Written by Kylie Fuller (Johns Hopkins University)
Central European Studies in Prague, Student Correspondent, Spring 2013
In the morning when we awoke during our traveling seminar at the hotel in Krakow and went to get breakfast, the air was thick with apprehension. Although no one talked about it, everyone knew that today’s trip was far from an ordinary spring break trip. Most of our friends from back home had gone to Florida or Cancun if they were lucky. We however embarked on an eight-day traveling seminar trip to Poland, Moravia and Austria. On this particular Sunday, we ate a quick breakfast in silence, and then we headed to the bus. Once on the bus, it was an hour trip to our next destination. At first, there was sparse, quiet chatter on the bus. However, as we drove on, all of the students fell silent. Some rested their eyes while others looked out the window at the passing landscape. Although the highway signs were in Polish, we knew what the sign saying Oświęcim meant. Oświęcim is the Polish name of the town we were entering. The German name is Auschwitz.
It would be impossible to truly transfer my exact feelings during this day into words, so if you perceive detachment from emotion in the following paragraphs it is not from lack of emotion.
The first thing I learned upon exiting the bus is that the “Auschwitz Concentration Camp” is not one camp, but a series of camps around the town. The first concentration camp we went to was Auschwitz 1. I have only been to a few funerals, so the amount of deaths that occurred in this death camp was a really hard thing for me to deal with as we entered under the infamous iron arch. The air had a dark feel to it, and although the sun was shining for the first time in days, I couldn’t feel its warmth. I stepped gingerly on the ground as I walked, unsure of what atrocity might have occurred in that exact spot. Even though I knew a statistic of the number of lives this camp had consumed, it did not become real to me until we walked into one of the barracks that had been dedicated to this exact aspect of the Holocaust. In the different rooms, personal belongings that had been gathered and sorted by prisoners were displayed. This barrack had the biggest effect on me, and will be burned into my memory as long as I lived. My stomach turned as we walked from room to room, looking at the multitudes of human hair, shoes and glasses for example that had been found after the liberation. The most horrifying part was that this wasn’t even half of the belongings that had been taken. Most of the other items collected had been sent to Germany during the war.
In the afternoon, we went to a second part of the complex called Birkenau. I originally thought Auschwitz was huge, but it was completely dwarfed by how expansive Birkenau was. Barracks stretched in every direction. The only thing that pulled your eyes from these structures was the central railroad which was used to sort the prisoners into able to work and unable to work as they arrived. After the tour guide brought us through some of the barracks, we walked along this railroad on the way back to the crematorium. Everyone was silent besides a group of young Israelis who were in a large circle on the platform swaying and singing. The effect sent chills down my back as I shrunk further into my coat. Most of the crematoriums and gas chambers had been destroyed by the Germans, but I said a quiet prayer as our tour guide read us some excerpts from survivors. I think at this point I was in complete shock; unable to think or move or feel.
It has been a few days since we were in Poland, and I do not believe I have been able to process my experience completely. I keep trying to write down my thoughts and feelings in hope of making sense of it, but have not achieved anything other than overwhelming waves of sadness. It was hard to experience something like this without loved ones, but I wouldn’t change all that I have learned from this for anything. This was an essential life changing experience, and I am changed for the better. I am sure other students feel this way, and we can take back our knowledge and compassion to our universities to better our peers, our community, and the world.
Posted by Kim Strozewski, Director of Prague Programs
The Auschwitz Jewish Center has been a close partner to CET for many years and has worked with us closely over the years to help enrich our study abroad program in Prague.
An important part of our Jewish studies program is a traveling seminar to Poland. The students spend part of the trip visiting Kraków, the Auschwitz camp and the town of Oświęcim. We feel this is an important part of the trip as many US students only know the camp and do not realize it is located in a town, which had a rich pre-war Jewish community.
Our students take an extended study tour of the camp and then visit the Auschwitz Jewish Center. It is truly a meeting place where the students feel free to ask questions and engage with the past in a meaningful way with the Auschwitz Jewish Center staff and volunteers.
Whether it is a walk through the former Jewish town or having conversations with local Polish students about the legacy of living nearby the camp, the Auschwitz Jewish Center informs us about the past, but more importantly creates a dialogue about tolerance in the present for the future.
