Today, we went to Majdanek. I found it much more understated, stark, and harder to notice things, but more impactful when you did. I felt like every step I took might be on top of human remains, and like every step was something I had to make up for. I'm not sure how exactly I expect myself to make up for those. I found it hard to visualize how many people died there.
I appreciated the reading of the poems and the mourner’s Kaddish. I remembered reading Elie Wiesel’s Night several years ago, and being horrified by the same passage Sam C. read today. But hearing it today in such a on-the-nose setting was extremely poignant, and I felt just as impacted, or more, by Wiesel’s lamentation that the deaths of small children and the smoke from the crematoriums had destroyed his faith and murdered his god.
Later in the day, our other activities were lunch and dinner, which was kind of my thing. We also watched The Pianist on the bus. Midway through the movie, I fell asleep for a few minutes, and realized that when I started dreaming I couldn't distinguish the content of the movie from parts that were just things I had seen earlier that day or the day before. I thought that was pretty disturbing.
Especially after being saturated in visiting these camps, it was hard for me to simultaneously appreciate the individuality of the victims and the sheer numbers of those murdered. While we walked around the barracks, I almost felt like I had lost the ability to form complex thoughts or new ideas about the experience.
(Note from writing this a couple of days later: I think I've realized that you can't predict what will impact you the most, and that different things you see or read will convey the meaning of the history more than others. I don't think I can/should choose what I get the most emotional about; rather, I'll going to try to experience each individual thing as its own opportunity to learn a little more.)
See you soon!
The first feeling I felt at Majdanek was guilt. As we stood atop the hill on which the monument rested, I felt guilty thinking about how beautiful the landscape looked. I thought about the horrifying things that took place there, and I felt guilty being surrounded by beauty. Maybe the view was just as nice in the 1940s, but I felt guilty knowing I could enjoy it, and the prisoners of the concentration camp most definitely could not. I wanted the entire area to look like death and destruction like I had imagined in my head, but that was not the case. I felt guilty and saddened that the ugliness that took place in Majdanek was surrounded by such beauty.
Majdanek is also surrounded by a residential area. There is also a Catholic cemetery practically sitting in the camp. This was also the case during the 1940s. My guilt is nothing compared to those living in the houses surrounding Majdanek. Those visiting their loved ones’ graves. How could those living nearby not see the constant smoke from the crematorium? Not smell the scent of burning flesh? How could someone visiting the cemetery not catch a glimpse of Sondercomandos carting countless bodies? In my opinion, it is next to impossible that no one saw anything. Absolutely impossible. Those living in the area who knew the crimes against Humanity that were being committed in Majdanek, or were even suspicious of them, they are guilty as well. Perpetrators are not able to succeed without bystanders. Not in Majdanek, not in the Warsaw ghetto, not anywhere.
The beginning of ending injustice is standing up against it. While the Polish citizens near Majdanek may not have been able to physically fight the Nazis, not acting is allowing the crime to continue. Helping prisoners escape, sending food, or even more passive actions, such as documenting what they saw and getting the information to the allies, anything would’ve been better than sitting by and watching countless people die.
Something else I felt at Majdanek is my want to disbelieve that people are capable of crimes like the Holocaust. When we climbed the hill to the top of the monument, and I saw the enormous pile of ash, my first thought was “Please be the shoes” (Ms. Freeman had explained that many of the shoes that the Nazis had stolen from the prisoners were lost in a fire). And while Ms. Freeman began to explain the monument and what it represented all I could think was “Please be the shoes.” It was not the shoes. The enormous pile of ash sitting on a hill in Majdanek are human ashes. Part of me knew that from the moment I saw it, but I didn’t want to believe. Seeing the odd shape of a mass grave is one thing, those bodies are out of sight. More distant. That pile of human ashes had death aggressively written all over it. And the dozens of crows flying overhead knew.
Today we woke up in Lublin! In the morning after breakfast we visited the synagogue that was in the upper level of our hotel. It was simple yet elegant and it was very interesting to hear how the hotel used to be a rabbi school. After we drove to Majdanek and pulling up to the parking lot was a different experience than arriving at Auschwitz. Majdanek is a huge field basically at a slight incline that is visible to all the residential housing around it, like it was during the war. Here’s a picture from the top of the camp under a memorial, for some context.
