Poland: Warsaw III (Final Days)

As we return to Warsaw for the last leg of our program, we all feel the weight of the last handful of weeks as well as the reality of our time as Psychology of Genocide students coming to an end.

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Poland: Białystok

We began our journey to Białystok by taking time to tour the Museum of Struggle and Martyrdom in Treblinka on the grounds of the former extermination camp. The grounds show little sign of the former camp, but the space is wide open and cleared of trees (except for those which surround the area, illustrating how it would have been concealed during its operation). However, there are stones and slabs of concrete everywhere with the names of villages and towns and countries from where individuals were taken to be transported to their death. It was an emotional experience to walk through the space that carries so much weight but now looks so empty.

After some time for reflection, we boarded the bus once more and, before reaching Białystok, we visited the small town of Tykocin and saw its synagogue and museum and then had dinner. We reached Białystok shortly thereafter and were delighted to discover our accommodations as well as the beautiful surrounding town and market square, where we topped up our bellies with some lody (ice cream)!

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Poland: Kraków

It was a bit of a surprise to us all when we realized we were a bit sad to be leaving Oświęcim – it had been a long 12 days. However, after we had received a very heartfelt farewell from our hosts and individual certificates of completion noting 80 hours of education on site, I felt like I had done something really unique and special and that an incredibly precious opportunity had just come and gone. I believe I will continue to reflect on and appreciate this for a long, long while.

In the meantime, our next stop: Kraków!

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Poland: Warsaw I (Reflections and Photos)

Warsaw was a long time ago relative to the length of the program and how long we have stayed at our next stop. Due to the demands of the program and the levels of exhaustion that accompany them, my communication in all forms has been broken and very tiring.

With that in mind, I’ve included some photos of our short stay in Warsaw with a few thoughts about the experience so far that came up during our time in the old, demolished, and rebuilt city.

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Poland: Warsaw I

It’s been three days of content for the course and as I write this we are preparing for a travel day that will be wrapped up with a seminar in Auschwitz, our next destination and residence for 12 days.

The city of Warsaw is beautiful, and it is difficult to comprehend how much of it has been destroyed and rebuilt when you look at the style of the buildings and the composition of the streets and towns. Some of them look very classic while others are more modern. We started our learning in Warsaw inside the Jewish Historical Institute, which is one of the only buildings that in part survived the Warsaw Uprising destruction. Burned portions of the floor in the entrance hall remain visible and a part of what the institute stands for.

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Poland: Before (Good-byes and Panic)

Allegedly I am going to Europe tomorrow.

In the autumn, on a bit of a whim, I applied to a unique opportunity to study the Holocaust through a psychological lens. The application was free to submit and required some commitment to fill out but not so much that I felt obligated to go if given the opportunity. As a risk-averse individual with no noteworthy travel experience or history studies under my belt, I became a little more nervous when offered an interview for the course. I learned how intensive and challenging it might be, but also many inspiring aspects of it that would ensure it was a memorable and worthwhile experience. However, as a graduated student outside of the program’s scope by a year I was not certain I would receive an offer. After a great delay, I was told I would have to submit an appeal; I submitted the appeal and waited a bit longer.

Then the offer came.

I will not lie to you, reader friend, I cried. Not from joy, but from the sudden onset of fear that resulted from my general anxiety around decision-making and the weight that seemed to come with this particular decision. Days passed, but within hours of the allotted time to do so, I submitted my acceptance documents and pushed the reality of travelling to Poland to study a topic I knew little about from my mind.

In the last month and a half, wrap-up for my work and the dispersal of beloved colleagues commenced. I had by now been able to ask questions about the course and had physical evidence of the fact that I was going (currency, a bus ticket, and a gift for experts abroad); however, the distractions that come with saying good-bye and packing up one’s apartment allowed me to deny reality for just a bit longer.

Cue: Monday morning. It’s go time.

Goal: Move out by Saturday evening whilst managing to gain closure with team.

Tasks: Pack up entire apartment; mentally prepare for flying to Poland on Sundayfeel satisfied with time spent with colleague friends.

Accomplishments: Packing up entire apartment; moving out by Saturday afternoon.

Still to do: Feel satisfied with time spent with colleague friends; feel mentally prepared for flying to Poland.

I anticipate the next series of posts will be a flurry of reflections that I haven’t processed from the past year as well as personal observations and teachings as I move through the journey of this course. Thank-you to anyone who has been a part of me getting to this very scary but (so I’ve been told) also very exciting place. Some of you pushed me to the end of the application and some of you will help me to the airport. More of you will certainly help carry me through the next several weeks.

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