An extraordinary school trip…

fot. Sophia Gass
a railway to death: this railway lead imprisoners to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau

First of all: Hello. My name is Sarah, I am a student living in Germany and I am about to share some of my thoughts and impressions with you on the blog of our student exchange-expedition-site which is about the Holocaust in the 2nd World War. As a group consisting out of 20 students from Italy, Germany and Poland, we were intensely engaged with this topic and also visited the museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is an exhibition of a former concentration and extermination camp for mostly Jews, political opposites, Gypsies and Polish people. Here are some images. I don’t know how to comment them, that is why I’ll try to quote our tour guide, whose words were appropriate.

fot. Sophia Gass
one of the gas chambers in Auschwitz where millions of Jews, political opposites, Gypsies and Polish citizens were murdered (photo by Sophia Gass)
fot. Sophia Gass
shoes of former camp inhabitants (photo by Sophia Gass)

As I walked through this museum, many feelings occured, which I have never dealt with before. Feelings of sympathy, anger. deceit and guilt. The latters were very intense and being honest, I had a difficult time handling them. Deceit in the human race and its horrible ability of torturing members of their own species and guilt of my own behaviour. Many moments of me moaning about unimportant things came to my mind. If I have learnt something in this trip, it is gratefullness. Gratefullness for not living in these terrrible circumstances which these poor human beings had to suffer from, gratefullness for my family, my friends and most importantly my faith. As a Bahaí, the equality and nobleness of every man and woman was an unquestioned fact as I was taught to love every human being „as one member of your own family”. Thanks to my family my life was „sheltered” in a way which at the same time gave me the opportunity to learn about nearly anything I wanted to learn. This is how much more shocking this trip was for me. I cried a lot and nearly lost my belief in the good side of humans. As these terrible pictures would not disappear from my mind, I decided to pray in order to find rest. As a result of my demoralised mood was this kind of prose-text.

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A painting by the artist Marian Kolodziej a former inhabitant of Auschwitz concentration camp (photo by Sophia Gass)

 

Eyes staring at me accusingly.

they seem so empty, full of pain and dispair.

Bodies so thin, I’m afraid they might break,

but the shoulders have to carry much more than just bones.

You can’t see muscles anywhere,

just quiet desolation everywhere you look.

You will find no sign of strength-

Here-where hope turns into despair-

here-where love turns into constant fear-

here-where friendship turns into a fight of survival-

here-where strength disappears. (by Sarah Tuerke)

After these dark thoughts I tried to find a reasonable connection between the Holocaust and the education I was raised with, which did not seem to fit together at all. After reading, I found out that these coincidence were a lack of moral education. That a child could, depending on his/her education, bring light to the world, but could also be its darkness. This made clear that I had a responsibility- the responsibility of being a role model to the children and to help them developing spiritual values, but also intellectual skills which will help them to express their opinion in the right way. I want to quit my post with a quote from Baha’u’ llah, the founder of the Bahai religion.

“Regard a man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable values. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.”

My hope is that humanity is now able to learn out of history and will see the need of giving every child an appropriate and balanced education, so that one day every child is able to bring light to the world. That such a terrible part of history as the Holocaust will never happen again.

Sarah Tuerke

Why isn’t Holocaust a normal genocide?

Sometimes when people learn about the Holocaust, they think it’s similar to the Armenian genocide, or to the former Jugoslavian one. Actually, they are mistaken. You can ask: „Why is it different?” Well, you should watch some photo I selected from Google images (all the photos are selected from Google Images) to show the difference.

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via Google

This is a photo about the Armenian genocide. It refers to when Turkish army started to kill thousands and more of Armenian people. Usually they were killed by hunger or exhaustion  by the marches or murdered by the soldiers. It happened during the first period of 20th century, when the Turkish were allied with Germans. This genocide had some particularity, because there was some episode about scientific rationalisation of killing, but only some isolated cases.

Now, let’s look at this photo, please.

Srebrenica_Massacre_-_Exhumed_Grave_of_Victims_-_Potocari_2007
via Google

This is a photo about genocide of former Jugoslavia. It refers to when Bosnian-Serbians (and also Bosnian-Croatians, in certain occasions) killed thousands of muslim Bosnian people (and sometimes Bosnian-Croatians or Bosnian-Serbians). In that case, genocide wasn’t really a „scientific” method, because there was too much chaos, there was no organization for more complex actions.

We can consider other genocides, like the Redskin’s extermination, or Rwanda civil war, but for now we should focus on this one example.

The Holocaust is different. Why? Let’s observe this photo.