I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures at camps because it just feels a little odd to me, I can’t totally explain it. Anyway, if you can zoom in on the barracks you can see the dark brown almost black color. With the cloudy and windy day, not a lot of other visitors, many crows cawing, and dogs barking in the distance, the vibe of Majdanek was very very eerie. In comparison with Auschwitz, there was much more personal space here to reflect on what has happened in the past and I found that to be an awful sense of peacefulness, if that makes any sense. We visited different memorials and barracks on the site. First we went into the crematorium. At Auschwitz I chose not to go into the crematorium, yet here I did. It was just so cold and confined, because it was a very small space, a place where literally thousands were burned. Different barracks had exhibits like thousands of pairs of shoes or bunk beds. A small museum helped us walk through the history with artifacts, testimonies and videos. I really appreciated the short written stories of individuals because they were supplemented with things these people had said, so we got a first person account of specific times like roll call or transit.
Lastly we peered into the gas chamber because they were being renovated so we couldn’t go inside. Past EE travelers have told me that going inside this particular gas chamber was the most profound part of all the concentration camp tours so it’s a little disappointing we couldn’t go inside, even though I most likely would have chose not to enter the chamber. Right before we left we circled up as our group and read some Holocaust poems. It was a profound moment for me and I really appreciated that we were able to do that. We got back onto our bus and got lunch in the old restored part of Lublin.
It reminded me of Italy and my food was great! Next was a 3 hour bus ride that I knocked through to Warsaw. We dropped our things in our cool hotel and then I got dinner and dessert in the old town part of Warsaw, which is a fake old town that got restored after it was destroyed. I had good pizza for dinner and chocolate ice cream for dessert!
Overall a very intense yet slow day which was a different vibe from some of the other days. Thanks for reading and have a good break everyone!
I’m really not sure what to write. I don’t even know what purpose blogs are supposed to fill, but I guess I’ll write this like I would the journal entries I haven’t been writing (I prefer poems). For me Day 7 began when we arrived at Hotel Ilan at the lovely hour of 1am. I was completely out of it since I had just woken up to the occupants of the bus slowly filtering out through the doors of our bus, not having a clue as to where we were. However I soon got the memo that we had reached the hotel and tried my best to get going. When my roommate and I were finally able to get someone to open our, seemingly impossible to open door, I was pleasantly surprised by the size of our room. It was huge compared to the other rooms I’d stayed in so far, but I really didn’t have time to dwell on this since the bed on the right was calling to me.
For the first time on this trip I woke up feeling refreshed instead of exhausted, I actually wanted to get showered and start the day instead of throwing myself back beneath the covers. It definitely had something to do with the room, the sun was out so I was able to see that the Hotel was located pretty much smack in the middle of the already buzzing city. I wasn’t in a rush to get to breakfast because I simply didn’t want to leave my room, so I took my time and got to eat for like 2 minutes, nevertheless the food that was served was by far the best breakfast we’ve had so far. Our group met up at the synagogue located in the hotel where we got to learn some more about the Jewish history in the town and specifically in the hotel. That was over quickly though, and soon we were back on the bus and off to the death camp Majdanek.
Immediately Majdanek struck me as different from Auschwitz. We were driving up and it was completely deserted, in contrast to Auschwitz which had tourists taking pictures of themselves at the gate and hanging around laughing as if it was a park. But at this place none of that seemed even remotely appropriate, and it was most definitely not appealing. The whole group walked up to what resembles a monument. Said monument was basically a stone pit with a semicircle as a cover, housing was appeared to be a huge pile of dirt. That was a terrible description so reference the pictures below.
I had a suspicion that this “pile of dirt” was actually mounds of ashes, this was quickly confirmed by Ms. Freeman. Honestly knowing that you’re looking at the only thing that remains of the bodies of thousands is quite horrifying. But in the moment there’s literally nothing you can do about what’s in front of you, so you’ve just gotta do your best to conceptualize it. The rest of the camp was set up sort of in a display like fashion, however nowhere near as museum like as Auschwitz. Walking between the barracks where prisoners were held gives off the impression that this camp is nothing, it’s empty and it never harbored life, ever. But we know that there were once people living here, nevertheless this camp never supported life. The bunks where people were crammed into to “rest” are proof of this, as are the gas chambers and crematoriums, and the ditches dug by prisoners to house the bodies of prisoners yet to be murdered.
