As a first year freshman attending Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), I had no idea what to expect in way of possibilities. When we were told to read the book All But My Life by Gerda Weismann Klein, I believed it to be nothing more than an assigned reading; however, when the opportunity to visit Kraków, Poland and Auschwitz arose, I must admit that though I was extremely surprised, I jumped at the chance to try. Several students entered the essay contest and the top twenty were chosen. This was followed by an interview session in which the top fifteen were selected to embark on this wondrous journey.
TAMIU students were placed in an environment that differs so greatly from what we are accustomed to and received a taste of something new ranging from foods and languages to style and architecture. The trip expertly combined fun and lighthearted moments such as visits to Zakopane and the Salt Mines with the solemn and school-related – visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau – which, in my opinion, made everything far greater.
It was the tours of Auschwitz and Birkenau; however, that truly hit home. It is one thing to read about the horrors experienced by prisoners in the comfort of one’s own home and another to actually see, smell, and feel what prisoners underwent throughout their incarceration.
...the cold still managed to seep in and chill me, my breath fogging in the air.
Despite the layers of clothing and heavy boots I wore, for example, the cold still managed to seep in and chill me, my breath fogging in the air. It was only after I had experienced such a temperature within the walls of a concentration camp that I began to understand what life, such as Klein and millions of others, must have been like for Jews, Poles, Gypsies, and other unfortunate victims.
It was only after I had walked throughout the camp and seen with my own eyes the atrocities that resulted from the Holocaust such as carpets woven out of human hair and gotten a taste of what it felt like to be surrounded by electrified barbed wire fences and guard towers – after I saw pictures of victims both young and old – that I began to realize just how lucky I am. I still cannot begin to fathom how prisoners must have felt on Liberation Day.
I came back to the United States a changed person. I look at the world through different eyes even though my exterior looks the same. Fellow travelers I have spoken with agree with me when I say that the life we have is appreciated all the more.
It was an unforgettable experience, one I will treasure for as long as I live.