Europe Poland Study Abroad

Krakow: A Visit To Auschwitz

I’m in Copenhagen for about 12 hours in between my two trips.

My past four days were spent in Krakow, with my class on Auschwitz.  Krakow was beautiful.  The first day we did a walking tour covering the main square, the castle, and several important churches.  The city is charming, since it retains many of its original buildings with very little modern architecture.  On our second day, we toured the Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, as well as Schindler’s Factory, which has been turned into a museum about life in Krakow during WW2.  Certain aspects that they spoke about in the museum resonated with stories I remember hearing from my grandma about her experiences during that time period, like the women who married soldiers in their absence and the food rationing. I also got to see the full Schindler’s list, which was pretty cool since I’ve read the book and seen the movie.  We also went to the area that became the Jewish ghetto during WW2 and saw a part of the original wall, which was built to imitate Jewish gravestones.  Our last day in Krakow was also Polish Independence Day, so there were flags and parades happening all over the city.

On Monday, we spent the entire day at Auschwitz and Birkenau, which was an incredibly moving experience.  After having read memoirs of survivors of those camps, I appreciated being able to put them into context.  A few of the more emotional places in the camp:

1. One of the exhibitions includes the objects confiscated by Nazis, such as eyeglasses, shoes, and suitcases.  Along with that, there are two tons of human hair, which came from approximately 40,000 people.  Those rooms really impressed upon me the scale of lives that were taken in these camps.

2. We went in the crematorium in Auschwitz 1, which was not destroyed as those at Birkenau were.  Here, there were visible scratches on the walls where people struggled to escape that gas chambers.

3. Images of children being led to the crematoriums.  Approximately a quarter of the victims in the camp were children.

4. In the sauna, where prisoners were initially showered and shaved before entering camp, there is an exhibition with the family photos from the victims that had been confiscated upon their arrival.  It’s easy to hear the massive numbers of deaths and lose some of the human aspect of the Holocaust.  In this area, you can see the life before WW2, with weddings and children and happiness, and it puts a series of faces on the victims.

5. The image of a field is actually the site of the largest mass grave in Europe.  There are an estimated 200,000 people buried there.  The ground we stood on was uneven, and in some areas there were ashes on the surface.  Now, it seems peaceful and beautiful; it’s difficult to believe that such horrific acts of violence were committed there.

In general, Auschwitz and Birkenau were in beautiful locations.  In some areas, they seemed too picturesque, knowing the genocide that was committed there.  It seems like the location should match the level of evil that existed there; I expected it to be more gloomy, not sunny with fall foliage.

Auschwitz and Birkenau are such important places in our world history.  This trip was intense during some parts, but I’m so glad I was able to visit and have this experience.

Denmark Europe Study Abroad

Copenhagen: Canal Tours, Ballet Shows, and Turning Twenty

I turned 20 on Sunday, and it was pretty weird to have my birthday away from home for the first time.  My friends from the kollegium celebrated with me, which was really nice.  I got to blow out candles, and they got me a card and a few things from Tiger (which is essentially Danish Target).  I ate a lot of cake, so I definitely qualify the day as a success.

I’m taking two one-credit classes while I’m here, which allow me to take guided trips after learning about the areas, and both of those classes started yesterday.  I had Impressionism in Paris first, where we went over Parisian architecture and how it was essentially redone in the 1850s.  Our teacher told us Paris is not really older than Chicago, which seems very strange to me!  We also discussed our study tour, which is going to be amazing.  I’ve wanted to travel to Paris for years, and going with my class will let me do a lot of things I might not do on my own, including a Seine dinner cruise!

My other class was Auschwitz: Genocide to Memorial, which goes to Krakow for four days. (side note: my teacher pronounces it Krakoof?  Is that how it’s supposed to be pronounced or is that just the Danish accent?)  We’ll be spending a full day at Auschwitz and Birkenau during the trip.  Despite the heavy subject matter, I can already tell I’m going to learn so much in that class.  My teacher knows so much about the subject and his lecture on the structure of the camps was fascinating.

Tuesday night, my Danish class went to the ballet!  The theater is gorgeous, and the Queen showed up to watch the ballet as well.  It’s interesting to see how everyone stands up when she arrives and waits to leave their seat for intermission until she does.  The ballet was pretty hard to follow… apparently it was based on some opera.  Here’s how I think the story goes: a rich girl is in love with a poor boy, but her rich younger sister loves a rich boy and his family isn’t thrilled that her family is associating with poor people so they all want the older sister to break up with the poor boy.  Also, somewhere in there she gets tuberculosis and dies.  To add to the confusion, there’s a ballet within a ballet where the main dancer is a character but then sometimes is also the rich older sister….?  The man next to us tried to explain the plot, but his English wasn’t quite nuanced enough…. “How do you say it in English?  Whore.  They thought she was a whore.”

Today I met up with Sarah and we did a canal tour and ate pastries and ice cream.  It’s cool to see the city over the water for a different perspective.  It’s also amusing to see the tourists who clearly just got here…. “Look!  Graffiti!  Take a picture!”

Danish word: blåbær:  blueberry.  One of the types of ice cream I got today (the other one was oreo)