Two ISU students reflect on their experiences thus far at Auschwitz and other Nazi Camps
Senior elementary education majors Karen Wenning and Sarah Illingworth share with us their trip
Published: Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 23:01
Editor's note: Karen and Sarah on a trip with Terre Haute Native and Holocaust survivor Eva Kor to Poland.
Today we visited Schindler's factory, but it is being made into a new museum. Therefore, we couldn't go in. We got to stand outside and take pictures of the plaque though, so at least we have that memory.
After visiting the Schindler factory, we went to the memorial for the former concentration camp "Plaszow." The people working at Schindler's factory came from this concentration camp. The camp was no longer there, but there was a large stone memorial of people with downturned faces. It was freezing outside! (Average temperature today was about 10 degrees fahrenheit.) It made us realize how the people in the concentration camps would have suffered through the harsh Polish winter. It is amazing how they survived.We are going to Auschwitz tomorrow, so we will have more to post then.
Today we toured Birkenau (Auschwitz 2). We retraced Eva's arrival at the camp which was amazing. We saw the train tracks that led into the camp and there was even a real cattle car that was used! As you can see it was not very big. 90-100 people were crammed into these for days at a time-sometimes a week or more (without the necessities).
The camp is huge! Some buildings are no longer standing, but all of the chimneys and foundations are still there. Some of the barracks were wooden, and the wooden structures either deteriorated or were scavenged for fire wood after the war. I did not realize that the structures were built by the prisoners. The bricks were reused from the houses torn down for the building of the camp. The barracks were so small, cold, and bare. The "beds" were stacked three high. They were simply wooden shelves for the prisoners to sleep on.
During our tour we ran into a reporter from CBS News. He was there to do a story on the 65th Anniversary of the Liberation. Eva spoke with him about her experiences there, and about her message of forgiveness and the vitality of the human spirit. "Forgiveness is a seed for peace," She said. She was liberated on January 27, 1945. We look forward to hearing more about her story and seeing Auschwitz 1 tomorrow.
We went to Auschwitz 1 today. When we arrived, the tour guides helped get us all set up with headphones and a sound system that we all wore around our necks. Eva and our tour guide each had a microphone, so whenever they talked, we could all hear them loud and clear. It was so nice! We watched a video of the liberation, and we went out to see the actual buildings.
The first things that we noticed were the two rows of barbed wire and the historic sign above the gate that reads "Arbeit Macht Frei" which translates into "Work Sets You Free." Auschwitz 1 was originally a Polish Army base. That is why the Nazis chose it as their camp site, and it is also why the buildings are all well built of brick and three stories tall. It was eerie going into the camp, because it looked almost peaceful. The streets were snowy, and the bitter cold seemed to silence the place. The intersection on the street where we gathered around our tour guide was the same place that the prisioners used to have roll call. They also had punishment roll calls at that same place. Some prisioners had to stand for 19 hours without moving.
Next, we went to the gas chamber and crematorium. This has been the most touching part of our journey so far. We stood in an actual gas chamber and went through the door into the crematorium to see the actual ovens where they burned the bodies. The walls and ceiling were still black with the ashes of the poor souls that perished there. We lit candles in memory and honor of those who suffered because of hate and prejudice. Our candles also symbolized hope for a more peaceful future. When all of our candles were lit, we said Kaddish (a Jewish prayer often said as part of mourning rituals). It was very touching to see all of our group, from all different backgrounds, uniting for the same cause.
Lastly, we walked between the two rows of barbed wire just like Eva and the other prisioners did upon liberation. We marched hand-in-hand with Eva leading the group. When we reached the exit from between the fences, she lightheartedly said, "You're all free now." What an overwhelming experience to walk the same path that the survivors walked.