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via Google

„Who’s that man? Aren’t we talking about the Holocaust?” Well, this is, for me, a photo which can represent it. Please, observe again all photos selected. I chose them not only to make the reader emotionally moved, but also because I want to send you a message, using a single photo as a rapresentation of an entire genocide. Don’t you notice some difference?

In the previous two photos, you can understand that death was an evidence for assassinated and assassins. When the ones were killed by the seconds, for assassinated and assassins there was a direct contact with the death.

In the third photo, you can see a normal man, who looks like a simple clerk. He’s Eichmann, he was a Nazi, an SS officer and he was responsible for the important part of the Holocaust, but he didn’t kill anyone with his own hands.

So, the main point is that the Holocaust had bureaucracy, a scientific method and ideological rationality to it. The victims weren’t simply excluded and killed, but they were deportated, imprisonated, tortured and killed with a scientific and economic consideration, so death became an economic instrument. For this point Holocaust isn’t a normal genocide.

Many times people think Holocaust is similar to the soviet system of deportation, where people were transfered to gulags, forced to work and often killed. They say Hitler and Stalin are the same, and what’s more they say Communism and Nazism are the same thing. People think they were allied and friends, because they confused difference between a non-aggression pact and an alliance but forgetting the WW2 and cruelty of Stalingrad, Leningrad, Oriental Prussia, Berlin. There are  even films about this theory. But, also in this case, there is an important error.

Here is a photo presenting a day in a gulag.

images
via Google

Millions of people died in gulags. Also in this case burocracy organized everything with a rational and scientific method. But  it isn’t the same, you can’t say there was the “soviet Holocaust”. Why? There were differences. For example, in gulag people were deportated for political reasons, because prisoners were considereted traitors or criminals. During the Nazi Holocaust, victims were killed not only for political reasons, but also and principally for their race.

An important difference is that Nazism was an ideology created by a man like Hitler, who was a crazy person and his ideas were born from his obsessions. Communism was theorized by intellectuals, it’s based on social and economic points, it isn’t created by a fullish person.

So everything varies: first of all during Holocaust victims were usually made inhuman, only then they were killed. Nazists considered them animals, not humans. In gulags it didn’t happen, because, there, humans were humans, not animals just treated in a terrible way.

So, you can’t think of the soviet system of deportation as similar to Holocaust because millions of people died. There were many other mass murders, like in Cambodia, in Timor Est or in Indonesia. Should we consider them the Holocaust? And what about redskins? What about Armenia, former Jugoslavia, Rwanda, Australia? Is everything the Holocaust? No, this would be making history too simple and stereotypical.

Don’t you think stereotypes are dangerous?

Nicolo` Cascone.

Children, Teenagers, Holocaust…Why?

When the World War II began and the Nazi party members started to persecute Jews, Gypsies and political enemies from all the submitted states, even children were a part of that horrible massacre.

Lots of children, the women and elderly people were immidiately destinated to death chambers because they were considered unable to work. We know that in Aushwitz died 216.000 Jewish children ,11.000 Gipsy children, more than 3.000 Polish children and more than 1.000 Soviet Union children.

When they were not destinated to death they were used for science experiments and they were terribly tortured.

We think that killing a child is more difficult than killing an adult because children are „pure”. So why?

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ph: Clara La Fauci

In our opinion  if someone wants to earase culture, it is more functional to start killing children because they are the men and women of the future, and so the ones who will keep the traditional identity of people.

We can find cruelty in killing child and young people even in the fact that they won’t have the chance to live a life, they did not even know why they were killed.

When we went to Auschwitz camp, we travelled back in the past and tried to feel a small part of their pain and their stories, we couldn’t imagine their experiences. Maybe if we were the prisoners like them, from the point of view of  teenagers as we are now,  we might not be able to survive the destruction of our soul.  In fact as a Polish survivor said :”don’t cry for the ones who died because they are free but cry for the ones who are alive because we have to wait for our death”.

In other words the point which this survivor wanted to focus on was that in a situation like that, growing up and  having lived a part of your life which destroyed you inside, left scars that would always be a part of you.

So why MUST we remember what happened?

The fact that this tragedy has already happened doesn’t mean that it won’t happen again. People still die because of their religion and because of their culture. We think that people should enter deeply inside the history of the Holocaust,  as we did during our project, to really understand how humans can be mad, cruel and terribly insane in dealing with people who lived near them. Creating an almost perfect „death machine” they turned themselves into animals.The most unbelievable thing is that they wanted to decide about the life of a man or a woman, by becoming players of an insane game.

We want to end with a quote from the poem If this is a man by an Italian survivior Primo Levi:

„Meditate that this came about:

I commend these words to you,

Carve them in your hearts

At home, in the street,

Going to bed, rising:

Repeat them to your children.”

