Poland 2019

Visiting Auschwitz – Jessica Parente

Today was our last day in Poland and it was most definitely the heaviest. We packed our things, got on the bus, and headed to Auschwitz, where we explored the history of the Holocaust and World War II.

Honestly, I’m still pretty speechless. To think that we were standing where these innocent prisoners were forced to line up and have their fates quickly determined gave me goosebumps.

The museum had so many historical documents and physical items that made everything more surreal. I have studied this event in my history classes for years but getting to see the pictures that were in the textbooks was something I will never take for granted. We saw bags and suitcases of the prisoners, kitchenware, glasses, the infamous pile of shoes, and the one that brought tears to my eyes, hair. Yes, locks and locks of hair. Braids that were cut, heads that were shaved, all just laying in a display room. We were not allowed to take pictures of this room out of respect for the human remains that were in that room but the image in my head will never be forgotten.

 

Personally, I had a little different of an experience seeing all of these things than the other people in our group.

We were walking through one of the buildings where they explained the extermination process. As I was looking at the gruesome pictures, Huntir and AB called me over to a shadowbox full of documents. They pointed to a list that had my last name on it. Exact same spelling. I went into instant shock. The list was of women prisoners who were gassed after a selection on August 21, 1943 in Birkenau. I became sick to my stomach. I have not heard of this relative before, but at the same time, my last name is not very common and some of my family escaped Europe during this time and others hit out from the Nazis.

I stood in the same location where a possible ancestor of mine did. She was examined for about three seconds by a soldier, and was not chosen to survive. I still have a sick feeling to my stomach about it and also wonder why she was not good enough to move forward. The Holocaust is a sick and twisted event that happened but seeing my last name on an historic piece of paper made it even more personal than it already felt.

We continued our tour and got to see what the living barracks looked like, the sanitation areas, and the one that hurt me the most, a gas chamber and crematory. Though it was a replica created, the chamber felt dark and cold in a scary kind of way. I got an instant chill that didn’t really leave and it was about 95ºF outside.

In one of the buildings, we were taken to the basement, the other place where we were not allowed to take pictures. In this basement were cells that were used to experiment on people, most famously, twins. We were passing by rooms that people were tortured and murdered in so it was required to be silent to respect the lost lives. The rooms and cells were mostly untouched.

Seeing the remains of these buildings was definitely an amazing experience. For the two-hour tour, I felt such a heavy pain in my chest because of the gruesome things the tour guide was explaining. My heart still aches, but I will be forever thankful that I got to experience going to one of the most important locations in world history.

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