Poland: Oświęcim & Auschwitz

It is Day 13 or so as I write this, which is wild to think about! I have trouble believing that I am nearly halfway through this program after so much anxiety going into it – because I have come to really appreciate my being here – but I am also acutely aware of how exhausting it has been to partake in the program. I cannot think of a time where I was this tired for this long. Days come and go where I am exhausted all day through lectures and walks and the like, but there has not been one day where, upon returning to my accommodation, I have not wanted to sleep immediately.

The constant intake of information – heavy, frustrating, inspiring, and complicated information – in addition to the frequently lengthy walks and long periods of sitting and taking notes is much more tiring than one might think. However, it wasn’t long before all of us in the program realized how much work it is.
“How is Poland? How is your trip? What do you think of the country?” These are difficult to answer right now. I can tell you factually what has been going on in the program, but processing my thoughts and emotions has been a delayed process due to how busy and tired I am (this is a shared sentiment among every student I’ve spoken to). The program is certainly a very unique and amazing opportunity, but I haven’t really had any “down time” to explore how I feel about it, nor to physically explore this part of the world outside of my program requirements so far.
I wrote the above reflections a little over one week ago, when we were spending the majority of our days in the former concentration camp complex and surrounding area. A few things have changed.

Due to photography and social media policies that I am waiting to clarify, I will not be sharing any photos from within the former camp grounds or museums at this time, but I will share some photos from other areas of the lovely little town of Oświęcim! Before that, though, I want to share a bit about our experience during this portion of the program.

It was exhausting.

The days were long and packed with lectures and seminars, and some days had upwards of 5 hours of walking to do tours of former Nazi-occupied spaces where hundreds of thousands of individuals perished. It was the latter, however, that I think truly made it exhausting – the emotional fatigue of this program is immense. There are no days off and this made it difficult to rejuvenate the body and spirits after long days. Two of my personal goals for this trip – among the more important ones that include being a proxy witness to the events of the Holocaust and engaging with psychology in a new way – were to take care of my body and to write e-mail updates to a few individuals every few days. Both of these proved much more challenging than I anticipated.

Exercise felt like a huge hassle at the end of an 8- or 10-hour day, and writing e-mails when I was also using my evening time to do readings and write assignments seemed like a low priority. I have managed to send one e-mail for my entire trip so far (three weeks) and have managed to squeeze in semi-regular workouts. Small wins.

Learning on the grounds where so many individuals suffered and lost their lives was a very special experience for me and the rest of us (I think it is safe to say). Each day we met in Block 12, a refurbished building that existed during the camp’s operation, and viewed exhibits and had lessons in numerous others that were more or less preserved in their original form. After 12 days it was sometimes lost on me that my go-to lecture room existed in one of these buildings, but I tried to remind myself upon entering the grounds each day that it is a privilege to safely learn here and be respectful of that for the sake of all of those who did not have any choice to be there.

I visited Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, and Auschwitz III-Monowitz among a few other sites, and in these spaces the impact of history is mostly (or very) apparent: Buildings still stand where individuals slept, bathed, and were starved in; a barbed wire fence still marks the borders of an inescapable network of barracks; a bomb shelter remains in a now-empty field. The town of Oświęcim is quaint and cobbled and full of greenery, but it too is full of small reminders of its past as an occupied town and I do not think it can escape that identity. Small and large memorials exist in many locations and while its residents and visitors mill about and live their lives, history makes itself known in pockets.

It is nice to take a moment to reflect on how unique it was for me to become familiar with a space that I have learned about theoretically from another continent, and I like to have moments of quiet to process that every so often.

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Despite the overall exhaustion caused by long days, assignments, and emotionally dark learning material, we were able to have some enjoyable times both in and outside of our places of residence! Halfway through our stay in the town we moved from across the street from Auschwitz I to a B&B 3km away, and despite the morning and afternoon walks being occasionally tiring and extremely hot, it was really fun to be closer to the actual town! Did you know that Poland loves, loves, loves its ice cream (lody)? It does.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t be afraid to reach out for a bit of support.
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