European Vacation: Trip To Auschwitz

May 29, 2007

Krakow, Poland

Bethany Johansen

Day three of our European trip began with our first Polish breakfast. Nothing unrecognizable, everything was good. We each had yogurt at our plate, a couple of different cereals, bread, different cheeses, and some yummy eggs. Next it was to the bus for our trip to Auschwitz.

On the drive we encountered a bit of minor traffic, but we were soon on our way and driving through the beautiful countryside. Jessica (Gysin) and Chelsea (Wilson) entertained themselves, and at times those around them, by sharing an I-Pod and dancing and singing to the songs. All of us were surprised when we saw a double-humped camel in someone's yard. Definitely not something we thought we would see in Poland!

When we arrived in Auschwitz, we met our tour leader who introduced herself at the gate entrance. Next we went to see several different 'blocks' where we viewed prisoners' living conditions, the place they arrived to be processed with photographs and tattoos, and then separated into groups. The prisoners identified as 'strong' were immediately sent to unimaginable working and living conditions. Those identified as weak or ill (as well as most of the women and children) were immediately sent to the gas chambers to be executed. Several of the belongings taken from the prisoners were on display during the tour. Seeing the eyeglasses, shoes, luggage, and other personal items really put the whole situation in a very real perspective. One particular hallway was lined with prisoner processing photographs along with their dates of arrival and death. Many of the prisoners' arrivals and deaths were separated by only a couple of months, illustrating how short the average life span was inside the camp. The last two places we visited in Auschwitz I were Block 11 (the Death Block), and the crematorium and gas chambers. Seeing the different holding cells in Block 11 was overwhelming. We saw standing cells which were maybe 3 feet by 3 feet, where four people lived (standing up after working 9 hour days). We then witnessed a very small room where 40 people had been forced to sleep with very little oxygen. An average of 19 of those 40 people would die from lack of oxygen each night. The crematorium and gas chambers had a sign outside asking visitors for silence once inside out of respect and reverence for those who lost their lives in the chamber.

Next we moved a short distance to Auschwitz-Birkenaw, also known as Auschwitz II. There we entered only two wooden barracks that were actually build with a German horse stable as its model. More than 900 people lived in one barrack which was maybe 2000 square feet. Lastly we went up to the watch tower where we saw how large Auschwitz II was, and we could see the areas that the Germans tried to destroy the evidence of the camp's existence as the fled while the Allied forces came closer.

The trip to Auschwitz was very difficult. The day was very sunny and pleasantly warm, yet all I could think of was how difficult life must have been on this day during the years the camp was operating. To think of the activities taking place and of the unfortunate people who had their lives turned upside down once inside the gates. The injustices and atrocities that occurred at Auschwitz were all on our minds as we walked the grounds. We couldn't stop thinking about those that lived there and those lives that ended there.

The return to the motel seemed much quicker, many of us exhausted from a combination of jet lag and emotions that we just felt at Auschwitz. When we arrived at the hotel we had a lunch of chicken soup and noodles, French fries, a very fluffy rice, pork, shredded cabbage, and cucumbers in a white sauce. For dessert, we had a delicious ice cream. We had about 45 minutes to prepare for our match, then we left for the gym.

After a minor mix up in gyms, we arrived at the gym and started to warm-up. It felt good to finally play some volleyball after all the travel. We competed against a team of mostly League Division II players hoping to play professionally. So after warming up, we finally got to play some real volleyball. Although they were some close games we ended up winning the match 3-0, and afterwards we took photos with the team. Before leaving the gym we had to say goodbye to Marta's (Siemiatkowska) family. Her little brother came on the bus to give us all hugs. We attempted to keep him and possibly use him as a ball boy, but he couldn't stay.

Once back at the hotel we showered and headed to dinner. For the Americans, dinner seemed more like dessert. We had pancakes filled with cheese and topped with strawberries and cream, very similar to crepes. We also had a vegetable salad that tasted like a potato salad beforehand, but everyone loved the pancakes!

It was a busy day, full of bus rides, education, and competition, but it also marked the start of our 6 day stretch of volleyball matches and some time in the gym. We miss all of our loved ones from home, but we are being safe and having fun!Bethany................

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