We at CET are so grateful to The Auschwitz Jewish Center for the important work they do, and we can encourage you to read more at the following link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/295016835/cafe-oshpitzin-remember-the-past-feed-the-future!
Please consider contributing to their kick-starter project!
Written by Aimee Crouch (University of Iowa – Iowa City)
History of Art and Italian Studies in Siena, Student Correspondent, Fall 2012
Last week Thursday we left Siena and went to Sicily for our Italian Cultural History class. It was quite the trip! We had to leave early Thursday morning to catch a bus to Florence, hopped on a bus to the airport, flew into Rome, sat in the Rome airport for a couple hours, flew from Rome to Catania. However, the Catania airport is closed due to construction on the runway so we flew into the Military base then took a bus to the airport, then another bus from the airport to the hotel. It was a hassle but we did it and all got there in one piece! It was a grand total of 11 hours traveling time. Once we arrived at the hotel my suitcase, the one dad and I had to buy when going to London, completely broke… it was not funny. All the wheels went rolling down the steps and it was a disaster, really embarrassing actually… so I had to buy ANOTHER suitcase. Let’s hope this one holds up! That night we went to dinner with the other CET students that are studying in Florence. After dinner we went right to bed! We were really tired!
Friday morning we walked to the WWII museum, which I really liked. We got to see the uniforms, we sat in an anti-raid shelter and felt what it would have been like during the bombings, wax figures of Roosevelt, old guns used, we heard stories from men that were alive during this time period, etc… It was really neat to learn about the invasion of Sicily during WWII. Of course, we had a worksheet to fill out during the tour… school. We went to lunch at a little restaurant we found and it was DELICIOUS! After lunch I had a chocolate cannoli…I couldn’t get over how good it was, oh my word!! After lunch we had a two hour class, a 15 min break after, then a 2 hour meeting with an Anti-Mafia Organization. That was really neat to hear how they prevent the Mafia from taking over all the shops in Sicily. Fact: over 80% of the shops in Sicily pay money to the mafia. Also, every $10 I spent there, $8 of it went to the Mafia in some sort of way! Unbelievable isn’t it?! That night we went to dinner and found dessert with some of the girls from the Florence group. We had a blast with them! They were a great group of girls! I’m bummed we met them so late into the program because we would have been able to take trips with them if we had known them beforehand!
Saturday morning we were back in the classroom for another 2 hour lecture about food and how most of the Italian traditions come from the Arabic culture. It was interesting but did not need to be 2 hours long that’s for sure!! After class we went to the fish market with a lady and her family. They own a bed and breakfast in Sicily and let us come and have a tour and have a cooking class with them! It was great! Then we had a little bit of free time to eat lunch so the same girls from Florence and us Siena girls went to find the famous Sicilian dish, arancino. It’s a big ball of rice that’s fried but has other mixings inside. So yummy!! Oh my goodness! I think I gained 15 lbs there! Then of course I had to try the pistachio cannoli… After lunch we hopped on a bus and went to the bed and breakfast! This was a really neat place. It was family owned for many years, dating back to the 1600′s. It was absolutely beautiful. The cooking lesson was great. They use sardines in EVERYTHING!!! Not a fan. I did try them but meh… so nasty!! A fun fact is that Oprah Winfrey stayed at this Bed and Breakfast once. Like anyone really cares… Sunday morning we had another lecture in the morning then the rest of the day was free. It was nice to have a free day but we had four papers to write about the trip so that was a bummer. None of us really got to explore a whole lot because we were writing the papers and doing all the assigned readings! It was a lot of work. We flew back home (aka “Siena”) Monday but we didn’t get back until late that night.
Every semester CET plans a rip-roaring adventure to some city other than Harbin, most likely in order to convince students that not all of China is cold. The way they go about accomplishing this goal is actually quite clever: by going south. 12 hours south via train, to be precise. Now you may be thinking “the title says land of opportunity, I was unaware NAME-OF-YOUR-COUNTRY (to appeal to a wider audience) was south of China.” And you would be right, unless you’re from North Korea. But you’re not. (If you are, please comment otherwise).