This is going to be a very long post, so bear w/ me. It is also overdue, due to the fact that I had to find words to describe my Poland experience.
(All photos in this post were taken by me with my Canon 650D).
In August 2016, I was lucky enough to be a part of the annual trip to Poland with my school, & there is nothing in this world that I would exchange in place of that week of my life.
This post is about the significance of the things that I saw, experienced & felt. The Holocaust was an awful tragedy that affected the Jewish population terribly, however we are still strong & undefeated, which makes me incredibly proud to be Jewish.
The flight was early in the morning, & I remember meeting my best friend moments before heading to the airport with the rest of our group. We were beyond excited, but couldn’t help the feeling of not knowing what to expect, or what to feel.
On the airplane I remember when we saw our first glimpse of Warsaw from above. I grabbed my camera to take a photo of the view & I knew I was already in love with Poland.
The first thing I noticed about the country was how perfect the sky looked. The clouds were so delicate, & decorated the sky, almost frozen in place. It was honestly beautiful. We started at a Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, our first destination for the day.
I remember the vibrant colors of the flowers that lay on the gravestones. There were bouquets of flowers that had either just been placed there in memory of their lost loved ones, or they were shrivelled up in pieces, old, dead & damaged. It is an extremely unsettling experience to walk over mass graves that contained an immeasurable amount of bodies that were once alive, loved & known. It was so quiet.
I remember walking through the Lopuchova Forest, my Israeli flag wrapped tightly around my shoulders. As a sea of blue & white flags, we marched the same path that the Jewish people marched to be shot dead. It was difficult to speak. We stood right above thousands & thousands bodies that were brutally murdered, some killed in front of their families. It is one thing to hear or read about these cases, but standing in the place that it all occurred made this even more heartfelt. I believe that this is one of the greatest photo’s I’ve managed to take.
On the contrary, walking side by side with the rest of the students draped in Israeli flags gave us a sense of unity & hope.
Treblinka is one of the extermination camps we had visited. There is a monument that stands in the middle of thousands of small rocks scattered around it. Each one of the 17 000 stones represents an entire Jewish community that was lost in this death camp alone, which comes to about 870 000 Jewish people. We weaved through these stones, carefully reading the names that were presented on each one. This was almost impossible to comprehend.
We were also taken into a room filled with hundreds of thousands of shoes, or remnants of, worn by the Jewish people in the time that they were held there. This was in Majdanek. We entered a cold, grey stone room, where the Jews were told that they were going to take a shower, & that they must undress. They did so, only to walk straight into a room filled with poisonous gas which killed them after a breath. We stood in this room & read the stories of the gruesome things that occurred there, which were presented on the walls of the chamber.
This was an immeasurable sight. I am left with no other words to describe it. I managed to snap a photo, which is one of my most cherished from the entire trip.
I remember being told that they were lucky if you got to sleep on the top bunks. They were woken up every morning, in an inhumane manner. The unfortunate people that slept on the bottom bunks were carelessly kicked & smashed in the head. The people who slept in the middle bunks were punched violently, and the people who slept on the top bunks had it a little easier. This is considered ‘luck’ in a concentration camp.
We were shown the hair that was brutally shaved from the women’s scalps. There were some people who were not mentally strong enough to bear this sight, & it is forbidden to photograph inside this specific room.
Following this, we took a break from the difficult part & focused on the beautiful city of Krakow, where we had some time to explore. So the trip wasn’t all about the mass murder of the Jewish nation. These were the moments where I felt closest to the people who endured the trip with me.
They left the hardest part for the end of the week. Auschwitz – Birkenau concentration camps.
I connected to this trip through the photos I was able to take, as weird as that sounds, & I found that I took the most moving photos in these places. I was constantly rushing to switch between the lenses of my canon, desperately trying to capture the intensity of what I saw in front of my eyes.
Even the name Auschwitz speaks for itself. It is grim. Everything is dark & everyone’s minds are silently trying to fathom & absorb everything we are being told & shown. No one spoke, except for our guide.
In Auschwitz, we were taken past some of the blocks. Block 10, specifically, was one of the areas where German doctors performed experiments on men & women. Mostly pregnant women. They were usually murdered afterwards. This is just a taste of the revolting & inhumane things that the Jewish people were faced with.
I hope this gave you a glimpse into my experiences in Poland. It is very important for me to try and get this message through because I gained so much knowledge, & saw things I can never unsee.
I filmed most of the time, please check out my Poland vlog here. The piano songs that I included in the video were played by me, because I wanted to decide exactly how the songs would fit the scenes in the video.
Thank you so much for reading, & please keep on doing so as I have a LOT to say.