But considering I spent a full day visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau last Thursday, it's tempting to veer from that template for a moment to reflect on what can only be described as an indredible day. I should probably take a moment and try to express the wave and breadth of emotions that I felt as I toured the scene of one of the most heinous crimes in all of humanity.
But I'm not going to.
Because I can't.
Ce n'est pas possible! I refer once again to what my parents told me after their visit 30 years ago: it's impossible to describe.
But I do have a few thoughts that I'll share, as well a few photographs.
- I'll start where I started in the earlier post: it is incredible that the French Ministry of Education provides this opportunity for students. They chartered one plane every day this week and filled it with students from all around the departement. Our plane had 8 different schools -- each with about 20 students. (How would you like to fly with 180 14-year olds)? I hope the flight crew got a bonus!
- It was COLD! With the wind we were told it was -20! That is cold. The 2 1/2 outdoor tour of the Birkenau section was incredibly cold.
- We participated in a short ceremony at the main memorial. A student read two poems, a Rabbi from Nice led a short reading and prayer, then an Auschwitz survivor (M. Gotlieb) led a group of students in laying a wreath of flowers -- flowers sponsored by the Alpes Maritimes. It only lasted about 5 minutes, but was quite powerful.
- Great lunch -- very what-I-consdier Eastern European food.
- The students seemed more moved by the afternoon part of the tour -- the part that included Auschwitz. It helped that a lof of the tour was indoors -- in the buildings -- and included exhibits, photos, etc.
- The Execution Wall. Tough to look at, even now.
- Barbed wire everywhere; and high guard towers.
- If I have to pick between watching Schindler's List or Life is Beautiful, I chose the later.
- How does one begin to describe the stairs that lead down to the crematoriums?
- Arbeit Macht Frei -- the sign is back up, after being stolen last month.
A ceremony at the Memorial led by a Rabbi from Nice (the Auschwitz survivor who came with us is the man on the right with the hat and ear-warmers, M. Gotleib).
I took this photo partly because it shows how intently the students are listening to the tour guide. Tough not to pay attention when the photos behind them are being explained.Quite a day, that's for sure.
Late Update: The Nice Matin newspaper has a story in today's edition. In French, of course, but one of our students (Matteo) is featured a couple of times. France 2 also showed a segment on the news last night that I'm going to look for on their website.