Contemplation, Conspiracies, and Community

“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say”

Primo Levi

After our trip to Krakow this past weekend and tour of Auschwitz, we spent time in class to analyze our reactions to the trip and to reflect on our experiences.  As a group, we analyzed the impacts that the knowledge we gained had on us in different ways– socially, spiritually, physically, emotionally, and so on. The word that I heard used over and over again was overwhelming.  For most of us, the Holocaust is not an unfamiliar topic, we cover it in numerous social studies or history courses throughout our educations.  However, hearing that these horrible things occurred and being able to witness even fractional representations of how many people were impacted is nothing short of devastating.  Thankfully, this kind of tragedy is not something that I’ve had to live through, so processing the emotions surrounding what I had witnessed was challenging. I felt as though I had no clear idea of what to do with the knowledge and the impacts that this trip has had on me thus far– which is what we spent a majority of the time discussing in class today.

The quote above by Primo Levi was featured on a plaque in one of the buildings in Auschwitz which contains a book with the name of every person on record that was held in the camps there.  The purpose of opening Auschwitz to tours and for visitors is to recognize the events that happened there as well as to acknowledge how these events came to be and what steps need to be taken to prevent it from happening again.  In recent years, antisemitism in Europe and the United States has been increasingly prominent, causing a large percentage of Jewish populations that were surveyed to feel unsafe in the countries in which they’re living (in some cases, up to 48%).  Online comments and interactions on social media platforms have become host to neo-Nazi propagnda and the spread of alt-right trolls, which was a point of disucssion in class.  

Each day, more misinformation is spread online, often up to six times as fast as articles sharing truthful information.  Propaganda and the spread of misinformation by the Nazis was a large part of how they were able to commit such horrible acts against so many people– by convincing the general public that it was necessary or even acceptable, or at the very least convincing them to be complacent.  As hard as it can be to understand, we are by no means more immune to outlandish theories than they were in the 1940s. Surveys in 2006, 2010, and 2011 in the United States indicate that a large percentage of the population believes at least one of the conspiracy theories that was listed, including theories such as: “President Barack Obama was not really born in the United States and does not have an authentic Hawaiian birth certificate” (24% votes agree or strongly agree, another 24% was neutral).  As absurd as some of the conspiracy theories we discussed seemed, many of them were disturbingly similar to propaganda spread by the Nazi regime about Jews.

As we concluded our class session, the Artimes said something that I thought was incredibly important and something that I think many of us need to hear, and was a wonderful way to end the class session.  When discussing antisemitism, racism, homophobia, ableism, and other social prejudices and the atrocities that can result from them, it can be so very easy to lose hope. However, “teaching, and teaching things that are true is important– if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t do it.  It’s important to be vigilant, it’s important to examine your beliefs… and most of all, it’s important to not be complicit in silence… you need to say something”.  
    After class, we ventured over to the Bystro Cafe by the CIEE classroom for a wonderful lunch together.  It was great to have time together as a group to relax and talk even more. We shared a delicious meal and shared a lot of laughter, especially when Michael was having a hard time figuring out a solution to the Green Glass Door game.  At one point, almost everyone in the room was trying to help our professors solve it, shouting hints left and right. If you need a hint, look for the bolded pattern in the name of the game, Green Glass Door— only things with double letters that were next to each other were allowed to pass through the door.

Community has been such an important part of this trip for me personally, and I would have certainly had a harder time adjusting to studying away if it wasn’t for the wonderful group that I’m with.  That being said– this evening ended up being spent mostly by myself doing some self care. It’s easy to overdo it when your routine is disrupted and there are so many beautiful things to go out and see.  However, taking time to do some of my travel reading and enjoy some delicious chocolate was the perfect way to end my day!

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