Thursday, January 24, 2013

Krakow arrival and on to Auschwitz

Sleeping car bound for Krakow!
To say that yesterday was a long day would be completely unfair.  It was a REALLY long day, but one that will go down in the memories of our students as one they will not soon forget.  

The group "survived" the night train - it was far from "leavin' on a midnight train to Georgia" (for you Gladys Knight fans) - and images are surfacing on Facebook of why you don't pack HUGE suitcases when you are sharing a cabin with five of your best friends.  Creativity was the key.  "We can do it!" was the motto.  And some got more sleep than others.  Dr. Johnson had the only single room, but before too long learned that he got to house the piano with him.  And then a student who simply couldn't find another place to stretch out found Dr. J's upper bunk would suit him just fine.  "Did you take a picture?" I asked.   "There was no way to get far enough back in the room to take one!" was the reply.  It must have been quite the night.

Buses pulled up  to the Krakow Novotel at about 730 a.m. and since rooms were not ready for them, they had to make do with running to nearby grocery stores for supplies or buying the breakfast buffet (which would be free for them the next two days).  Luckily, the hotel worked hard to get about half the group into rooms prior to our departure for Auschwitz at 9:30 a.m. - so many people shared their rooms with those less fortunate and people got the chance to shower etc.   Things have a way of working out!

Thousands of suitcases fill halls of former barracks.
Hallways are filled with official papers of those who died here.
Your editor did not go on the Auschwitz tour today as I'd been there earlier this fall.  I'm told that the experience was a solemn one - as I knew it would be - and their visit led to a good opportunity to debrief during a class session held later in the evening.  Dr. Nitz did a marvelous job of leading a discussion last night about the reactions to our trip thus far - how cultures change, how our views of cultures change base upon our personal experiences....why tour guides leave out portions of history that to us seem important to us but to them seem forgettable.....and how the Auschwitz experience will be part of their thinking for years to come.  Again, I'm so proud of these students and the way in which they are wrestling with issues of global perspectives and their role in it.

Empty gas canisters from the Extermination Chambers
Living conditions of those who were held at Auschwitz.

"You can't forget what you saw. You can't desensitize yourself from the Horrors and the memories. You walk where they walked. You stand where they were murdered. You can see the barbed wire. The Holocaust happened. Auschwitz and Birkenau happened. Never forget."

                                                           Words of Courtney Williams, from her Facebook post....

"Auschwitz: wow, what a humbling experience.. sometimes I was angry, sometimes I was sad but overall an extraordinary trip.. I will never forget it"
                                                           Adam Vosburgh, Facebook post
After hot showers and the chance to regroup, we took off for a group dinner in the main square of this captivating city, "Wesele."   Wow, what a wonderful restaurant, and what a GREAT meal.   Golden broth with polish pasta, chicken filet with cream sauce, boiled potatoes and the best (THE BEST) cucumber salad, and some "to die for" apple pie.  Wow.  Was that a great meal.
Front of our restaurant, right on main square of Old City

We left the restaurant and slid our way home.......tomorrow we do a three hour foot tour of the old city district and prepare for our concert at St. Katazyna Church.  It seems like the choir hasn't sung for a week (!) so it will be good to get them in front of us again. 

Until later -

PS   Some of you may wonder why student reflections are not a part of this blog.  The answer is simple really.  By the time we get home at night, students are spending quite a bit of time working on their personal journals which are required for the course they are taking as part of this tour.  These journals become very personal and important to them in this educational journey.  To ask them to write a separate reflection for our blog would be unfair.....and it takes a bit of time to get this up and out.  One of these days, I'll figure out a way to grab some statements to share with you, but until then, please understand that my goal is to keep you updated photographically and with just a bit of "color" to let you know what we are up to.  -  Brad Heegel, Tour Mgr

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