Memorial Sites

During our time here in Poland, we have seen several sights of Jewish death. Each have been different, but linked through the fear of World War II and the Holocaust. Visiting the camps of Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Treblinka each evoked different responses that I was not entirely prepared for. This trip has been the first experience I have had about Treblinka or pogrom sites. Visiting Treblinka was much more surreal than Auschwitz, and I think it’s because there’s absolutely nothing left. You enter a large clearing in the forest with nothing other than memorial stones. There are no fence remnants, no building foundations, no guard towers like in Auschwitz. There is nothing physical to remind you that one million people died there other than what has been left after the fact. Having the physical remnants of Auschwitz and Birkenau made it more real, I think; easier to process. Visiting pogrom sites and Treblinka where there is nothing left but memorials was much scarier. I would love to think that a Holocaust event could not happen again, but without those markers there would be nothing showing us of the hatred and violence that people are capable of.

At Treblinka there were not even train track ties left, only concrete slabs placed there to represent the old track that existed. I started to wonder after that visit: how many tracks exist today that would have transported Jews to their death? Are there any? If there are, have we passed by them on our travels? It can be easy to dismiss these murders and the mass-hatred as something left in the past, but seeing that these locations are part of an otherwise normal place in the world help to make it more real, more available. I can understand how Poles and Europeans in general can have a hard time talking about the Holocaust: there are reminders everywhere, should you choose to look for them. The more we learn about the politics of modern Poland, and the psychological aspects of the past, I begin to realize how hard it would be to have to constantly be reminded of these events. If an individual had antisemitic beliefs, I can understand the feelings of competitive victimhood, feeling like only Jews are being memorialized. As with most things, the more we learn, the grayer the whole topic becomes. Michal Bilewicz jokingly mentioned to us that by the time we leave Poland, we won’t have really learned anything at all because of how complicated this all is.

Spencer L

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