Day 10: Auschwitz – Birkenau – Krakow

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Yesterday in Trsice, we visited the memorial in the forest where the Otto Wolf family hid for three long years with the help of Christian villagers.  The memorial was dedicated in 2012 and bears the names of three schools in the United States that worked to build this memorial.  One of the schools is St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kansas, where Lisa Bauman teaches Holocaust Literature. 
This morning, we were awakened by the news of the tragic shooting at the Jewish Community Center and the Village Shalom in Overland Park, Kansas.  A known Ku Klux Klan leader, the alleged shooter reportedly yelled “Heil Hitler” from the backseat of the police car as he was arrested.  Many students from Overland Park, Kansas have participated in the Holocaust Study Tour over the years, and one of them even worked as a lifeguard at the Jewish Community Center. 

We have spent the day at Auschwitz and Birkenau, two of the most tragic sites in the world, where men and women made choices to act and not to act in the face of hatred.  Our students walked quietly and thoughtfully through the haunting exhibits of items taken from Jewish victims upon arrival: eye glasses, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, articles of baby clothing and children’s shoes.  

They stood aghast in front of the unfathomable piles of human hair and shoes, while holding on to each other for support.  However, the moment of most impact came in a section of a new exhibit in Block 27 curated, designed and built  by Yad Vashem. In a separate room is an enormous book as big as the room, the Book of Names,  filling two sides of many, many pages listing the names of more than four million documented Jewish victims of the Holocaust.  

Beside the names are the dates of birth and the place of death. We slowly realized that our students were searching through the lists for their last names and names of their family members murdered during the Holocaust.  Many broke down in tears, realizing that if they were born in a different place and time, they, too, could have been listed in this book. Across from the Book of Names are photo frames with changing color photos of Holocaust survivors and their families, to celebrate the continuation of Jewish life.

On this day at Auschwitz, we realize once again the importance of our work.  The memorial in Trsice connects Overland Park, Kansas physically to this place through an engraving on a marble memorial.  However, all of the students who have been on the Holocaust Study Tour throughout the years also connect to Overland Park, Kansas, because they see the importance of studying this history.  They see what can happen when a person limited to a viewpoint of hatred and prejudice acts in violence, shooting innocent victims.  Our students are forever changed because of spending this Passover in Auschwitz and Birkenau, and will forever share the lessons learned here on this 14thday of April in 2014.

We ended our day walking to Cherubino restaurant off Market Square in Krakow where we celebrated the first night of Passover with an explanation of the Seder meal in both Judaism and Christianity and a joyful celebration of Nick’s 18th birthday.


Student Photography Reflections
Dana’s photo:
A picture that a child drew while in Auschwitz of what she/he saw. This is really important to me because it shows their innocence was taken before they got the chance to live. 

Kyle’s photo:
The beginning of the end.  You go into the sauna, a human with an identity,  a name, and a personality.  You come out a number that has no name and no personality.

Tara’s photo:
Two worlds, above and below,
The past and the present take flight to show.
We must keep moving forward and remember the past.
We cannot take it back, but we can make sure its history will last.

Gayle ‘s Photo: 
The gates state that “work will set you free” which instead of making them feel free, the prisoners were trapped and sent to their own death, a few being my relatives. 

Greg’s Photo:  
The book of names where I found my relatives: names such as Kleinman, Moross, Bregman, Sidor, and Merer

Jane’s Photo:
Hell is a place on earth.

Kiefer’s Photo:

A rose can interpret life, death, and loss; in this case it can represent all three .

McKenzie’s Photo:
“You are in control of your dreams. You are also imprisoned by them.”-Mr. Barmore Walking through Birkenau makes you feel trapped just as the prisoners felt when they were kept there. 

Nick ‘s Photo: 
Photograph of a man named Wolf Flasker with obvious signs of abuse; I can only speculate that he, unlike many, in some way, tried to resist.

Nicole’s Photo:
Flowers in the gas chamber-represents all the lives that have been taken and how we have to learn from it. 

Raquel’s Photo:

” Walking in someone’s else’s shoes”
– the children who were gassed were forced to remove their shoes.

 Sarah’s Photo: 
We are able to return home, an impossibility for the more than a million individuals who traveled these tracks. 

Shane’s Photo: 
Terezin: The interpretations of a child.

Trevor’s Photo: 
“More than just the end of a railroad line – this spot marked the end of the lives of millions of innocent people.”

Matt’s Photo:  
My relatives lost in the Holocaust at Auschwitz


  1. \”Why is this night different from all other nights?\” the youngest child, who is able to, asks each year at our Passover Seders. For us, Tara was with you in Poland, instead of asking that question here at home, (and Jenna stayed at college, again, this year,) so it was very different not having either of our daughters with us, (we're too young to be \”empty nesters,\” yet!) That you spent today at Auschwitz and Birkenau, when we spent tonight remembering our slavery and celebrating our freedom from bondage, is surreal to me. And that Nick celebrated his 18th birthday, (the number 18 in Hebrew stands for \”chai\” or \”life,\”) was a wonderfully uplifting ending to an emotionally depleting day. Happy Birthday, Nick! 🙂


  2. Watching the posted videos and seeing the students' journey was very moving for me. I am sometimes struck at odd times at man's inhumanity to man, specifically, the holocaust and feel a profound sadness; I am perplexed how this was allowed to happen. Going through the photos and videos was also strangely uplifting. You are honoring everyone who died, you are witnessing this history in a personal way and making a difference to the greater world that you touch with your deeper understanding of what all those millions of victims suffered. Your pilgrimage is helping us all. Thank you.