Outside there were a ton of crows. Some were perched upon the barbed wire fences and others on the wooden barracks composed of dark rotting wood. They clearly made the place more eerie, however I do have respect for these strange birds. They are constantly unbothered by everything around them, yet they’re not as ridiculously stupid and annoying as pigeons. A barrack I remember vividly is one that was filled with shoes. The shoes were packed incredibly tightly into cages that lined the walls. The day before in Auschwitz there were many, many more shoes on display, but those were behind a glass wall. These were being blocked by a small fence, their dusty color perfectly visible to all onlookers. When walking from one area to the next I saw a plastic bag a bit off of the dirt path, but not so far off to be out of the way and it’s bright colors made it clearly visible. There were many people in front of me who did not pick up, so when I passed the item of garbage I had an overwhelming urge to pick it up, yet there was too many reasons as to why picking it up could have more cons than pros, so I did what everyone ahead of me did, and left the plastic bag to pollute the camp. The people behind me did the same thing. I realized as I kept walking that I could have picked it up, it didn’t matter if nobody else did. I could have done something, and I should have. I expect that while the concentration camps were in use by the Nazis many people walked by them and did nothing. They knew no good thing could come from such a place, yet they did nothing, and many others did nothing as well, simple because they were following the example of others. I really hope that at some point someone picked up the plastic bag, i don’t doubt that someone did, because it’s always important to remember that there are always people out there that do stand up and take proper action, because even though many turned a blind eye to the atrocities of the Nazi regime, there were a few that did the right thing. At one point during our walk through Majdanek it began to rain. Well rain might not be the best word for it. It was was more like light sprinkling. Oddly enough love the rain, so I’d been waiting this whole trip for at least a little bit of drizzle. But as the rain began to fall I remembered the mud, and how much worse it would have made the living conditions at the camp, and suddenly the rain seemed like an intrusion. To me Majdanek was by far the coldest, windiest place we had visited thus far and the rain only added to the overwhelming feeling of abandonment that the camp radiated.
Seeing the faces of actual people who lived and died in Majdanek was one of the most startling things this camp has to offer. When you the face of another human being, truths begin to sink in and you see more than what you thought was there before. At the end of our visit to Majdanek our whole group formed a circle, and many of us were given poems to read out loud. I was given a poem, and at first I was incredibly nervous. I was visibly shaking and I can say that it was from the cold but I’m not so sure that would be the truth. As Ms. Freeman got closer to me with her mic I began to loosen up and by the time it was my turn I couldn’t care less if I had to read in front of 50 of my classmates. Poems are my favorite forms of literature, because they say much more than an essay or novel could in such a small space. Therefor reading the poems was a fulfilling way to leave the camp, and I’m very thankful for that opportunity.
When we had left the camp we had lunch and that was nice, I ordered a meal that quite frankly I hated since sweet potato is the worst thing to ever leave the earth. Nevertheless the area where are restaurant was located was beautiful and everyone else’s food looked amazing, I just somehow made a terrible dining decision a few weeks ago and payed the price. After lunch we got on the bus to our next hotel, in Warsaw. The Pianist was playing and I’m sure it’s an amazing movie, however I’m strongly opposed to anything that comes from a pedophile, so I’m sure I can find a similar movie made by a better person and watch that. So instead of watching the movie I wrote the first half of this blog. Dinner was quite the adventure, we got lost and were terrified of being late to check in at the hotel, however it all worked out and now I’m exhausted and finishing this up, praying nobody reads this. This is hopefully way too long and probably too unbearable for anyone to get through, but if you did congrats. Europe so far has been filled with experiences I never thought I’d have, and experiences I will never forget, all in all this trip is incredibly important and I’m very thankful that I’m here.
2/21/2019 05:03:08 am
Sabrina, I love how you begin by saying you don’t know what to write, and end up making something lovely from some horrible things. You are poetic in your prose. And Willa, an “awful sense of peacefulness” – you have made it make sense, all of you bloggers have. Thank you.
2/21/2019 02:45:16 pm
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts and having the opportunity to reflect on what humanity has to offer. Thank you so much for sharing your honesty and your keen perception of our history. I have no doubt that your class will make a difference in our future. Take care
Andy L-G (Gavi’s Mom)
2/22/2019 05:07:24 am
I also love the blogs and really appreciate the sense of gravity you all so well convey in your writings. Samantha, your comment on bystanders made me believe that you are and will be an amazing social justice activist All of you will make the world a better place for having had this experience.
2/24/2019 10:31:07 am
Samantha, how did I miss your post until now? Thank God for lunch and dinner – your kind of thing. And breakfast. And snacks. And sleep; which is also one of my things.
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