I Wish My Visit to Auschwitz was Irrelevant

I Wish My Visit to Auschwitz was Irrelevant

While traveling, I have visited magnificent monuments as well as sites of great tragedy. Travel offers an important opportunity to learn not only the good (the art! the architecture! the food!) but also the bad. Thoughtful memorials are built to preserve the memory and the lessons learned in humanity’s darkest moments.

Earlier this summer, I visited one monument that is all too relevant today: Auschwitz.

I read the news today, oh boy

On Saturday night, I sat and scrolled through the news and comments coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia. Yes, I know there are populist movements rising in all different parts of the Western world. There has been an increase in violent, racially-motivated attacks. There are all the racist and provoking statements Donald Trump has made. Yet, it didn’t seem that it could really be happening.

A white supremacy rally in 2017? Really?

In the morning, I woke up and saw the news that came out overnight. The death, the violence, the calls to ‘go home’. It seemed surreal. Haven’t we learned these lessons from hatred already?

On a day trip from Kraków, I set off for Oświęcim with four friends to see the largest concentration and extermination camps of World War II.

Visiting Auschwitz

As you might imagine, the whole experience was haunting. We started at the original camp, Auschwitz I before going to the purpose-built Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Our tour guide asked for quiet and respect as we approach the entryway. The crunch of gravel and our guide’s somber words were all we could hear; the whole complex causes a quiet even on bright summer’s day.

Auschwitz I Entry
From the International Auschwitz Committee website: “Today, and into the future, the inverted “B” will always symbolise the message from the prisoners to coming generations: “Remember: when injustices take place, when people are discriminated against and persecuted – never remain indifferent. Indifference kills.”

 

“Modern historians suggest that without the mass transportation of the railways, the scale of the “Final Solution” would not have been possible.” Holocaust Trains Wikipedia

The whole camp seemed impossible. Walking down the hallway of prisoner’s faces, the names and dates cry out a story of a continent swept into a frenzy of fear and hatred. The cruelty and precision seem inhuman. In June, I thought, ‘How could this be?’

How?

In August, I think to the rally in Charlottesville. That’s how. Casting broad strokes, blaming ethnic and religious groups, polarizing people to extremes that ultimately cause terror. Breaking the world into simplistic blocks that can be forcefully rearranged to better suit some. A leader who avoids using the strongest and most accurate words to condemn these movements. A leader gaining political capital on the back of hatred and violence. Words matter.

Auschwitz quote
Words matter.

From my place of privilege, I’m uncertain what my words can do. But it’s not a time to stay quiet. We need to talk about prejudice and inequality and terrorism. We must remember our history.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  — George Santayana

Share
A Simple Traveler’s Guide to Berlin

A Simple Traveler’s Guide to Berlin

Berlin is undeniably cool. It’s a city exploding with culture and subculture after a century of divisive politics that changed the world. It’s modern yet gritty, full of change-makers and fun to explore. I spent a weekend there in October, my second time to the German capital.

img_2555

Each time I travel, I try to minimize my budget, my impact, and my stress so I can better enjoy myself. Traveling is amazing, but it’s not without its challenges. In my journey to live simply, I’m trying to travel simply as well. Here are my takes on traveling simply in Berlin, saving you money and adding to your time.

Traveling Simply: For the Budget

Halle-loumi!

The large Turkish population in Berlin brought with it a delicious food tradition. The city is filled with great spots to enjoy falafel and halloumi. In fact, if you do a quick search for ‘cheap eats in Berlin’ (an important pre-departure step for any trip), the lists are limited in German options and packed with tasty, budget-friendly Turkish ones. Search for the lists, or just keep an eye out for a Turkish restaurant with a line and join in.

Read more

Share
On Donald Trump, the Berlin Wall and Leonard Cohen

On Donald Trump, the Berlin Wall and Leonard Cohen

I almost couldn’t get out of bed. Derek was up, opened his laptop and said “Oh my god.” I knew from that statement that what I thought couldn’t be true when going to sleep,  just might be true now.

The wave of statements that Donald J. Trump had said over the election felt very, very heavy. The racist, ignorant, sexist things he said were now words from the mouth of the President of the United States of America. The flashbacks to the video clips, the tweets, the new stories. It all seemed so incredulous and absurd. And yet, on the morning of November 9th, 2016, it became not a farce, but a real part of the American discourse as Trump became President-elect.

Twilight on Election Eve
Twilight on Election Eve

As a woman, I felt a guttural fear for the rights of women. Trump was on video stating that he forces himself on women. Changing rape culture needs to come from shifting attitudes from both sexes. What lessons are we teaching the young men about respect and consent when the President-elect has a history of abuse?

A Not-So-Great Wall

As a citizen of North America, I felt a deep worry about the insular and xenophobic nature of Trump’s immigration and (often vague) foreign policies. The most famous and seemingly ridiculous statement was the infamous wall:

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me –and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” – Donald Trump

When today’s politicians talk about a wall, it’s a physical representation of a societal break. I saw the wall built on the border between Budapest and Belgrade. I saw the wall carving out land between Israel and the West Bank. To me, it represents a failing of our modern society. Are we so crude to need a wall to resolve a problem? As humans with decency and compassion, can we not find a stronger, more elegant solution?

<center> The dividing line of the former Berlin Wall, now the East Side Gallery
The dividing line of the former Berlin Wall, now the East Side Gallery

A wall is not sustainable. It seems we are forgetting our history. With poetic timing, Trump was elected on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Read more

Share