Visiting Tragedy


A reflection on a service-learning trip to Germany and Poland

I guess I didn’t know what I was getting myself into before we set off on this journey. Is it weird to say that I was excited? I left for this trip feeling whole, and now it feels like a small piece of me has been removed and I don’t think it’s coming back.

We started in Berlin and oh how fantastic you were! The hustle and bustle, the thrill of a city. Yet, very quickly we started to learn about your dark past that lingers in every alley, nook and cranny.

We learned about hate, how this hate was stemmed from the minds of mankind. A hate that would change the course of history forever. I’m also sorry Berlin, I’m sorry the evil minds of those men have made other people have pre-convinced ideas about you. For awhile I understood and saw just how powerful an idea that leads to actions have overshadowed who you are, I could still see your beauty through the cracks.

Poland. You were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, your beauty put me on my back. Yet, I could feel your sadness the moment I put my foot on your soil, a sadness so deep even the roots of trees could not reach it. Momentarily I was blinded by your beauty, and I only saw the good, the loud music on the streets, the colourful houses and the explosion of culture. But then I started to remember your pain, a pain that the whole world must carry.

We left the beautiful streets of Kraków, and we were no longer under your spell.

We came to Auschwitz, and then I froze. A part of me drew cold that I’m still trying to warm.

Oh god in heaven, where are we? Oh god in heaven where were you, I thought? As we walked the grounds of the death camp, I knew that this was not your doing. It was mankind’s.

I did not know any of you, and yet I feel the loss of six million people upon my shoulders as if I had known you all personally.

I do not know why this happened to any of you. I do know why your lives were disregarded as not being seen as human beings. I’ve been trying to find these answers, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may never fully know why.

So that is why I’m never going to forget any of you. I refuse to forget your pain and dehumanization, and I refuse to forget that your futures were snatched out of your hands and thrown into the fires.

By refusing to forget, I’m making a promise. I promise that for the rest of my time on earth I will make sure what happened to you never happens again. I promise to recognize the patterns in society that resulted in your death. I promise to speak up even when I’m scared.

A part of me is gone and will be with all of you forever. I hope you can take comfort in having a piece of me with you.