A day at Auschwitz
May 30, 2013
Tags: global leadership
By Tess Hobson and Bethany Letellier
Today was the day of our journey that we were all simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the most. From the time we were all in middle school, we have learned about this place called Auschwitz, a dreadful place that holds significant value in the our world's history. Although we have learned about it for many years, nothing could prepare us for physically being in the place where everything we learned about happened; for standing in the same room where thousands of innocent people were murdered or for walking the same path they did at Auschwitz-Birkenau on their way to the gas chambers to face their death.
When we first arrived, the feeling of the group was already very solemn knowing that we were about to face an extremely hard day. Walking through the front gate of Auschwitz, we began our tour of the central death camp of the Holocaust. Throughout the tour we were reintroduced to a lot of historical facts of the Holocaust that we were already familiar with, but the most impactful part of the tour was seeing the numerous displays of the conditions in which the prisoners lived and personal objects that remain. Some of the displays included pots and pans, Jewish prayer shawls, eye glasses, child belongings, shoes, and most disturbingly mounds of women's hair who died during the Holocaust. Seeing the mass piles of these objects was sickening and angering to all of us. At one point, we walked down a hallway with glass display cases on each side filled to the brim with shoes of those who died. Realizing that each pair of shoes represented a real breathing person at one time who was killed for no reason was a hard reality to face. Another significant part of the tour was visiting Block 11. This block was known as the death block because of the amount of prisoners who were killed inside. Prisoners who entered block 11 never came out alive. We were able to walk through the basement and see cells where prisoners died of starvation, were isolated, and tortured. Although this block was very dark, there was one uplifting story of a man who demonstrated true leadership and selflessness.
There were a group of prisoners who escaped from Auschwitz. To keep this from happening again, and make a point to other inmates, the SS officers chose 10 innocent prisoners and sentenced them to death by starvation. Max Imilian Kolbe volunteered to take the place of one of the prisoners. When the officers came to collect his body two weeks later, they found that remarkably he was still alive. The officer killed him on the spot. This is a story of a servant leader who gave the ultimate sacrifice of his life for another.
After leaving Auschwitz, we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest death camp of the Holocaust. Upon entering the camp, we witnessed the approaching train tracks that lead into the camp, a dreadful site we have seen before in books. It was even more haunting to see in person. We were taken to the platform where thousands of people where stripped of their belongings and underwent the selection process, a process that determined if a person would live or die based on the appearance of whether or not they could work. We then walked the exact route of those who were selected to go to the gas chambers. Walking in the shoes of an innocent victim of the Holocaust was daunting and unreal. We were unable to see the original crematoriums because when the Nazis heard of the liberation, they tried to destroy all evidence of their crimes. We then visited barracks where prisoners were expected to live and sleep during their captivity. The conditions were unimaginable and inhumane.
There is no possible way to find the right words to describe the feeling of actually being at Auschwitz. Although its difficult to be in a place where such horror took place, it is important to learn from this tragic time because facing the reality of what happened is a major step towards not allowing history to repeat itself. In order to be effective leaders, our generation must learn to confront the truth about our past as well as take the correct action towards preventing it from happening again. One way to do this is to emphasize the importance of being ethical and leading with morality as well as standing up to those who cannot. Through these actions, we can better prepare ourselves to confront such tragedies and keep them from escalating into something bigger.