Our day began early. Quite early to be extact. 3:20 A.M. to be percise. The mourning featured a flight to Warsaw at 5:45AM and a flight to Vilinus at 7:15AM. The air peursure was a little bit pressing on some of our ears. We then arrived in Vilinus, the captial of Lithuninia. Now irregradless of the work I had done in reading about half of a Ebook on the history of Lithuninia, like most Americans I was quite ignorant about every aspect of the country. However a day of wandering the country made be realize that in every way this is a quite intersting and important place. Once upon a time Lithunina was actually an empire, spanning from what is today Lithunina and most of what is today Belarus and Poland. However our first stop focused on Lithunina's role in post cold war world. We had a meeting with Lithunina's Ambassdor for Jewish affairs and learned about the vital role that Lithunina plays in perserving the memory of Jewish life in Europe. The ambassdor passed us a detailed map that documented the demograhpics of Lithuninia in the late 19th century. The Lithunian government is active in promoting this knowledge both within and beyond the country. I was amazed to see how diverse the country was with its large Jewish populations in almost every villiage and city. The recent history of the country has seen genocide by the NAZIS and then over four decedes of forced forgetfullness by the Soveits. Yet the Lithunian people have risen up beyond dark history forced upon by outsiders and has taken its past, persent and future into its own hands. Today Lithuninia plays a large in organizations like the European Union helping build a more united world. By his sharing about the countries Jewish heritiage, the Ambassdor showed us that the Lithuniain exsperence can be valuble for any people seeking healing and learning after terrible events. Most Americans either do not know that thier is a country named Lithuninia. Most who do know write it off as a small country, indeed with a population of around 2.8 million, it is smaller than many US states. Until today I was one of these people. Yet small does not mean unimportant. As our world grows more diverse and we seek ways to move to tolerance (and then hopefully to celebration) Lithuninia can prove quite instructive.
Friday, May 18, 2018
Today we went to Auschwitz. It started as we walked through the gates. Over the gate, it read Arbeit Macht Frei which means work will make you free. We learned so much there; it was really eye opening. In all the history textbooks and classes I have ever taken, Auschwitz was a place where the Jews were murdered. The concentration camp actually began in April of 1914 as a concentration camp for Polish prisoners. The original camp only had a few thousand Polish prisoners. When the Nazis took over, the Jews would have to buy tickets to get on the train to Auschwitz.
Walking through the camp really helped me to learn what life was like there; however, I will never understand it because I did not live it. Auschwitz was the only concentration camp where prisoners got their numbers tattooed on their forearm. Some Jews sent their children to Germany to work for their military just so they would survive. Another way some survived was if they played in the orchestra, because the music helped to keep the camp calm. This really touched me because I played the violin for over 10 years. That could have saved my life had I been there.
As we continued through the different barracks, Rabbi Abie pointed that his family had been Jews from the Zamość region. Rabbi has become so much more than just another professor, so it hurts me that he does not have all the answers that he wants. Throughout the next rooms I was speechless. We walked through and there were piles of the victim’s hair, suitcases, dishes, clothing, and shoes. Seeing the children’s clothing and shoes made my heart stop. I could not imagine losing my children, my brother, my parents, or anyone else in my family, but that was the reality the Jews faced. From the middle of May to the beginning of July in 1944, over 400,000 Hungarian Jews were taken to Auschwitz and all they could take was a 25 kg suitcase, which was later taken from them. The SS could kill 1000-1500 people in 15-20 minutes with Zyklon B.
As a future nurse, the tour guide talked about the women having to have OB appointments and examinations. If it was a normal exam, they were then injected with things that created her
Fallopian tubes to swell so the Jewish women became infertile. This is horrific. Someday I hope to have kids of my own and that option taken away from me would be devastating, especially if it was not my choice.
We then went to Birkenau. Seeing these horrific living conditions and the gas chambers shook me. There were roses left by visitors in the bunks of the beds. I thought that was a beautiful. As a group, Rabbi Abie led us in a reflection/memorial service at the stairs of the gas chamber. The ceremony was very meaningful.
After Auschwitz, we went to get John Paul II’s favorite cake (it was kind of like a cream puff). It was very good. My knowledge about popes and Catholicism is very limited. I grew up a United Methodist; however, my mom was raised Catholic. I did not really understand the significance of being the Pope until I experienced it here. Walking into the cathedral where Pope John Paul II was baptized really showed me how beautiful this world is.
I learned so much about John Paul II. His mother passed away a month before his 9th birthday. His brother was a doctor but died when he was in his twenties because a patient gave him scarlet fever. Pope John Paul II is special because he grew up within close proximity to Jews, as his best friend was a Jew. As a Catholic, going to a synagogue is a sign of respect according to John Paul II. When he was a teenager, his best friend (who was Jewish), came into the Catholic cathedral and a woman said something to the best friend about not belonging here. John Paul II’s response, as a teenage boy, was," Doesn’t she know we are all children of the living God?" That statement moved me. We are all children of the living God and we are asked to show love and compassion to one another, which John Paul II knew as a teenage boy.
When he was growing up his name was Karol Wojtyła. He was a brilliant young man. By the age of 10 he spoke four different languages, which is amazing to me. I have taken about five years of Spanish and I am barley fluent in that. By the end of his life, he knew over 40 languages.
While he was the Pope, John Paul II was shot twice. One shot was in the arm and other in the abdomen by a professional shooter. John Paul II forgave this man, even through the shooter did not ever apologize. I want my faith to be like John Paul’s. Forgiving someone after they shot you is amazing. The man who shot him is a free man today and he sent a letter to Pope Francis asking to go to seminary. I would love to read that letter and understand why and what changed. Pope John Paul II was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This disease is a brutal disease and he passed away in 2005. John Paul II said, “Be grateful to God,” which is important to remember to be thankful for all you have.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
When I got onto the plane I did not know what too expect, the flight attendants ran around handing out food and drinks while the pilot announced everything in Polish. I slept through the vast majority of the plane ride and only woke up about an hour till the plane landed. When I woke up however I was suddenly hit by a blast of major excitement. I was suddenly about to land in Poland a country that I have always wanted to visit. My first view of the country was the landscape through the planes window, the countryside was green and beautiful with rolling hills and red roofed houses. When we finally landed I was bouncing in my seat I was soo eager to see Krakow. When I finally stepped out of the airport and on too the bus I saw people go to and through about their business. We first visited the Krakow ghetto which was a humbling experience and later the Glashow concentration camp. Standing on a location where you know that thousands perished has a funny way of playing with you mind. I was standing on the site of a major massacre yet their were new homes and businesses popping up around us. Then it finally hit me this country which is so defined by it's past is pushing itself into the future. Later when we went to the town square I saw children running around old medieval churches and structures. The country had pushed itself into the modern age while still in remembrance of its past.