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Journals from Telemark University, Bø, Norway

2013-07-08 The Beginning of the End: Part One, Poland

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Abbie, Michelle, Trina, myself, and Zalika at the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Hei Hei,

So I have been back in U.S. for a few weeks and have spent some time reflecting on my experiences abroad.  

First off I want to cover the last few weeks of my trip, they were quite fun filled and exciting which is why .  During the last week in May, I went to Krakow, Poland with three of my good friends Zalika, Abbie, and Trina (plus Trina’s friend Michelle that was visiting from the U.S.). We had this planned for a while and were very glad to actually leave. We got there late in the evening and searched for our hostel. We stopped for a quick dinner and were pleasantly surprised at how cheap everything was. A $3 kebab dinner was quite the treat.

On our 1st day, we decided to go out to Auschwitz – Birkenau concentration camp, which was our main reason for going to Krakow. When we arrived, we first saw a film that had footage from when the camp was liberated in 1945 by the Soviet Army. It explained the types of atrocities that were committed when the camp was operational. Then we went on an English tour of Auschwitz I, which was more used for prisoners of war and political prisoners, rather than the Jews who were mostly housed in Auschwitz II – Birkenau. They had a relatively easy time compared to the Jews who experienced much harsher conditions.

Last year I took a class from the history department at Linfield on genocide. I thought it would prepare me for actually visiting the camp, but no matter how much you read or hear about the murders, gassings, and cruelty that occurred, you can’t really grasp the reality of what happened until you see it with your own eyes. When the Nazi’s forced the Jews to the camps, they were fooled into thinking they were simply being forced to relocate. Because of that, they brought with them many household items. Before being gassed, they were stripped of everything. After the war, huge warehouses were found filled to the brim with personal belongings of the deceased like dishware, suitcases, clothes, eyeglasses, and even human hair. Seeing the enormity of just a small fraction of those items is very impacting. Six million is just a number representing all those killed in the Holocaust, it’s not really graspable. But when you look at a room full of children’s and baby clothes, it makes your heart ache in a way you never thought possible. Standing in a place where millions stood, arbitrarily separated either to die, or to live a grueling existence of pain, chills you to the bone.

To have visited a place such as that was truly humbling. It is a reminder to be kind to one another and to be grateful to have everything you hold dear and may take for granted. I’d like to say that we’ve learned from our mistakes completely, but that would a lie. The world continues to ignore the suffering in the world, while at the same time vowing the Holocaust will never happen again. Only time will tell. As hard as it was to visit Auschwitz, I think it was very meaningful and I recommend visiting if you ever have a chance, it will give you a new perspective.

While we were in Poland, we also went to a karaoke bar and had a great time (we actually met other Americans). We went to the Wieliczka Salt Mine just outside the city of Krakow. The mine has been in operation for over 700 years. We spent 2 or 3 hours on a tour and only saw 1% of the mine. There were so many chambers and many chapels underground (miners were generally religious and prayed often for safety). We also went on a tour of two of the districts in Krakow: the Jewish Quarter, and the Old Town. We had planned to visit Schindler’s Factory, but unfortunately the day we went, which was the last day of our trip was a church holiday and the museum was closed.

Ending the trip in Poland was bittersweet. It was the last time I saw my good friend Trina as she was then embarking on a trip around Europe. Traveling back to Oslo was a challenge. My flight was delayed and then diverted to another airport in Poland. I was flying back by myself, so this was a bit stressful. The airport ordered us coach buses to take us to the other airport, but they took an hour to arrive and then it took over an hour to get to the airport and quite a while from there to board the plane. I was irritated because I had bought some alcohol duty free at the first airport and had to throw it away going through security at the second airport. When I finally arrived in Oslo, I had long since missed my train so I had to stay overnight in the train station, which actually closed. I had bought a book and then wandered around town at one in the morning until I found a 24hr food place that I sat at until the train station opened again. This was probably my worst traveling mishap, so I was very relieved to be back at my home in Bø.

Look ahead for part two of my last adventures.

Ha det bra!!

Amber Hay

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