Friday, May 20, 2016

A Day of Two Extremes

by: Macey Gerster

Today was a day of two extremes. Our group began this cold and rainy day in Poland by going to Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration and death camps. One of the reasons that I chose to go on this trip was because I wanted to have the opportunity to fully understand the realities and atrocities of the Holocaust. I thought that by going to these camps, it would help me to better understand what these innocent people went through and how it could have happened. However, after taking my first steps into Auschwitz, I found the opposite to be true. While I had anticipated to gain a better vision in my head regarding what these people went through, it became harder and harder to imagine that such terrible acts of violence could have taken place. Normally I wear my emotions on my sleeve, but today was one of the very few times in my life that I went into shock and could not understand my own feelings. Now hours after having left the camps, I am even more stunned and angered about how a mass killing of this size could have happened and why no one was able to put a stop to it. 

We saw many things that showed the magnitudes of the killings. These exhibits where what helped me understand the fact that these victims were not just numbers, but were human beings that were all beautiful and unique. One room was filled with piles and piles of shoes. Seeing these shoes helped to see a glimpse into the individual lives of individual victims. When I go to buy a pair of shoes, I take time to look at the different colors and styles and then try on several pairs in order to determine if they feel and look right on my feet. This act of picking out ones favorite pair of shoes is universal. Therefore, each one of these shoes that now lie in a pile on display once had an owner who picked them to walk towards the brutal and inhuman death they would face. Each shoe represented an individual and his or her story that would never be told to the fullest or completely understood.

This day has been extremely hard for me as well as the rest of the group. Though eventually I will be able to write pages more about my feelings and experience in Auschwitz and Birkenau, I do not think that I have had enough time to process what I have seen today to the best of my ability. I hope to site down at one point during this week and continue to write more about what came to my mind during this part of our journey before the memories become dim. However, I want to take a couple more days to understand some of my deeper thoughts before I try to write them down for others to read.

Though the majority of the day was extremely difficult as we saw with our eyes the realities of the Holocaust, we ended our day by going to the birthplace of Saint Pope John Paul II. This particular part of the trip was one that I was extremely excited for when I had discovered that it was a part of our itinerary. As a devout Catholic who has spent a good amount of time learning about JP2 and his teachings, especially his works on Theology of the Body, I have looked to JP2’s teachings for several years in order to better understand myself and to help guide in regards to discovering my vocation. Going into the small city of Wadowice felt sacred to me. The memory of a Saint that had been alive just 16 years ago filled the city. Going into the cathedral named the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, where JP2 had received the sacraments of baptism, communion, conformation, and reconciliation in his youth was very moving. In the few minutes that we had inside the church, I took a moment to offer my own personal intentions to the saint.

After going to the church we went to the museum that honored JP2’a life and achievements. The exhibit helped me understand how human JP2 was. Though I have spent a great amount of time looking at his theological works, I have not spent a great amount of time thinking about who JP2 was as an individual. After going to this exhibit I decided that if JP2 and I had been the same age at the same time, we would have been great friends. He was a man who powered his life with the spirit of God while at the same time knew the importance of living in the world and learning from the individuals that surrounded him. My respect continues to grow for this great saint and this trip to Wadowice has helped fuel the fire of my growing passion to immerse myself in my faith.

Today was a day of two extremes. I was able to see where one of my heroes was born and where he became the person that he would be remembered as, and I saw the place where millions of innocent people where marched to their deaths. It is hard to understand each of these events when looking at them back to back in such a way, but I am glad that I have been blessed with both of these experiences and I look forward to continuing to process what each of these journeys mean to me personally.

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Your group definitely experienced both the good and bad of humanity today. Thank you for posting photos. I'm saving them to my desktop in hopes they will print nicely. It would be good if someone compiled the best photos on a CD after your trip. I know the parents would love it.