We Are the Preamble

Tonight I gave what is presumably the last “Poland Presentation” I will ever give.

Wes and I went to the Amarillo Widows and Widowers Club, and at first I was a bit nervous because it’s been so long since I’ve presented about the experience, and, well…it’s been a while since the actual experience itself.

 

But not having seen the pictures and said the words for so long made them mean more now. I found myself thinking new thoughts about everything we saw and reaffirming old ones.

 

And I know that since we’ve returned, we’ve been kind of annoying.

We’ve made a lot of corny and obscure comments, and we’ve gone around preaching and lamenting about discrimination and injustice nonstop. And none of us ever meant to condescend or alienate in our words. It’s just that, and I see it now, though we may have said things that were vague or condescending or even cheesy, they were words that were true and believed to be true by all of us.

You can’t walk out of those gates and not feel extremely humbled and overwhelmed and guilty and confused and passionate and changed.

 

And it’s easy to be apathetic. It’s so easy. Setting out to change the world involves so much pressure, because…well…what if you end up changing it for the worst?

 

I’m sort of afraid of that. A part of me wants to stay safe and not risk causing a negative ripple effect. A part of me wants to be content with taking a stand against discrimination in my own quiet corner of the world. I don’t know what strength I have. I don’t know what ability I have. But our resistance pledge, one that may be a little corny to some, the words that say “To refuse apathy is to resist…” reminded me. They reminded me.

 

And, you know, every time I have presented, the part which always impacts me the most is witnessing the reactions of the audience. It’s not about what I say, it’s about what they see and what they hear.

Whether it’s young kids who still feel like they too can change the world if only they’ll try or older adults who have seen the world and witness it change first hand, the questions they pose and the insights they provide always teach me so much more than I could ever teach them in any of the “Poland Presentations.” I learn from them, and I love that.

 

I still can’t believe that I, I who am truly infinitesimal in the great grand scheme of the universe, I was picked by these amazing minds to visit one of the most sacred and haunting grounds in history.

It was, and is, an amazing journey.

I truly, truly hope, as selflessly as I can, that we did all that we could. That we honored the community, the hands that built this program, and most importantly, the millions and millions of people… people…who should have never suffered what they did.

 

I am filled with nothing but thanks. Even if I never leave my small corner of the world, I am filled with thanks. Wherever God may send me, my heart will always be stirred by what I saw and hope to never see again.

 

May the next do more than the last.

 

We are the preamble…let our actions that follow be the real resistance pledge.

 

-Eva Harder, the Girl from Seminole…who went to Poland

Published in: on July 3, 2008 at 1:42 pm  Comments (1)  

In response to David’s blog

So, I was just going to comment on David’s blog, but then I got a little over zealous and couldn’t stop typing….so….I ended up blogging against my will 🙂

David!
I’m really sad this semester is almost over. It’s been, truly, the most amazing four months of my life. The conglomeration of my classes, my professors, the friends I’ve made, the faculty I’ve gotten to know, Speech, the Prairie, the chance to study abroad in Italy next Fall…and … what else happened this semester? …



Right!
I got a really great pair of shoes!
Oh, yeah, and I took a trip to Poland.
And that, as we all know, was extraordinary in every sense of the word. I could throw in adjectives like life-changing, eye-opening, astounding, amazing, unforgettable, indescribable, but no need for redundandcy, right?
This semester has been beyond a gift, and I’m so sad it’s over. I truly wish I could hit rewind just to breathe it all in again.
Hey. Wait. We’re a pretty ambitious group…we’ve done some studies on reliving the past…we could make a machine that would allow us to relive this amazing semester over again, couldn’t we?

National No Shoes Day.

Displace Me.

Relive Semester.

Yep. That sounds like a great new project.

-Eva…again

Published in: on April 25, 2008 at 10:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Kudos

First off, I just want to simply say how proud I am of everyone. I was reading some of the latest blogs, and what everyone is saying is simply amazing.

Honestly, I don’t even think that it’s what they’re saying but it’s that they’re saying anything at all.

