Human Rights in Poland 2010

In December 2010, the Embrey Human Rights Program is taking students and staff on a tour to Poland, where they will visit World War II memorials and concentration camps.

Christmas Eve

Ashley.jpg An update from Ashley, a junior journalism major and sociology minor:

Poland%20204.jpg Belzac is by far the most intense camp we’ve been to. It is an extermination camp, designed solely for the purpose of exterminating the Jews and all enemies of the Reich. At least 500,000 people were murdered there.

When we drove up, all you could see was this huge snow-covered hill with thousands of black stones sticking out. Immediately upon exiting the bus, there was a sign that read:

Poland%20203.jpg “This is the site of the murder
of about 500,000 victims
of the Belzac death camp
established for the purpose of killing
The Jews of Europe whose lives were brutally taken
between February and December 1942
By Nazi Germany.

Earth do not cover my blood
Let there be no resting
place for my outcry
Job 16:18”

Rust had dripped down from the lettering on the sign like fresh blood. My heart was captured from the second I stepped foot on the snowy ground.

The Belzac museum was amazing, and it shook me to my very core. The beginning contained a walk-through history with information on the war in general and Hitler’s extermination of the Jews; then you step into a room specifically about Belzac.

“Mommy, mommy, Haven’t I been good? It’s dark. It’s dark,” reads a huge stone in the middle of the room. A commandant of the camp said that this was a sound he heard from a child in the gas chamber. Heartwrenching, all of it.

In the next room, some of the victims of the camp are named. Each poster shows pictures from life before the war and gives some personal details about their lives. When I see names of people is when the reality of the Holocaust really starts to hit me. These were real people, not just ashes, not just a page in my history book, but real human beings whose lives were ended viciously.

There was one more room in the museum, The Reflection Room. I entered alone. There is no sign, just a heavy iron door that leads to a huge cement room. The room is empty except for a red stone with Polish writing etched in. It was terrifying in that room. Every ounce of my being wanted to turn and run for the door. You could almost hear the voices of the deceased crying out.

I traced my hand along the border of the room taking it all in. I felt so nauseated and scared and so completely alone. When I tried to leave, I pulled the door and it didn’t open. A moment of panic. Luckily I had just forgotten to push instead of pull, but what if I couldn’t leave? I am lucky. I get to see the camp and walk out the gate on the other side. 500,000 people didn’t have that privilege.

After leaving the museum I walked all the way into the monument to the back where we were leaving a candle in honor of the victims. The back wall had the same verse from Job etched into the stone, and on the inside the first names of victims had been carved.

Belzac was unbelievable. 500,000 people annihilated. The light and beauty brought into the world by half a million people was so brutally extinguished.

It is Christmas Eve and this is my only wish this year, “Unto every man a name.”

Never forget.

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Getting there: a traveling nightmare

Ashley.jpg An update from Ashley, a junior journalism major and sociology minor:

The uproar over TSA and its new scans was the least of our problems as my group of 12 struggled to make it to Gdansk, Poland. After arriving at D/FW, we were told that the airport in Frankfort, Germany, that we were flying into was closed and we would be delayed. However, we actually ended up leaving on time, a good sign, or so I thought.

After a close to 11-hour flight, we arrived 2 hours late into Germany due to unforseen weather conditions, and when we finally landed we were informed that our connecting flight to Gdansk had been cancelled.

The Frankfort ariport cancelled more than 600 flights, and all of the displaced people were forced to stand in a line that emcompassed the entire building. Five hours. Finally after the most exhausting five hours we arrived at the ticket counter, where they told us that the best they could do was put all 12 of us on standby for the 5 p.m. flight. While this was better than nothing, what are the chances of all 12 of us getting off the waiting list?

A miracle happened; we all got seats on the plane. Unfortunately, the 5 p.m. flight did not take off. The weather was too bad and the plane we were supposed to be on could not leave Gdansk to come pick us up. But at 10:15 p.m. exactly 12 hours after our first flight to Gdansk was scheduled to takeoff, our actual flight began rolling down the runway.

31 hours of traveling, and a group of 12 exhausted people, but we had made it to Poland and in four short hours were about to begin our journey through the German concentration and extermination camps on Polish soil. First stop: Stutthof.

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Getting ready for takeoff

Ashley.jpg An update from Ashley, a junior journalism major and sociology minor:

Tomorrow is the big day! There are so many emotions and thoughts flooding my mind.

I consider myself a good traveler. I spent last spring circumnavigating the globe, and I have had the opportunity to see and learn about so many different things. But this time, I have no idea what to expect, and I am nervous.

Reading and movies can teach you only so much, and taking this physical journey through the concentration camps in Poland will be intense and different from anything I have ever experienced.

Takeoff in the morning … Gdansk, here I come!

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