This past weekend, some of my peers and I took a trip to a two-day trip to Poland. Poland does not stick out in one’s mind as the first place in Europe to visit, though when we arrived in the city of Krakow, we did enjoy it. Krakow was a typical old European city, with old (and beautiful) buildings and cobblestone streets. The city had a very old vintage look complete with very traditional eastern European architecture, and made me imagine what the Soviet Union might of looked like as I walked through it.
While we left Krakow, however, we proceeded to the main purpose of the trip, which was to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau for a day tour. When discussing these camps, I don’t see them as a “tourist attraction”, as I think it would be wrong to call it that, given what it used to be. Rather, it is best to view any trip to these camps, as one of reflection. It is important to understand what the Jewish people and other groups have undergone, and to understand what is arguably one of the biggest blunders of the human race. Furthermore, as Remembrance Day was just a couple weeks ago, it serves as a great place to understand what our soldiers were fighting for at that time.
The best way I can describe the camps was simply horrifying and unbelievable. While you can read many books or see documentaries on TV, actually visiting these locations can really help put it into perspective and provides a way of understanding what actually happened during the war. It gives you a whole new way of thinking, and with that, a new method of looking at the war in two distinct ways: from the point of view of the battle field, and looking at it the innocent civilians that lost their lives.
Like many things I have experienced on my semester abroad, this trip to Poland, and particularly the trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau, will be an experience that I will never forget.