Auschwitz. For many years I have heard stories, but there are no words to describe what we saw and experienced today. Walking into the camp, I instantly got chills. The atmosphere yesterday versus today were at totally opposite ends of the spectrum. Yesterday was happy and a celebration of life. Today was full of sorrow and tears.
Standing in Auschwitz-Birkenau is truly an indescribable experience. I could not fathom that I was standing where 1.5 million others before me lived and died. Where 90% of those who arrived, were immediately gassed. Where if you received the chance to live, you were quarantined for 3 weeks, just to test your survival skills. Additionally, Hearing all the stories Peppi told us made me feel sick. Knowing that a young boy, about my age, took Someone else’s hat, in order to stay alive, and then lived with the feeling of knowing that the boy who he took it from, died because of him, is truly heartbreaking. The choice between dying and living at the expense of someone else’s life is a choice no 16 year old should ever have to make.
In Birkenau, we saw the remains of a gas chamber. The hooks where their clothes were. Where they walked in. But never walked out. Where they stood. The fact that there can be up to 2,000 people gassed at a time is unimaginable. It’s extremely hard to even picture 2,000 people.
When standing at the remains of the gas chamber at Birkenau, we all sang one day. Tears filled our eyes as we tried to sing this uplifting song, We hugged and comforted one another, and really tried to take in where we were standing.
While in the Museum of Auschwitz 1, we saw huge mounds of shoes, human hair, brushes, pots & pans, and suitcases. We know that all those possessions were taken from 6 million, but physically seeing them is a totally different feeling. Looking at individual items, makes you try to imagine who each thing belonged to. Someone just like me. Just 75 years ago. I saw a little pair of shoes that belonged to an infant. This child had their entire life ahead of them, they might be a grandparent by now, but their life was cut short for the sole reason that he was Jewish.
One thought that really stuck with me as we left Auschwitz, is how we walked in and out. But they walked in and never came out.
Today was such an overwhelming day. We had the opportunity to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau for the 2nd time, but this time around was an entirely different experience. Yesterday when we went as a delegation, we were celebrating life. As we walked through Auschwitz-Birkenau we were all laughing, smiling, and meeting new people from across the globe. Our meeting location for the start of the March was outside of Block 10 in Auschwitz, a barrack that we would later learn its true significance. Today we started at Birkenau. It was a very gloomy, chilly day, unlike our past days, which were sunny and beautiful out. I felt it was very fitting. We walked in and had such an emotional tour, seeing so many original buildings from the Holocaust. I even got to see the wooden marker with an inspiration phrase I put on the train tracks from the day prior. After we finished walking around, we had a ceremony near the entrance of one of the old gas chambers at Birkenau. My friends, Shayna Kling, Drew Lawrence, and I led the song “One Day” written by Matisyahu at the end of our ceremony. Everyone in our circle was in tears by the end. It was such a special moment. We all felt as if we were a community and a family! Afterwards, we headed to Auschwitz, We started the tour, and everyone could agree it was an entirely different experience. During the tour, we had the chance to walk into the one and only gas chamber at Auschwitz that was used to murder so many of our people. As I walked into the chamber, I felt suffocated. It was such a breathtaking and sickening sight to see. I walked out and felt so incredibly thankful that I actually got to leave the chamber instead of never seeing the light of day again. Seeing my friends walk out of the room had me in tears. I love everyone on this trip, and I am so thankful for them. Next, we walked into one of the buildings that house all of the shoes from Auschwitz. I could not believe my eyes when I walked into a hallway filled from floor to ceiling with different pairs of shoes collected from each person who was murdered. Every shoe you focus on reveals a person behind it. An individual personality. When you focus on just one person it is so real, emotional and heart-wrenching. We saw many more items taken away from people when their lives were about to end. Finally, we walked to Block 10, the location we started at for the March yesterday. Peppi explained that yesterday while we were celebrating life, outside of a building labeled Block 10, almost 70 years ago, it was where all of the medical experiments took place on innocent women. We all could not believe it and felt so confused that we were celebrating yesterday in a location where such horrible events ensued. In conclusion, today was a day like no other. Going to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau and walking through the same camps that millions of Jews were murdered in was unlike any type of Holocaust education we have had. Seeing the same sights in pictures all of my life in Sunday school, and then having the amazing experience to visit these camps was surreal. I am beyond grateful to be alive and have had these unbelievable experiences today.