An incredibly stressful sprint to the airport took me from Brussels to Warsaw, where I stayed for the night before heading to my final major destination: Katowice!
I will admit to having lost my emotional composure multiple times between Brussels and Warsaw, and then again more intensely between Warsaw and Katowice – misinterpreting which airport I was to go to, trying to store large luggage overnight in different languages, avoiding having my phone casually stolen on the bus, and lacking decent sleep for weeks. It could have been a lot worse, but I was quite shaken by the time I arrived in Katowice. Thankfully, my cousin had given me directions to my first stop in the town: Veganka.
Full of traditional Polish food that has been veganized, a very kind employee translated every menu item for me and I found myself with a sour sausage soup and a vegan ice cream sandwich (VERY GOOD). My cousin met up with me, and we began a whirlwind tour of the area that would last for only a couple of days.
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)!
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.
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.
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.