22 January 2010

Auschwitz-Birkenau

I DO MY best to keep this blog as un-serious as possible. There are no posts about how much I love my wife or adore my children; nothing about how much I miss my friends and family; and certainly nothing about the Meaning of Life. This space is reserved for an informal, kind-of-fun, often sophomoric written/photo diary of our life in France. Plus a dash of sports and politics.

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 few photos from the trip:

Our tour begins just inside the main gate at Birkenau.

Over 400 acres. All surrounded by barbed wire.

The single, solitary train car is quite an image.

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).

One of my students brought flowers to lay on the train track.


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.

5 comments :

stephan said...

The photos with the students are incredible to look at -- if only because they probably still don't realize what an opportunity they had to visit these camps. I hope it had a lasting impression on them. i'm sure it did.

talesfromagarden said...

Would like to see and hear more about this visit,in a way your school were very priviliged to do this trip so share what you can with us!
It must have been harrowing to see inside this chamber of horrors!

Charlotte K said...

Thanks for sharing this. I remember seeing similarly serious groups of students in the house where Lincoln died across from Ford's Theater. When they entered the room where he died, they immediately became silent. It's good to know that some experiences still inspire appropriately solemn awe.

chcmichel said...

Incredible that the Government does that for the students in that Department. Do students from all Departments get the chance to go or just from the Alps Maritime? I am sure the kids that made the trip will never forget what they saw and how they felt.

Karen said...

Just before reading your blog, I read my husband's email to me...he is in D.C on business and just visited the holocaust museum yesterday afternoon. He was deeply moved but still probably unmatched to the emotions you felt on Thursday.
I thought about asking Kerri if there was anything he could bring back from D.C for you but unfortunately, I think his suitcase will be full of peanut butter!!!
By the way, I LOVE reading your blog, and though you don't mention the love and adoration for your family, it certainly shines through between the lines.