Dzien Dobry from Poland, everyone! I am writing to you on January 12th, 2013, from Oświęcim, Poland. So far on our trip we have also stayed in Krakow. I would say that our journey so far has been pretty good. I have really been enjoying Polish life and Polish cuisine (I LOVE Russian pierogi!) I will admit that it has been very hard to be away from my family for so long, and I miss them very much. A cool thing that most people don’t know about me (well, most people on this trip do now due to me talking about it quite a bit) is that I am a descendant of Polish Jews through my Grandmother’s side of the family. Our family is from the city of Chojnice, which is located in northern Poland.

As you have probably read from previous blog entries, we have been quite busy during our stay in Poland! We have visited places such as the Jewish Community Centre—Krakow, The Oskar Schindler factory, the Galicia museum, and today, Auschwitz-Birkenau. I would have to say that the last place on that list was the hardest place to visit…and I’m not just talking about during our stay here, I’m pretty sure it was the hardest place for me to visit ever. Even as I type this, a familiar sadness creeps its way into my heart.

Auschwitz. We’ve all seen the name in textbooks, films, and in the classrooms; but today I got to experience the camp in-person. When we first arrived, I thought I would be fine. I am usually pretty good at keeping my emotions in check, but as soon as I saw the “Arbeit macht Frei” sign, I knew it was going to be a heck of a lot more difficult than I originally thought. The bone-chilling cold was appropriate for traveling to Auschwitz, I believe. I don’t know why, per se, but I just feel like it added to the over all sombre appearance of the camp.

During our tour, we not only saw exhibits that offered a plethora of statistics, but we were actually walking where the victims of the Holocaust walked. That really got to me. I was somewhere where innocent people were treated like animals and slaughtered. I know this may sound weird, because I am only a quarter Polish, and not Jewish, but I took what the Nazis did personally. That could have been my family if they hadn’t emigrated. And who knows if I had extended family, or friends of my family who were victims of the Holocaust? It made me angry, to be honest. How could anyone be so heartless and just blindly kill people just because they didn’t believe in the same thing you did? I can’t fathom it.

Like I wrote in my journal, my heart right now feels like it has been shattered into a million pieces, and I’m not sure they can ever be put back together in exactly the same way. I know that sounds a bit outlandish, but I don’t think one can travel to Auschwitz and come back completely as they were. I feel so guilty. Guilty that I have all of these problems that are really quite minor, yet I act like they are such a big deal. In truth, I know very little about suffering, and nothing that is even almost comparable to what the victims of the Holocaust were forced to endure. Visiting Auschwitz makes every single one of your problems feel insignificant. If you’re reading this right now, I’d like for you to really take a moment and think about just how great your life is. Life is our most precious gift ever given, and sometimes we forget it or take it for granted; but we must try to tell ourselves that even though we may go through bad, or tough times, that there are people out there who have it so much worse. Also, never let your loved ones forget how important they are to you. Think about it. If you did not have them, who knows where you’d be in life. I guess that going to Auschwitz and Birkenau really made me realize just how lucky I am in this world, because to be honest, lately I have been struggling in that area.

Auschwitz-Birkenau has honestly left me feeling very numb. I’m not sure how to feel other than the fact that I really wish I were at home with my friends, mom, and sister right now so I could hug them until I pass out from exhaustion. When you’ve physically been to a place where so many people suffered and died…it affects you. I almost try to not think about it, because if I do, I know I will be really sad, and unable to finish this journal entry.

The part that really made me upset is just finding out how many children were actually killed in the Holocaust. The Holocaust was tragic for everyone, of course, but when children are hurt and killed, it makes me even more furious at the SS and the whole Nazi regime. There is no excuse to hurt children. Ever. They are innocent and each deserves the right to live a normal and happy life…and if you get in the way of that, in my book, you’re scum. Needless to say, I will never forgive any of the Nazis for what they did to the victims. It is inexcusable.

Well, I’d like to end talking about something more positive. Learning about the Jewish people has made me want to learn about the Jewish faith as a whole, as I was brought up Christian, I don’t actually know that much about Judaism. My grandmother doesn’t like to talk about it. I’m not saying I’m on board to convert or anything like that at the moment, but I’d like to know more about the faith and what my ancestors believed in. I would also really love to go to Chojnice someday, just to walk where my family did before me. I am also pretty pumped for going to Berlin on Monday, and I think it will be a good experience for everyone on our trip. It is good that tomorrow is a bit of a de-stress day, because I sincerely think we all need it after what a powerful experience we had today. We will be touring Oświęcim with a guide, I think. I’m pretty curious to see if there is a Jewish community here. I think it would be too hard because Aushwitz-Birkenau is just too close, and if I were Jewish, I don’t think I could live here. But, you never know!

All in all I think that this trip has been such a rewarding experience and I have learned so much thus far. Not to mention that my Polish has basically reached B-A status now. I’m proud to say that I can say three phrases in Polish: Hello, thank you, and you’re welcome. I’d type the Polish words but the internet isn’t really working right now and I’d slaughter the spellings. Thank you sounds like: Gin koo-ya. Hello: Dzein Dobry (gin dobrey.) You’re welcome: Pro-sh. Polish is such a difficult language but I would love to learn it after I learn German and Dutch. If you’ve actually been able to read this all the way to the end, then I happily applaud you! I hope everything is going well wherever and whoever you may be! And remember, “Hope is the last thing to die.” So keep your chin up and a level-head, and never, ever, give up on yourself; because as I said earlier, life is the most precious gift we have been lucky to receive!

Hoping you are all well,
Brandon

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