My entire life, I’ve been better than my circumstances. I went to a high school where thought simply was not prevalent; good grades were, but actual thought did not exist.

 

And, having been back for about a month now, I’ve been hit with how many people just don’t think about things; there’s no independent or unrefined thought. There’s regurgitation and robotic simulations of thought.

 

But reading these blogs is so refreshing, and I’m reminded how I was so incredibly privileged to spend ten days with thirty great, great thinkers.

 

But as I said, we’ve been back for almost a month now, and I just want to leave again. It’s like ever since we’ve been back there has been something brewing inside of me. It’s like I so desperately want to write but the words won’t form, and I want to talk but I can’t seem to harness these miles and miles of endless thoughts into sounds. It’s like I’m just thinking all the time and I don’t have enough time to get them all articulated.

 

And it’s weird stuff, too. I haven’t been with the racist comments as much, I guess because most of my friends are so open-minded that I haven’t had to deal with that certain ignorance, but it’s been the little things getting to me. For instance, I went to Wal-Mart today and I noticed this entire rack of Hannah Montana paraphernalia. One product even read “Look like Hannah Montana!”

This is absurd!

Absurd

Absurd

ABSURD!

Why is there so much precedence put on weightless things like that?

 

And then, the other night I was driving back from Amarillo, and I noticed a billboard that spelled out the word “vaccines” in baby blocks, and I was struck by how absurd advertising in America is.

 

Things like this have been everywhere for me, and I don’t have the words to write (and right) them all.

 

Going to Poland gave me so much perspective, in large and in minute detail. Not just about racism or genocide, but also about priorities and ambition.

 

I came back doubtless, and now my ambition is clouded, and that’s silly. That’s really, really silly.

 

I wish time wasn’t such a violent thief. I wish I could go back and learn more, remember more, soak in more.

 

But, in short, I’ve been feeling frustrated and clouded, and reading these blogs really helps put things back into perspective.

Thanks guys.
~Eva

 

 

Published in: on April 17, 2008 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Intellectually Activating

Tonight…the real work began.

Katie and I, along with Dr. Clark (who I discovered is only afraid of short women, not short men), gave a presentation at the International Amarillo Club.

Katie covered the culture of Poland, and I covered Auschwitz.

The group age range was a little older than I imagine the type of people we will typically be presenting too.

Their responses were awesome!

After our presentations, many of them chatted with us individually. I know Katie said she had a great time, and I personally spoke to one woman who lived in Germany in 1947, and she remembers her mother telling her stories of getting her hair done in beauty parlors and how people were afraid to talk about the Holocaust out of a residual apprehension of the ubiquitous SS men which had kept everyone in fear for so long; and this was after the war.

One woman talked about how we have Holocausts of our generation going on today, such as Rwanda and Darfur, and how important it is not to react the same way so many did in WWII by not doing anything.

And then there was another woman who spoke to us as we were on our way out. She said she was an alum of WT (I think Katie said she discovered she’s actually 97 now).

She told us that she had many Jewish friends during the Holocaust, and she said when they lost their families, their grief was her grief. She told us how proud of us she was, how excited she was that people in the panhandle were expanding their experiences along with their way of thinking. I almost teared up just talking to her, and I’m not even a crier like Caitlin!

Simply said, being able to not only speak at these people, but to them and with them, was great. It reminded me of all of the great discussions we oft had in Kendra’s little suite at the dorms.

I miss you guys, but spreading the word of our experiences makes me remember them and relive them. I’m so excited to be a part of this.
~Eva

Published in: on April 2, 2008 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Blowing Bubbles

It’s been a week since we’ve been back.

There are things that I miss and things I don’t.

It’s great to be able to speak the native language, for one.

Iced drinks are awesome.

And most importantly, it’s great to have my independence back, to not have to follow a group schedule, and to be able to go where I want and when I want.

But what the things I do miss, not just about Poland, but about the entire experience, far surpasses the above in importance.

I miss the people, of course; students and faculty alike.

It’s like we were in this bubble, but not a typical bubble.

Our bubble was not clean and conventional; it was not mundane and boringly safe.

