January 28, 2020
Category: Student Blogs
This Winter break, I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience to travel to Germany and Poland with my classmates for a study abroad trip related to our class, States of Killing: Genocide in the 20th century. During the class we learned about mass genocides that have occurred throughout the history with a heightened emphasis on the Holocaust occurring during WWII. While studying about these atrocities we read numerous books and watched both videos and movies, making the events surreal and almost unimaginable.
Cobblestone showing where the Berlin wall once was.
When taking my first steps in Germany I was extremely excited, but I was well aware of what awaited me in the days to come. Our first stop was Berlin. Here we visited several museums where we delved deeper into the history of WWII. We also visited a portion of the Berlin wall that was left standing after its destruction. This site was very interesting and eye-opening. It’s difficult to imagine a distinctive line that separates one human being from another. On the wall were murals from different countries; America's was very vibrant and colorful!
From Berlin we visited Poznan, Warsaw, and Krakow, all in Poland. In these states they had what was referred to as “Old” and “New” towns. It was quite amazing to say the least. Seeing buildings ranging from the 16th century to the communist era, all the way to the 21st century was a mind-boggling phenomenon. One of my most unique experiences was seeing the Cathedrals and the architecture that once embodied the town squares.
American artwork on the Berlin Wall.
Five days into the trip it didn’t seem as if I was in another country; I felt as if I was traveling new parts of the United States. Until day five I was living a normal life. On day five of the trip however we visited Auschwitz I and II Concentration Camps. I tried not to show it, but I was very disoriented. I remember in class watching videos of the camp and understanding the atrocities that took place, but standing there, where millions lost their lives, was unfathomable. While at the camp I kept thinking about the wear of the stairs from the footsteps taken and the scratches on the walls of the gas chambers. It all became real that day and the hardest part was walking out of the camp knowing millions of others didn’t get the chance to do the same.
An ironically beautiful sunset over Auschwitz II.
Although a heart-wrenching topic, I learned more from my study abroad experience than I did from reading a book during class. I was able to explore and put into perspective the concept of genocide that is inscrutable to many and feared by most worldwide. I was also able to experience Germany and Poland’s culture through several other different aspects ranging from polka dancing to schnitzel to beautiful Christmas markets on every square.
I am extremely grateful that I was able to enroll in this Honors course and for the funding that enabled me to attend the trip this past winter allowing myself to gain the experience of a lifetime.