at the gates, our first tour was to the top of the guard house, located directly above the main gates.
“I couldn’t control my emotions”, Naomi said. “The wooden barracks stretched as far as the eye could see”. The morning dew had cast a layer of fog over the entire camp. A chill ran down our spines as we started learning about the events that had caused over 6 million deaths at that location.
Our morning consisted of a tour throughout the camp of Birkenau. We were informed on the suffering of the prisoners, and experienced the conditions that they lived in. The experienced was enhanced by personal stories and pictures that hung inside a few of the barracks, taken by the Russians soon after they had invaded the camp.
We moved on to the working camp of Auschwitz after lunch. “I didn’t think it could get any worse”, Obbe stated shortly after entering the camp. We were led through the buildings where prisoners had been forced to make war materials. It was chilling to walk calmly through a building where millions had suffered.
The belongings of people were on display everywhere. Shoes, clothes, jewelry, and even the hair of thousands of people were on display. The casual display of the items that had once belonged to human beings, even children, thrust into the monstrosity of the Holocaust, was chilling.
Our final sight at Auschwitz was the extermination house, where the Nazis built ovens to burn concentration camp prisoners, some while they were still alive. The room still held the ovens and body carriages that had turned millions to ash. It was an indescribable feeling as we walked by the ovens; it is both difficult and painful to describe with words the horrors that people went though at Auschwitz.
We finished off the first day with a walk through the old town of Krakow, but for many, it was impossible to get out of our minds the horrors we had seen that day.
Sunday morning we set out on another tour through the ghettos where the Jews had been forced to live. They were small, cramped, and dirty, with conditions aggravated by the fact that they were often forced to house up to 20 people in one room. We were told how the Jews were systematically and carefully separated from Krakow, eventually leading up to a point where they were no longer allowed in the city.
Next, we visited the Schindler’s museum, where we were informed about Oscar Schindler’s heroic actions that he took to free thousands of Jews. Schindler’s bravery and heroism are proof that even in the darkest times, good people will always find ways to combat evil.
The highlight of the day was a talk with a survivor from the Holocaust. She told us about how she managed to escape the Holocaust as a young girl, due to the secret protection of Jews by a church in Krakow. She was eventually adopted by a Polish family, and managed to see the fall of the Nazi regime.
The trip had a deep emotional impact for all involved. While we were enlightened on what happened in the death camps, some us felt confused and stunned as to how humans were able to treat each other in such inhumane ways. One thing is for sure, it is a trip we will never forget.