Inside this bubble were people who were constantly learning. This bubble was risky, often uncomfortable, and often scary.

But in this bubble was so much change, so much wisdom, and simply, so much thought.

There was no facebook, text messages, TV, or youtube videos.

I miss the discussions we were having, knowing that everything everybody was saying was quote-worthy and ridiculously profound.

Everything we did felt so important.

I gained so much perspective in our seven and a half days in Poland, and it’s hard to hold on to that perspective.

I came back changed and it was shocking, almost, to discover that the world I was returning to was not.

Silly squabbles friends were having just seemed so trivial. I wanted them to know that it didn’t matter.

But I find myself putting importance on them after only a week.

The entire experience was almost like church camp; we bond, we change, and then we come back and it’s hard to keep perspective and remember all we learned.

So, fellow ambassadors, let’s continue to remind one another what really matters. We all have our little bubbles, but for once I’m asking you to invade mine. We can all make sure we don’t lose the amazing perspective we gained, and, as Russell pointed out at one point, not make the trip a failure.

-Eva

  

Published in: on March 31, 2008 at 1:03 pm  Comments (1)  

It Started With Fear

We were standing in the main building, waiting for our tour guide, and I was distractedly looking at the posters and pictures on the wall, absent mindedly talking to someone, happened to casually glance out the window.

And there it was.

“Arbeit Macht Frei.”

Work makes free.

The entrance to Auschwitz.

I looked at the sign, read the words so many must have read with hope as they were led to their deaths.

Did you know that the victims of Auschwitz actually paid for their residence?

They were told they were going to find a better place, so tickets were sold to Jews and other non-Aryans. They bought tickets to their executions.

I couldn’t look at the sign.

Our tour guide arrived and led us directly to it.

I had to keep my eyes focused on the ground because I could not look at the gate. Finally we made our way through, and what struck me first about the former camp was how beautiful it is. It looks like a typical summer camp, with green trees and brick buildings.

Except that it is encompassed entirely by barbed wire.

People around me snapped pictures, many of them nonchalantly so, as if they were taking pictures of a park or an ordinary museum.

We finally made our way into one of the buildings. It was strange how the entire camp has been made into a museum. It wasn’t all barbed wire.

We saw pictures, documents, evidence of crimes. How people can say the holocaust doesn’t exist astounds me.

What I remember most is the building that held personal belongings of the victims.

We walked in, and people were taking pictures, which is forbidden inside the buildings, running around, acting like petulant children at a funeral. Complete disrespect.

We saw what we had heard of.

We saw prayer shawls which had been confiscated, piles and piles of eye glasses.

We saw the shoes.

We saw the heaps of hair, shorn from victims’ heads, the types of nets and cloth which the hair was made out of, sold to civilians.

The suitcases personalized with names and dates.

We saw cookware. Cookware. Pots and pans, potato peelers and cheese graters. I mean everything. They took everything. Nothing was spared.

We turned a corner, and in this room, in this display, were crutches. Prosthetic limbs. Prosthetic hands. Leg braces. And it hit me with such a force because I knew what immediately happened to those who had utilized these. The disabled were worthless because they could not work. Seeing this…I could not breathe.

We saw more pictures. Pictures of emaciated faces with numbers instead of names. After that building I was exhausted. I couldn’t deal with it anymore. We walked by the death wall, where people were so often shot and executed. It now serves as a memorial site. We stood by the gallows. We went into dark basements and prisons. All of this I was numb through.

As we were walking it began to rain. It was freezing outside. The tour had been going on for about two or three hours. We were all tired, hungry, and cold.

Wes was walking beside me, and we both expressed how guilty we felt for feeling cold in March, in scarves and hats and gloves and coats.

They had nothing.

And then we went into the one gas chamber and crematorium which wasn’t destroyed. It struck me how tiny it was.

There were several groups in there, and we were all cramped together.

I looked up and could see the pseudo shower heads, which in actuality is where the gas was released, and I began to feel suffocated. I just wanted out.

Later Cristin pointed out the numerous fingernail scratchings on the walls.