Caterina Cosenza, Clara La Fauci

The Road to Death

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fot. Maciej Pietrzko

This week on the 4th of November we visited the concentration camp – Auschwitz Birkenau. During the experience there we learnt a lot about humans situation in the camp. The most dramatic thing for us was the fact, that the prisoners didn’t exactly know where they were going and what would happen to them. All those people were unaware. They took a lot of useful, casual things like hairbrushes, shoes polishes and cutlery – it all was taken away by the Germans. For the victims of this crime the train tracks were a symbol of the beginning of a new chapter in their lives, but eventually it was a symbol of death. When they had arrived they realised what really happend to them and still couldn’t be sure if they would live to the next day. Right after their arrival they were selected by the SS doctors. If they were able to work, they survived, if not they were immediately sent to the gas chambers, mostly children with their mothers and elderly people. In our opinion the most terrifying fact is that just a few seconds of Nazi soldiers’ gaze decided about such a big number of human lives.

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fot. Marta Talaga

People were treated like animals, destinated for slaughter. Into one carriage there were more than 80 poeple put for a road that could take more than a week. They had no stops to use toilets or have something to drink and eat. Some of them didn’t survive the dreadful road. After their arrival at the camp the true hell began…  

Marta Talaga
Sophia Gass
Maciej Pietrzko

Another World

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fot. Clara La Fauci

Incomprehension, Anger, Sorrow – none of these words can really describe the feelings you have during the visit of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum.

It already starts when you get off the bus and the cold wind makes you freeze, but the thought of malnourished people working in nothing more than thin inmate clothing makes you freeze even more.  When you enter the camp through the front gate with the ironic inscription „Arbeit macht frei” (Work will set you free) you can already feel the desperate and lonely atmosphere of Auschwitz. The barracks themselves look peaceful under the trees in the sun. In front of one of them, in a place where innocent people got shot, someone left some flowers. The barracks under the trees, as well as the flowers, make it all look unreal and displaced. And the dark and desperate world that Auschwitz was just 70 years ago seems quite strange, surreal and curious. In one of the barracks you are still able to see some of the belongings of the former prisoners. There were brushes and prayer scarfs, shoes and dishes next to real human hair that was shaved off the victims’ heads before they got killed by the Nazis.

Nearly 1.1 million of innocent, normal people lost their lives at this camp, most of them in the gas chambers in Birkenau. In those chambers about 2000 persons could be killed at the same time. 75% of them were Jews.  But not everyone got killed immediately, thousands and thousands of inmates (educated persons, teachers, writers, politicians, doctors but also farmers and workers) from all over the world had to work for the Nazis. For example in the latrines, the toilets, in the camp to clean them. And those workers who did, you would say a dirty job, considered themselves lucky, because they could work inside the camp and were safer there.

A world in which toilet cleaners consider themselves lucky, where music is not played for amusement but for marching and were people went to the hospital not to get better, but to die, you can only find in the concentration camps of the 3rd Reich. When I saw all those things, when I heard and read about them, when I saw traumatic pictures drawn by the camp survivor and listened to several stories there was just one question that popped up in my head: WHY? Why did people have to die in such brutal and unhuman ways? Why did the Nazis kill all those innocent people? How could they hate the whole nation so much to kill them all in the most brutal camps of death the world have ever seen? How could they kill them at Auschwitz-Birkenau?

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fot. Clara La Fauci

Sarah Hoppe

Holocaust, Why?

Hello, my name is Ferdinand C. Schon and I am from Germany. I visited for the first time in my life a concentration camp. I’ve wanted to visit a place like that when I first Iearned about the Holocaust. Today I was so excited and nervous, because the concentration camp I visited was Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The largest and deadliest of them. After I’ve seen an art gallery of Marian Kołodziej I’ve wanted to understand what must have happened to a man who drew like this. Those paintings were so horrible and frightening in the way they were presented. What must have happened to him?

fot. Sophia Gass
fot. Sophia Gass

At first we arrived at the infamous „Arbeit macht frei” sign (work will set you free). In the first moment I thought, yeah it is a metal sign, what now? This historically important place, a place I’ve wanted to see leaves me with a chill inside. Next  were the barracks of first cells with 3-floor beds. Well, I’ve seen those already in documentation movies. But there were touching things in there, like the starving cells or standing cells or dark cells. After that I saw a shooting wall and that was the first place were my imagination came in. Here died probably thousands of people and now it’s a grey wall with flowers in front of it…

After this place we went into a barrack were I saw the leftovers of the belongings of the former inmates of Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. For me it was the hardest thing to look at and for the others who were there as well. Shoes, thousands of shoes or baby clothes. There were real clothes of little children. But the worst was the hair room. A room full of shaved hair of the imprisoned women. Tons of it. My thoughts started to flow again.

