On February 17th, 2017, I embarked on a 12 day trip throughout Eastern Europe with a group of students I had never met before. See, I was a senior at the time, well the only senior on a trip full of underclassmen. I was excited and nervous as I had no idea what to expect from the countries I would soon be visiting. I was mostly excited to be able to see the world from a different perspective, and to hopefully become more culturally aware. There were six counties on our itinerary that we would be spending exactly two days in; Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Austria. I couldn’t wait to arrive at our first destination, mainly because I couldn’t wait to get off of the plane. We had great times in every single one of the countries we visited, and I will never forget our time in Europe.
To me, the most life changing place we had the opportunity to visit was in Krakow, Poland. Actually about a 90 minute bus ride from our hotel in Krakow to a town called O?wi?cim. Now that city may be unrecognizable by the general population, the horrors it holds is not. You see, O?wi?cim is home to the most deadly prison camps in Europe, Auschwitz and Birkenau. When we stepped off of our tour bus, the air was heavy and the sky was grim, a fitting environment for this disturbing experience.
Our small group was ushered inside to begin going through a minimal security check. I noticed that there were many different types and groups of people, speaking different languages, all coming together to witness the aftermath of Hitler’s Europe. We had the opportunity to be given a tour of the former prison buildings, all equally as haunting as the one before. We were shown a room full of hair that had once belonged to those sent to the camps. I couldn’t help but imagine the people in which it all belonged to. In the buildings, there were pictures on the walls of the victims, individuals, including people my age, who had walked where I stood. Our group was taken throughout the gas chambers which had not been rid of the stench of death. As I walked down the paths with my group next to me, I wondered why I was so privileged to be seeing this extermination camp as a tourist and not as a prisoner. I felt so guilty and heartbroken to think of the feet that walked before me. After our tour, our group was led in a discussion to get out all of the emotions we had felt throughout the day. We cried and we laughed together, and I felt healed after that heart wrenching experience. Our tour guide was an amazing Polish woman who had been giving tours of these camps for years. Before we left, she had given us a piece of advice that will always stick with me; “you have now seen first hand the atrocities of this war, and you must now take responsibility ensure this never happens again.”
It was absolutely amazing to be able to see something straight out of a history book by touring Auschwitz and Birkenau. Despite the horrible pain I felt inside that day, I think it is so important to never forget what happened in Poland and the rest of Europe during the time of Hitler’s reign. It is said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, but I know I will never forget what I saw on February 21st in O?wi?cim, Poland.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.