One of the reasons I chose to study abroad in Prague was because its' central location in Europe makes it easy to visit other countries, cities, and sites. Of course, my budget isn't unlimited, so I was happy to hear that the CEA includes some weekend trips in their program: the biggest and most emotionally trying one being a trip to Krakow, Poland, with a day spent at Auschwitz and Auschwitz II- Birkenau, and a seminar with Holocaust survivor Bernard Offen. Yes, the subject matter is depressing, but the excursion provided plenty of opportunity for life lessons and personal growth: thanks to our site visits and Mr. Offen's testimony, everyone from CEA Prague who chose to go on the Krakow trip became "Second Generation Witnesses."
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I'll spare you the 11,000 word essay and give some visual aids!
Krakow's main square is a gorgeous mix of architectures and full of delicious cafes!
The famous 'trumpeter of Krakow,' who was killed while blowing a horn warning of the Mongols attacking in the 13th century, is remembered every hour at St. Mary's church. Someone in the tower blows a trumpet and cuts off mid-stream, sometimes faux-Mongols are in the square to 'shoot' him.
Like many of the religious cities in Europe, there is a gorgeous church or cathedral on almost every corner in Krakow.
Any tour of the Auschwitz Museum (one of the most well-preserved Nazi Concentration/ Extermination camps, an hour outside of Krakow) starts here: the arch reading 'work will set you free.'
The barracks are surprisingly innocent looking, since they were originally a military institution.
The exhibits show a variety of items taken from deported Jews- suitcases and baskets, cooking supplies, toys, even hair that the Nazis sold to the textile industry back in Germany. They were all behind glass cases so this was the clearest picture I have.
The womens' section of the camp was surrounded by an extra layer of barbed wire. At the end of the path on the right, you can see one of the guard towers.
This is one of the gas chambers, originally a storage room. You can still see the prussian blue stains on the walls and the holes in the ceiling where Zyklon-B was dropped in.
The main entrance to Auschwitz II- Birkenau. One of the more common images from the Holocaust is trains arriving packed with Jews and other 'undesirables' who were then sorted for work or sent directly to the gas chambers: this is where it happened.
A large part of Birkenau is now a memorial, with plaques in several languages and each stone on the ground representing one life lost in the Holocaust.
I'm sorry this post wasn't all sunshine and rainbows- visiting concentration/extermination camps isn't anyone's idea of a party. The quote inside one of the exhibits, “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” -George Santayana, explains why I feel learning and visiting these sites is so terribly important. My generation is too young to remember, and most first-hand witnesses are reaching the end of their time. Although it was heartbreaking to walk through these grounds and hear these stories, it was a valuable experience I will never forget. If you ever find yourself in central or eastern Europe, take a weekend to visit gorgeous Krakow and the important part of history that is Auschwitz.
Dorothy McQuaid is the CEA MOJO for Prague this Fall. Her mild-mannered alter ego is a senior Marketing major at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.
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