Nothing but Love in My Heart

Day 107:  Poland

I woke up this morning not knowing what to expect.  I had no expectations, but I knew it would be an emotional one.  I headed back to Krakow Tours and was greeted with the presence of about 60-70 people.  A drastic change from yesterday.  Today, I went to Auschwitz.

Just getting everyone on the busses was a struggle.  They had to call an additional van because a group of guys refused to split up into 2 different vehicles to go to the same place and another group insisted that they had to sit next to each other.  We must have rearranged ourselves 5 or 6 times before departing.  Once we were finally on the road I started getting anxious.  I had no idea what I was about to experience, but I know there would be tears and I knew it would be intense. 

When we finally arrived after what seemed like an eternity, I decided to take the advice of one of the survivors quoted at the memorial in Warsaw.  I decided to enter Auschwitz with love in my heart.  I know it sounds weird.  Most people go in with hate in their heart, not understanding how a group of people could be so cruel towards another.  Don’t get me wrong.  My brain and my heart cannot fathom that much hate.  One survivor was quoted, “you cannot have hate in your heart without being hateful against yourself.  And that’s the big problem, when you are hateful, you become bitter, your resent everything and that becomes part of your nature.”  He went on to explain that there is a difference between hating the Nazis and holding them responsible.  He can dislike what they did without hating them. 

I feel as though this is an amazing lesson for life.  How many times have you said you hate someone or something?  How did that serve you in your life?  It really doesn’t, the costs of that hate far outweigh the benefits.  So it was with the mindset, I hold the Nazis and Hitler responsible, without hating them.  Like I stated before, I went in with love in my heart.  Love for the individuals that were lost, love for the families that were ripped apart and destroyed, love for the survivors that teach us lessons everyday and love for the individuals that keep these memories alive and continue to tell their stories.

It wasn’t long before the tears started.  It was somewhere between the mangled mess of wire frame glasses that were carelessly discarded and the mountains of shoes belonging to men, women and even children lining one room that I completely lost it.  However, the ugly crying began at the site where the gas chambers once stood.  It was around that same time that I realized I was the only one in my small group that was crying.  The thought that I was actually feeling these emotions didn’t escape me as well.  Six months ago, I would have felt the pain of these individuals, but I didn’t know how to feel my own emotions.  While I feel like that is a really good lesson and I will share it at some point in this blog.  I don’t think this is the right time to do so.  This entry is about the Holocaust and my experience at Auschwitz and Birkenau. 

At the conclusion of our Auschwitz tour, we made our way back to the busses and drove the short distance to Birkenau. They are about 3km apart.  Prisoners would have to walk from one to the other every morning and every night to work in the labor camp.  When we arrived the first thing I notice was the iconic train track where cattle cars would drop off Jews to be drafted for death or a lifetime of hard manual labor.  You know the ones I’m taking about.  They are in every movie or mention of the Holocaust.  I couldn’t hold it together. 

Our tour guide began explaining how the Nazis decided who would live and who would die as if playing God.  My heart sank thinking about how different my life could have been.  My dad’s side of the family is Jewish.  My great grandparents immigrated to the US before WWII.  However, what if they hadn’t?  The thought began to haunt me.  Which in turn had me thinking about how the Holocaust took place only a short 75 or so years ago.  What if I had been born during that time?  I am of Jewish descent.  My family is from Poland.  I most likely would have been sent to Birkenau and sorted like cattle.  Where would I end up?  Would I end up dead or would I end up doing manual labor for the unforeseeable future?  Well, according to the criteria laid before us, If I was exactly as I am to today, chances are I would either be sent straight to the gas chambers or they would quickly realize that I cannot lift and move things quickly or for very long due to a shoulder injury and kill me shortly after my arrival. 

The thoughts stayed in my mind for most of the day.  Had only a few details of my familial history been changed, my whole life could have played out differently.  I may not be here in this form.  That is actually true about most things in life, but they are usually not on this scale.   

At the conclusion of the tour I somberly made my way back to the bus.  Most of the journey back to Krakow was spent in contemplation and meditation.  However, at some point I inadvertently started eaves dropping on the conversation happening behind me.  A woman from South Africa who had only ever been to New York and man from Mexico who had been to New York, Miami and LA where talking about the US.  Nothing weird about that.  However, what piqued my curiosity was the man saying that once you’ve been to one state you’ve been to them all because they are all the same.  What are you thoughts on this?  I personally think that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Each state is diverse within itself let alone the entire country.  When I was younger and learning about European countries, I remember equating them to our states.  I know it sounds weird, but hear me out.  We have one giant country broken up into 50 small states.  Whereas Europe is a giant continent broken up into small countries.  Flying from Ireland (Dublin) to England (London) is the equivalent to lying from San Francisco to Las Vegas.  They are all very different places.  So if you are an international member of my Elephant Tribe and you have only been to one or a couple US cities and feel that you’ve experienced everything it is we have to offer, you have not.  There is so much more for you to experience.  Don’t miss out.  When I have some time I will add some places in the US in different cities and states throughout the country as well.   

I was glad when we finally arrived back in Krakow.  My mind was about ready to explode from the emotions of the day and the ignorant conversation taking place behind me.  I was hungry so I ended up going to a restaurant on the corner near my apartment.  It ended up being a chain.  I’m not really sure how, but my boiled pierogis were burnt.  So, I decided that I deserved some gummy bears given how draining today has been.  I should start a gummy bear counter.    

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