Thursday, June 2, 2011

"God must have been on leave during the Holocaust."

Do you ever feel connected to an event without having been there?  Do you feel a certain pull to a time in history unlike no other? I feel that way about the Holocaust. I'm not Jewish. As far as I know nobody in my family was murdered in the Holocaust, I don't personally know or know of anyone in my life who survived the atrocities of the concentration camps. My grandfather survived the war. He rarely talks about his time overseas. He spent time in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Belgium, and Warsaw, Poland. In my travels I have spent time in Amsterdam, Antwerp, and while I didn't stay in Warsaw, I did stay in Krakow for 4 days just this past October. Its an odd feeling, walking on those sidewalks and taking pictures knowing that long ago my grandfather may have walked the same road that I did.

For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with the Holocaust. With survivors stories, with the history of how it all began. I can't say I understand Hitler. I don't understand that irrational thinking, that fear. I find it hard to believe he convinced so many people that the reason for basically everything that went wrong in Germany was because of the Jews. I find it hard to believe, but I do believe it. Its just hard for me to grasp. Its probably something I will never understand even as I read more and more about it and study and research it.

I went to Krakow, Poland in October, first time there. It was an amazing, incredible, and moving experience. An experience I won't soon forget. The city is stunning in all of its dilapidated glory. There is graffiti everywhere. "Anti-Fascist Krakow!" sprayed on the walls of buildings. Trash litters the streets. It has a sense of abandonment in a way. But a sense of pride. And while stunning, I was left with overwhelming sadness at times. I spent a lot of time in the Kazimierz area, the Jewish quarter. The Star of David is everywhere, different memorials for people lost in the war. For some strange reason, I felt connected to this area. I felt like maybe I had walked these streets before. Its so hard to explain, I almost can't explain it. Why do I feel this insane connection to the Holocaust? Is it the sense that I feel like I need to understand it? Is it because I'm a female and the first time I read "The Diary of Anne Frank" I too was a female teenager who connected with Anne and it went from there? I don't think I'll have an answer, ever.

Auschwitz was the most mind blowing experience of my life. People still ask me what it was like and I can only say "You have to go there to understand." The sky was beautiful, it was a warm-ish day out and it felt too warm. It was too beautiful to be in such a place where such atrocities took place. The worst part of me was the room with all the hair. And prosthetics. And the eyeglasses. It was too much for me. I felt overwhelmed. I rarely cry in front of people, if I had been alone or not in such a huge group I may have let go and cried myself out. Taking the bus to Birkenau and seeing the latrines. Where the guide told us they had 30 seconds to use it or they would be killed. The railroad tracks that I remember from the film "Schindlers List" as families were separated and more than likely never each other again. As we made our way through the camp we saw all the memorials from different countries, all in different languages. There was a group of kids, no more than 15 years old. Our guide told us they were from Israel and were holding a ceremony. Some played guitar, a few sang, some cried. I raised my camera and snapped a picture of one boy holding a flag with the Star of David on it. Probably my favorite picture from the entire trip. I wanted to stand there forever and listen, even though I couldn't understand a word.

I guess thats it. I just want to understand.. I won't ever understand. I believe that we will never quit learning. I'll never quit learning about the Holocaust. I'll never quit watching documentaries or movies on it. I'll never quit reading about it. And I know I'll never understand it, I'll never fully get the answer to "Why did this happen?!"