Why did you people have to kill children and women? Why did you have to shave their heads and why all those had to happen?

Then I went to a gas chamber. It was a large square room with 4 holes in the roof. And again, thousands of people died there. Innocent people. Why did you have to kill those people? Next to the gas chamber was the recreated crematorium. It was a small room with a few ovens in it. To imagine all those corpses of all the killed people got in this room and  burned into ashes is beyond me. Just cruel to think of it. After I left Auschwitz we went immediately to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

fot. Sophia Gass
fot. Sophia Gass

After I entered the door I saw all this huge free space and I had to think of what it might have looked like when it was in operating state. I thought: what a huge, huge waste of land and what a waste of human lives and human culture. This place was made for 400.000 inmates which is four times more than my home town inhabitants and just to kill those people?

After I entered I went to  the middle of this structure, the train platform, and there was only one. There were cattle wagons which took the Jews  to the concentration camp. It was horrible to think of that there were up to 80 people inside it. After that I went to the destroyed crematoriums and gas chambers. These gas chambers were for 2000 people, for 2000! and it needed 15 to 20 minutes to kill them. There were three of these gas chambers. That means you can kill 6000 people in 15 to 20 minutes. The tour guide said that in one hour they could kill 10.000 people. These are things you don’t want to think of.

After this disgusting place I went back to the entrance because this is where the rebuilds of the barracks of the inmates were. Just uninsulated wooden buildings. In Poland, when in winters you get easily to 20 degrees below freezing! Just horrible. Unthinkable nowadays. After those building the visit ended but one question doesn’t leave me. Why? Just why did the Germans do that to such a community of people? From where did all this hatred come?

I didn’t find the answer but I realized one thing. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get it at all. I don’t understand all these hatred in generally. I just can’t understand hatred. In this cruel, horrible and bad place I learned something about myself too. One thing that I can’t get away from my mind. I’m ashamed to be German for what happened in the past. I’m ashamed of that the people of my country, where I was born and raised did such things to others. It is already 70 years ago and I think maybe I put too much in it but I feel so queasy about it.

But in the end, I’ve learned that I didn’t understand why they did that. I’ve noticed that I’m ashamed of what they did seventy years ago. But I also learned that it has already been 70 years since. And what’s important is to learn about it, remember and carry on living.

Ferdinand C. Schon

Survivors: Light and Darkness in the Same Body

Auschwitz is horrible. It is monstruosity. Madness. I don’t believe how people could be so unhuman. It’s like a deathly game, a sort of survival horror. Life and death, good and evil, everything is confusing. You can survive, you can be killed, it does not depend on you, it does not depend on anyone. Maybe it depends on a sort of a strange, sadistic creature, who decides that everybody must go mad.

If you are lucky (or unlucky) to survive, like Marian Kolodziej, your life cannot be the same afterwards. Not only during his life in the camp, but also after the liberation, like many other survivors, he had symptoms of the trauma he had been through, like insomnia, shame, sadness and feelling of guilt… These feelings never abandoned him for his entire life. Marian, survived Auschwitz, never told anything about his life in the camp, until, after a stroke, he began to draw which became a therapy. Drawing reminded him the atrocity he lived. He recognized that for his whole life he wore a mask, livng as a fake person.

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fot. Caterina Cosenza

It was time to take off the mask.

Through his artistic work, Marian could reconcile his two personalities, the prisoner and the survivor, which before the stroke tormented him with the symptoms of a Survivors’ Syndrome.

Why? Why did he feel guilty? Why did he destroy his personality? Why was he unable to change his life before? Why did he need to wear a mask? The answers, as the Italian ex-prisoner and writer Primo Levi said in his essay „The Drawned and the Saved”, may be various:

  • the guilt of being a survivor among the millions of innocents who died;
  • the guilt of omitting and not doing anything to prevent the condition into which he was forced;
  • the guilt of thinking only of his own survival;
  • the guilt of belonging to the human race that had been able to commit such terrible actions.

But these are uncertain answers. Because the prisoners had to face pure evil and unsensed cruelty and this could bring to madness. Talking about the „human race” that committed those actions or survived is inappropriate, because there were no humans as such anymore in the camps: in Auschwitz, like in other „death machines”, there weren’t humans torturing other humans, there were beasts fighting other beasts. Because the prisoners were considered ANIMALS and to survive they had to become MONSTERS.

pictures to be added…

Simone Bartoli and Beatrice Olcese