I have taken many photos since being here in Poland, but today there was a very distinctive difference between one set of photos and the next. We started our work day by visiting the Solidarność museum, and followed it with a trip to Stutthof concentration camp. In my camera roll I have a photo of the Solidarity museum, immediately followed by the “death gate” at Stutthof. Both represent important parts of Polish history for drastically different reasons and seeing them side by side is jarring. Visiting both of these places in one day helped to further cement the work that we have been doing here through our classes, and how incredibly varied Poland’s history is. In a span of 40 years the country dealt with concentration camps, Soviet rule, political uprisings, and now somehow has to come to terms with all this today, all within some people’s lifetimes.
The Solidarity museum was upsetting and uplifting. There are images of young men who were killed during the movement, and there are speeches from John Paul II asking for peaceful resistance. A quote from the Pope during one such speech was “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” I think that because the Solidarity movement reminded me so much of the Civil Rights movement, and other American resistances, it was easy to be emotionally influenced by it. It was hard to walk around and see these men and women fighting back against a system that was repressing them and showing no mercy, but it was made easier by knowing the ending of the story.
Visiting Stutthof was upsetting, and not uplifting. Similar to Solidarity, I know the ending of the story. When visiting, one of my first thoughts was how beautiful it looked. The meticulous brick buildings, the ornate wood carvings on the front offices, a functional fountain in the large, open lawn. However, these feelings are quickly cut short when you can see what’s past these buildings and the fountain; when you can see all the way to the back of the camp. The clear care that went into building the SS quarters compared with the camp inhabitants quarters is disgusting. The barracks that housed thousands of “inmates” could have been thrown up in a weekend, with thousands dying just from the living conditions. Part of me feels like that’s why the Nazis even bothered with all the fanciness at the front of the camp, it was to have something nice to look at that wasn’t the crematorium, the gas chamber, and the sick and dying just feet from their beds.
It has been a very long and varied day.