Week-long excursion to Poland

Today is my first day back in Berlin after spending a little over a week visiting Poland. I traveled to Warsaw and Krakow as a part of my study abroad program. I went into this past week knowing very little about Polish history, or even current-day Poland. After arriving in Warsaw and going on a guided walking tour through the historic “Old Town”, I was amazed to find out that although much of the area looked very old and original, almost all of it was rebuilt after World War 2. Nearly 90 percent of Warsaw was destroyed during the war, as it was right in the center of where the Germans and Soviets were advancing. It was truly amazing that despite all of this hardship and destruction, the Polish people persevered and rebuilt their capital city in a relatively short time period.

In addition to touring the Old Town, we also took part in a guided tour of the Jewish history of Warsaw. As interesting as the first tour was, the Jewish history tour fascinated me even more. I learned a lot about the Holocaust through school, books and movies, but walking through the ghettos where history actually took place made me think about these atrocities in a very different way.

After a few days visiting Warsaw, we made our way down to Krakow. Krakow had a much different feel to it, mostly due to the fact that is was not destroyed during the war. The city is small but beautiful, and everything is in walking distance.

On our last day in Poland, we spent the entire day visiting the World War 2 era concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, which were the largest camps and responsible for the most deaths. After reading so many books and watching so many films about this subject, I thought that I had a good understanding of what had occurred in Europe during World War 2. However, actually stepping through the barracks, bathrooms, showers, gas chambers and crematoriums made me really understand how extremely terribly these human beings treated other human beings, just because of their nationality, religion, age, sexuality or other cultural differences. It makes me wonder how despite all of this history being so readily accessible, people today still continue to hate, persecute and divide one another for superficial reasons. One plaque at the memorial that summed it all up read: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

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