Human Rights in Poland 2013

Sixteen SMU students, faculty and staffers, along with DFW community members, will be in Poland Dec. 18–30 to visit Holocaust sites. Led by SMU Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin, the group will visit cities and death camps where, during World War II, some 4,375,000 people were murdered during the country’s Nazi, Germany, occupation.

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Seeking understanding at Chelmno

An update from Jazmin, a senior majoring in human rights and Spanish:

CONCENTRATION CAMP: CHELMNO
GEOGRAPHICAL AREA: NEAR WARSAW
DEATHS: 250,000

“If only my head was filled with water and my eyes were a fountain of tears, then I would weep by day and night over the destruction of the flower of my people.” – Jeremiah

History

Camp Chelmno began functioning as early as December 1941. Rolf Hoppner greatly influenced the construction of this camp as he had a proposal for “solving the Jewish problem.” The way prisoners were sent to their deaths was a gruesome process. At initial arrival, prisoners were told that they needed to take off their clothing because they needed to first be disinfected in order to go to the camp to work. Prisoners would surrender their clothing and were made to believe that they were going to take a shower. After, the hostages were then loaded into automobiles to be transported to the site where they would “work.” However, this did not happen.

Officials would start the motors, and exhaust fumes would enter the truck while it was driven to the Rzuchowski Forest, which was 4 kilometers from Chelmno. During this short drive, all the prisoners inside the truck died. What inmates believed to be their home and workplace for the next several weeks/months, in reality became a drive to their deaths.

My Reflection

“We dream of a better life with truth and justice a life that is not but will some day be… ”
“My aim is to love and be righteous instead of being loved and adored…”

It is difficult for me to process the ruthlessness of a camp when I first arrive. My emotional state of mind is overpowered with shock as I simply cannot break down the contents to reality. In class, when I would read about the Nazi concentration camps such as Chelmno, I thought I understood the suffering of the lives of the many victims who were murdered and viciously put to work. Little did I know that I was nowhere near understanding the brutality they endured.

Let’s put in perspective our own lives when we think of the Holocaust. For example, imagine that one day as you are coming home from work, you see that there are Nazi soldiers at your house. Thinking to yourself, you know that the picture before your eyes is an event from which no good can come. You quickly run inside to find that the Nazi officials have already arrested your mother, father, brother, sister, child, or any other friend or family member inside and are being brutally hit to evoke fear and power. How do you confront this? Do you fight to liberate them and die trying? Or do you join them by surrendering and suffering in the months to come… if you are even given the opportunity?

Even after researching and studying the many events that took place during the Holocaust, I do not believe that we can ever grasp the whole entity of the misery that took place during WWII. When I was at camp Chelmno, I kneeled down to feel the earth. The evening was cold, windy, and quiet. I reflected upon the commemorations and stone readings, all of which made me cry, but one in particular caught my eye. The stone read, “In memory of my father, Rachmil Strazynski, who mourned them [his wife and children] the rest of his life.” When I read this, I felt a hole being blown through my body. You can never quite experience the pain so vividly as when you are present in front of the event. When I read this, I imagined a family in the past, much like mine, who ate dinner together, shared memories, and grew to make one another a better person. How did hate end the happiness of not only one family, but hundreds of thousands of families? No longer could they eat together, nor tell each other how much they loved one another.

I was truly angered, but I wasn’t quite sure at who or what. I didn’t know who to direct my anger toward; I was mad at myself for being so ungrateful with my family, I was mad at the government and state for limiting my education of the Holocaust, and I was mad because thousands of lives were taken ruthlessly over a 5-6 year period before anything was done to help. Who in their right mind murders families on a 5- to 10-minute automobile ride? Better yet – willingly?

At the end, I could only discuss my options with my classmates. Though they were as confused as I was, we still managed to understand that we were on this trip for awareness and a better education in hopes of making the world a better place. It is moments of enlightenment such as these that make me work harder to help humanity.

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