A Difficult Day

[caption id="attachment_105" align="aligncenter" width="225"]The Entrance to Auschwitz The Entrance to Auschwitz[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_106" align="aligncenter" width="225"]Electric Barbed Wire Electric Barbed Wire[/caption]

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again” Maya Angelou.

As we approached today, we knew what we were about to experience. However, we were not able to understand the effect it would have on us, not only as individuals, but also as a team. When we boarded the bus this morning to travel to the Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps, our bus was filled with anxious discussion.

For me (Karen), this was a day that I never thought I would see. As a teenager, I read many books about the holocaust and the horrors that had occurred.  But today, we walked on the ground, saw the places, and walked through the exits of buildings that many people never exited once they entered the other side. When we parked the bus everyone exited, everyone but me. I stayed behind and cried. My heart already broke for what I was about to see and encounter. I sobbed into my lap and thought, “How am I ever going to be able to walk through the next three and a half hours?”

Ten minutes later we were all inside the grounds of Auschwitz, waiting for a film to start that would introduce us to the history of the camp. We had walked on the same stones that, six decades ago, had been walked on by men and women, children and adults, Jews and Germans, sick and healthy, good and evil. As we walked through the corridor towards the theatre, I saw pictures I had never seen. War plans that made my head spin at the thought of how much time and effort went into every last detail. I looked around at my team and noticed that everyone was affected by the intensity of our experience.

We then watched the film, and after that I knew I could go no further. I had walked through those vile, sarcastic gates that mocked the people who passed through, proclaiming “ARBEIT MACT FREI” – WORK WILL MAKE YOU FREE – and I could go no further. Instead, I went and had tea with Betty. It occurred to me how fortunate I am to be able to walk across the street and drink tea, others were not so fortunate as to be able to escape. When I went to meet up with the rest of the team, I noticed one common theme they all carried with them; courage. Maya Angelou said that as long as we face history with courage, we will never live it again. I think that every member of our team will be prepared to face the future in order to preserve the past. I witnessed them break down and mourn for the lives lost, carry the pain of those who had nothing, and push their own personal, emotional, and mental boundaries in order to experience life.

What we encountered today was ugly, dark, cold, morbid, and downright vile, but throughout it, we produced courage. As a team, and as individuals. Maybe not everyone saw everything, but we all pushed ourselves in the ways we felt appropriate, and we all took away what God had intended for us to take away.

Whoever you are reading this (a mom or dad, brother or sister, friend, or RA, or even a perfect stranger to our team), I leave you with this; history, no matter where documented or when, is still our history, and when oppressed, all we have is a voice, a voice to speak out against injustice. Today, we heard the voices of the past, and we need to speak them anew.

-          Karen


  1. My dearest daughter. My tears and heart are with you.

  2. Karen and team--
    Thank you for your courage to go over there. Prayers from me and my family are with you. God bless!

  3. This brought tears to my eyes. We're thinking of all of you.

  4. Julie Bemis. Poland Team '04March 9, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    Yes, the day at Auschwitz is a hard one emotionally. However, learn the lessons and recognize that that acts of Genocide still continue to this day. The question is: are you willing to use the "G" word which comes with overwhellming responsibilites?
    My thoughts are with Poland Team '11.

  5. Very sad, but we must remember the past so you don't make the same mistakes in the future


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  9. Karen, your powerful and deeply personal reflection on your visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau is truly moving. It's understandable to feel overwhelmed with emotions, both as an individual and as part of the team, when confronting such a significant and harrowing part of history.

    Your honesty about your initial hesitation and the profound impact of the experience is commendable. It's clear that this visit wasn't just sightseeing; it was a deeply emotional and transformative encounter with the past.

    The quote by Maya Angelou, "as long as we face history with courage, we will never live it again," perfectly encapsulates the importance of learning from the past to prevent similar tragedies in the future. It's evident that each member of the team, including yourself, demonstrated courage by confronting these harsh realities.

    The message you leave the reader with, urging them to use their voice against injustice, is a powerful call to action. By sharing your experience and insights, you are not only processing your own emotions but also inspiring others to learn, remember, and speak out against hatred and oppression.

    Thank you for sharing your deeply personal story, Karen. It serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of remembering the past and using its lessons to create a more just and peaceful future.
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