A trip to Auschwitz: How history changed my life

November 7, 2018 |  Tagged , | Comments Off on A trip to Auschwitz: How history changed my life

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In 2014, I was 19 years old and I thought I was an English major. I loved writing and literature and saw myself working for The New Yorker or Penguin Random House. Nevertheless, history was always a passion of mine, residing in the back of my brain; simply a part of who I was. I was attending St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, NY and as a freshman, I knew that I knew what I wanted out of life. I was wrong, of course. During my Spring semester that year, I was taking a class on the History of the Holocaust. I initially took this class because, as i mentioned, I loved history, specifically history related to the Holocaust and Jewish studies, and thought it would be a good way to gain a deeper understanding of the genocide. I had never had an academic class that focused on the Holocaust, therefore all my knowledge was based on my own experiences at museums and reading of academic books, memoirs, and biographies. In the beginning of the semester, my professor mentioned that he would be supervising a two-week trip at the end of the semester to Germany and Poland through a service-learning company, Amizade, to gain a historical hands on experience and to come away with a deeper understanding of the Holocaust.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 I immediately signed up for it and started saving money for my flight. This was going to be my first time out of the country and I somehow knew, even before I went, how important this trip would be for me. Flash forward a few months and I was landing in Berlin, alongside my professor and the five other students on the trip. We visited sites likes the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, the Jewish Museum, and Topography of Terror. After a few days in Berlin, we made our way to Poland; our first stop would be the town of Oswiecim, the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. We were staying at the Center of Dialogue and Prayer, a hotel revolving around the study and communication of religious acceptance. It was here that we met our Amizade guide and where we learned about the work we would be doing. The next day we would be going to Auschwitz.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 I cannot express the feeling of raw anguish and historical understanding that came over me the minute I stepped on the grounds of the former site of so much evil and death. This encounter with such an emotional-laden piece of public history changed my life forever. Auschwitz-Birkenau is viewed by so many as the symbol of the Holocaust; I quickly came to realize that it was so much more than a symbol, it was real, it was horrible, and it has so much to teach us. While on-site, we worked with conservationists to clean and preserve cauldrons that were used during the war by the Nazis to cleanse the clothing and personal items of all the prisoners that entered Auschwitz. This hands-on work completely changed my perspective on what I thought the historical professional field entailed. I realized in that moment that I would not be working for a publishing house after all.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Our last stop on the trip was Krakow, the cultural capital of Poland. We were only there two days but I immediately fell in love with the city and knew I had to go back. Two years later, I was 21 years old, a History major, and I was studying abroad in Krakow. My initial trip had changed me so deeply that I moved to Poland for six months so that I could study more about the Holocaust and intern at the Galicia Jewish Museum. Before this, I was not aware of how powerful experiences at locations of public history could be. I would have never studied abroad in Krakow or have been able to learn so much at the Galicia Jewish Museum if it was not for my first trip; that trip made me understand how important it is to pursue a career in the preservation and care of historical documents and historical sites. It also made me realize how important that calling was to me personally. I know consider Krakow a second home.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Today, I am 23 years old and a graduate student at Queens College where I am pursuing my MA in History and my MLS in Library Science/Archival Studies. When I graduate I hope to work in an archival or museum setting that focuses on the historical guardianship and preservation of materials related to the Holocaust and Jewish Studies; well at least that’s the dream. My present has been so deeply influenced by someone else’s painful past and I’m not sure what that says about me; all I know is that is that I am doing my best to honor that past and continue to push historical understanding in the right direction.

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