  3. This was definitely one of the most important stops of the trip, and it really looks like their surroundings are sinking in with the kids on the trip. This was one of the hardest days on the trip for me, and I can't imagine how it would have been able to look through books to find names of deceased family members. I love that you were able to incorporate the student's most memorable photos on the blog this year, such a great touch. I hope you all enjoy the rest of your trip. Happy Passover!


  4. I always found the hardest part of the trip to be balancing the irony of being a well-off teenager, free to follow my bliss while visiting the sight of such dehumanizing scars on our existence where men, women, and children were treated as anything but free-willed spirits. The most transcendent learning moments came upon drawing a connection between myself and the names in those books you all read today. For me, it was standing on the platform overlooking the camp. For some, it was finding a common surname in the many many pages. I can't imagine how special it must be to celebrate Passover after such an emotional day at a place like Auschwitz-Birkenau. It's those types of moments that go above being a student into being a member of humanity not linked by time but by shared experiences.The trip will end, but may the learning never stop.


  5. As I read through the updates for today, I was moved especially in light of the tragedy at Overland Park on the eve of the Passover. I can only imagine the emotions that might have stirred for the students who are on this remarkable trip. It is humbling to know how very, very fortunate and blessed we are in comparison to the millions of Jews whose lives were lost and millions more who have suffered. In addition, each picture posted by the students grieved my heart as I reflected on the stories behind each picture. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.


  6. As my class finishes up a unit on the hero's journey, I'm struck by all the heroes you have met and learned about, those who survived and those who did not. Thank you for your pictures and moving posts.


  7. \”All of the students who have been on the Holocaust Study Tour throughout the years also connect to Overland Park, Kansas, because they see the importance of studying this history.\” Today my English class was discussing the events in Kansas as we were researching background information for To Kill a Mockingbird. The students were shocked by the mention of the KKK still today. Education and knowledge are power. The trip you are experiencing is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I hope each of you will use to educate others.


  8. It looks so moving to learn there. and be able to be so present. I really like to see what stood out to the individual students. John says he misses the classmates – especially Shane.


  9. Just read over the updates for Auschwitz – Birkenau – Krakow, Day 10. I thought this was the most impactful part of the blog so far. Nicoles photo of the flowers in the gas chamber is a very simple but powerful image, showing respect for those who lost their lives during experiences within the camps. The second most impactful image is Raquels photo of the children's shoes. This gives a bit of perspective to the amount of people and children who lost their lives due to Hitlers ideology. These images are worth more than a thousand words and show how many lives were affected by Nazi reign in Germany and Europe. Thank you so much for sharing, it will be wonderful to have you back in class to share this experience with us all.


  10. I really like the photos that have been published by the students on this trip. My favorite is the rose with the barbed wire in front of it. I think the photos really capture the sadness that surrounds this concentration camp. Today we watched the movie about the fighters in the Warsaw ghetto. I hope one day I can go to Warsaw and Auschwitz to see these places for myself. I think that learning about and seeing these monstrosities will prepare us for the future and prevent this from ever happening again.


  11. I can only imagine the feelings you all felt while walking through the camp. The pictures and reflections are very powerful and capture the impact the Nazis had on so many innocent Jews. The Book of Names must have been a powerful thing to see. It truly shows the masses of people who lost their life's and were victims of the Holocaust. Enjoy the rest of your trip! I look forward to hearing about it once you all return to school.


  12. Seems to be a very moving part of the trip. I have enjoyed looking through all the pictures and seeing what group has been doing. I think it is amazing how Greg was able to find some of his relatives in the book of names and I hope that everyone is doing well. I wish everyone the best and would like to know what has been their favorite part of the trip so far?


  13. I personally loved the photo by Jane saying \”Hell is a place on earth\”. The explanation of the photo is short but so meaning full. From this angle one can only imagine what it to come of them once they reach this camp. It is moving and deep.I'm sure today seeing all these things has been really hard and I hope everyone stays positive. Have fun, learn a lot and I cant wait to hear all the stories.


  14. I so admire your courage and commitment to learning first-hand these important and moving truths, your sharing of these tragic and powerful discoveries, and your keeping these stories in the forefront of today's reality. There is so much that can only be learned by making a pilgrimage such as yours. You are providing a depth of understanding that is unparalleled. I can barely hold it together while reading your posts! Thank you all!!


  15. When studying the Holocaust you always read about the concentration camps and what really went on behind the closed doors. I am sure a reader can never really fully understand what went on in the camps until they are actually there or have experienced it themselves. I can’t imagine how powerful it must have been to walked through Auschwitz and remember all the victims that did the same as they faced death. Looking at all these pictures it’s hard to understand why all this happened and it is really hard to wrap my head around it. I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the trip and I can't wait to hear all about it when you all return to school!


  16. I cannot imagine how emotional it must have been to visit Auschwitz and walk around the infamous camp. An experience like that must have had a profound impact on all of you and I cannot begin to comprehend what you must have felt while there. Looking through all of your pictures and reading your comments moved me and I would like to thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I look forward to hearing more when you return!


  17. It must be an amazing and mindblowing experience to go outside of learning about the Holocaust through books and physically being there. Can't wait to hear about it back at school!


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