Today could definitely be described as a whirlwind of emotions. We began our day by visiting the European Solidarity museum, which has been by far my favorite museum of this whole trip. It was very creative and impactful all in one. Upon entering the museum, I was immediately struck in awe with how courageous all the individuals were in participating in this movement, especially under the communist rule. As I was walking through the museum, they had put pictures up of individuals who had been arrested, and I noticed a few women which really stuck me, because the narrative at the being parts made it seem as the majority of individuals who took part in it were men. Thanks to reading Shana Penn though, I know that women played a crucial part in the Solidarity movement and it’s success.
Contrary to the idea that one may hold of these women being feminist, is just not true, at least these Polish women do not identify as feminists, but Shana Penn argues in her book that they were feminists. My eyes were really open to why this may be in our discussion today after viewing the many different halls within the museum. We discussed how Poland’s history is probably the reason why the majority of Polish women would not want to be identified in this way. They could see it as an attachment to socialism and out of the norms for a Polish Catholic women. Penn does say though that these amazing women took part for just that fact, they were Polish Catholic women. This is in part to the “Match Polka” or Polish mother which is seen as the maternal figure for Poland. She represents sacrifice and love for her family no matter what. When the male figures of the Solidarity movement were arrested and thrown into jail, these women stepped up for their families and continued the movement. After reading this and discussing how impactful the women were in the Solidarity movement, I believe that they should have more of a presence within the museum.
After visiting the museum, we loaded the bus and headed to Stutthof, a Nazi German concentration camp which later became an extermination camp. This is the first camp that we have visited that is almost fully intact from World War II. It is hard to find the words to say what I was feeling while walking through, because it was a whirlwind of emotions seeing the living conditions, crematory, gas chamber, and reading about life during these times. We began our tour by walking through the women’s barracks which were horrific. They had a display of blankets on the floor out and our guide told us that the barracks were not fully finished at the time of arrival, so the first women at Stutthof had to sleep on the floors even during the harsh winter months when some wouldn’t wake up the next day.
Upon moving along the various barracks, we reached the washroom were our guide told us about the various different kinds of suicides that would take place at the camp. This was almost unbearable for me to hear. It is just so heartbreaking to me, because these individuals, human beings saw that as the only way out, but in that kind of environment, it is understandable. It is hard to imagine how they felt on a day to day basis. A common theme thats sticks with me, but was very present in my mind today is how can an individual treat another human in such a way. I think that this is a thought most people have when visiting these camps, and I will forever think about it.
Towards the end of the tour we went into a building that held the crematory, and we saw the ashes and bones found after the liberation of the camp. This was such a moving experience seeing this, and being in the presence of people who were unlawfully killed in Stuthoff. Overall Stuthoff has been the most devastating to me out of the camps that we have visited. I saw a quote on a informational board that is still ringing in my head, “100,000 people came to this camp and 65,000 were never free again.”