Reflections from SMU Dedman Law student Alexa Naumovich:

Majdanek 12-23-2017

The town is so close to the camp.

How can people say they were unaware of what was going on here? The stench of the bodies from the crematoria must have permeated the air. The bullets fired into the trenches must have been heard for miles. The people cannot say they did not know. They knew. But not all bowed their heads in submission. Some attempted to do what they could to draw the world’s eyes to this place of death. A picture in the museum struck me. Taken by a Polish resistance fighter from the town, it showed smoke billowing from the crematoria as viewed from the nearby town. This resistance fighter attempted to shine light on what was occurring here, but the world turned its head.

The world today continues to turn its eyes from these horrors. It ignores chemical weapons being used against civilian populations in Syria, or civilians in Yemen starving to death as a result of war. The world cannot turn its head away from these horrors. It must face them head on so they do not occur again. One part of facing these horrors is not forgetting the past, or not making the past seem better by trying to erase its horrors. It is sad to see those attempting to make the past seem better by reducing the amount killed at Majdanek from 250,000 to 60,000. The past must be confronted. The future will not benefit by lying about what happened.

 

Belzec 12-24-2017

Scorched Earth. This is my first thought as I gaze across the memorial to the Belzec extermination camp. Black stones, so like volcanic rock, cover the hillside. I am reminded of when I visited volcanic fields surrounding Mt. Vesuvius in Italy. There, the earth was scorched by the exploding volcano. The destruction of cities and the scorching of the earth by Mt. Vesuvius was a natural phenomenon. What occurred at Belzec was nothing natural. A volcano does not pick and chose who is engulfed by its fires. It consumes everything, no matter race, creed, or religion.

As I gaze across the rock-covered hill, I miss a step and fall. Ironically, I trip and fall right in front of the monument of a rail car that took so many to their deaths. How many others fell out of the rail cars and were injured? I injure myself falling a mere 6 inches. Those in the cars from a much greater height. I pick myself up from the wet earth and leave Belzec; hundreds of thousands did not do the same.

 

Traveling to Krakow 12-25-2017

It is Christmas today. I came to the sudden realization that, up to this point, we have visited different extermination camps every single day. This would be the first day that we would not visit an extermination camp. It was a sobering realization. Merry Christmas.

Auschwitz I/Auschwitz-Birkenau 12-26-2017

Auschwitz. This is a place I have heard of as a center of death and misery. This is a place that anyone with any knowledge of the Holocaust should be aware of. It is a place that the Nazis industrialized death. Now, this camp is a place where death is commercialized. My first impression of Auschwitz I is the hordes of tourists. On one hand, it is great that they visit this place so the events that occurred here can never happen again. On the other hand, the emotional impact is greatly reduced when you only have a few seconds to absorb the information of what occurred here. People are run through exhibits at a speedy pace. You cannot slow down without losing your group or being pushed along by the next group.

The exhibits attempt to bring into perspective the amount of killing in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Before law school I read the Origins of the Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution, by Henry Friedlander. I remember that as I read the book, the numbers of those killed started to be just numbers, and I lost sight of the people. The numbers now start to come into perspective as I gaze upon a construction dumpster filled just with bowls; a room full of luggage containing people’s names and addresses written on the sides; and women’s hair piled over 6 feet high, over 5 foot deep, and over 20 feet in length. These were people. People who lived. They were human.

The fog clings to the grounds of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. It creates an eerie scene. Sounds seem muffled. We stand at the steps of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I look into the distance, across the brick chimneys given ode to the barracks that once stood there, and see a herd of deer. Nature reclaiming this site. The earth will remember the hundred of thousands whose lives ended here but the area will be reclaimed. Deer will continue to graze upon the land, and birds will continue to sing. The deer finally leave through an opening in the barbed-wire fence.