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.

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Warsaw 1: 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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On our way!

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Warsaw looks older than it is due to the efforts undertaken to rebuild it to its (mostly) former self prior to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where the city was mostly leveled to rubble. The architecture is beautiful and while deeply connected to its past, does not exclaim that it is built on an incredibly tragic history.

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I have not been to a medieval-era part of the world before! It was exciting to see evidence of an era that did not exist for my own homeland.

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A “waiting room” inside the Gestapo interrogation and torture “prison.”
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Self-explanatory.
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A room that would often be crowded with up to 20 individuals, despite its construction being intended for 2 -3 individuals.

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I found a vegan Polish bistro where I was able to try some of the greatest vegan pirogies I could ever imagine tasting! I didn’t know that dessert pirogies existed!

I think that visiting the Gestapo “prison” and the Pawiak Prison had the most impact on me while in Warsaw. I saw and walked through spaces where hundreds and thousands of individuals perished for no justifiable reason. I read postcards written in the last moments of one’s life and heard translated readings of illicit letters that were recovered, intended for loved ones. What was very striking oftentimes were the items created within the prisons by prisoners – chess sets made out of hygiene products and writing material, which were certainly illegal but gave a sense of normalcy and direction in chaotic and unpredictable circumstances.

Learning about Yiddish literature and culture was also fascinating – our lecturer was amazing and really conveyed a lot of passion for her area of expertise! It was very sad to learn about how much Yiddish the world lost through World War II, but I feel lucky to have learned about it from someone who cares deeply for it.

It is remarkable the work that has been done by scholars and other professionals to delve into specific facets of World War II and the Holocaust, as well as by others who have studied Poland’s history, and the effective ways that they share their knowledge with all of us Canadian students. It is a true privilege to be learning in the physical spaces in which the content of our studies transpired.