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.
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.