Finally we left. I was disturbed to see so many people, so many tourists, walking in and out freely. For us it was a museum, and for so many it was a horrible, horrible, prison, only escapable by death.

After lunch we met with a survivor. He actually wasn’t even Jewish. He was simply a Polish young man who was a part of the resistance in the beginning of the war. He was arrested in 1939 and survived Auschwitz for five years. He told us of a young couple who became known as the “Romeo and Juliet” of Auschwitz, a couple who managed to fall in love in the middle of hell, and even escaped. Tragically, they were eventually discovered and executed. When I asked him what he owed his survival to, he simply said “Luck, luck, luck.” Someone asked him how old he was when he was arrested, and he said “There are so many beautiful women in the room, I don’t want to reveal my age.” Seeing him be able to laugh gave us all hope. He was also the former director of the museum, and he told us that it was difficult living near the former camp, but that the world needed to be educated about it, and the best educators are the ones who lived through it. He said that, walking around, it often seemed unreal, like it never happened.

That night we sat around and discussed our thoughts on the day for about two or three hours. And we prepared for the next day: Birkenau.

Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II was a completely different experience than Auschwitz I. Auschwitz I was full of tourists and museums, almost like people had forgotten what it once was, a parking lot filled with cars and buses, book stores and cafes littered about.

Birkenau was silent. We drove up, and no one else was there. It began to snow, and then we saw the tracks. The train tracks which carried one purpose and ended inside the camp. Birkenau was enormous in comparison to Auschwitz. It seemed to stretch for acres. The barbed wire fence seemed endlessly long and endlessly foreboding. We climbed the watch tower at the entrance, stood where they stood. Saw the entire camp.

We walked through the wooden barracks, the places meant for horse stables used as housing. We saw the remains of the destroyed gas chambers. We stood on the platform used for selection.

Through all of this none of us spoke. How could we speak?

Many people took pictures. I couldn’t. It was too hard. But I know that you have to put that aside because it’s important that people see it. It’s important to see the evidence. But I knew other people were taking more than enough pictures for the group. Someone later said that they didn’t want to, but that someone else said that even if it is hard, you have to, because it’s art. And I didn’t say anything then, but I just can’t agree with that. It’s not art. It’s death and it’s a cemetery and it’s cruel, cruel evidence of what humanity is capable of but it is not art. Art is beautiful in spite of truth and there is no beauty in Birkenau.

The entire day, everyone was numb. No one cried. We were all so void and empty. Tired of trying to understand. The wind was blowing. It had been snowing. I couldn’t feel my legs, and it was March. March. How cold must it have been in December, in January, without coats?

We were cold, inside and out. We were numb, inside and out.

In the last place we visited I broke.

We were in a room with pictures of victims.

But they weren’t pictures we had already seen. They weren’t photos of dead eyes, of worn faces with shaved heads, skeletons in striped uniforms.

They were pictures from before the war, from family photo albums and the like.

These were not pictures of victims, these were pictures of people.

There were couples, healthy and in love. Family vacations and bathing suits. Young girls posing for the camera, like a senior picture in high school. Friends. Families. One of a young woman in her wedding dress, looking exactly at the camera and toasting. Walls and walls of these people. Children. Kids playing in the yard. And I saw these people, and I saw them, finally, saw them not as these numbers in uniforms, but as people, and I understood how easily that could be me. I look at this picture of me and my friends smiling and hugging, this picture perched on my microwave, and I imagine it on the wall with the rest. They weren’t shaved heads in uniforms. They weren’t Jews, they weren’t Gypsies. They were people.

And we learned about the spread of neo-Nazism across Europe and America and I just think how? How can some people see only race or ethnicity and not personality and character and feelings and hearts and minds and souls and blood?

And you know what is even worse? We hear of the holocaust and we think “How could people do that?”

But if you replace the Jewish, Gypsies, the disabled, any victim of the holocaust with a homosexual, a Mexican, a black person, and you get the exact same mentality today. There’s so much hate for such ridiculous reasons. There are people today who think the holocaust was horrible just because they don’t have anything against the Jewish, but do it to a Muslim and they wouldn’t feel the same way. They would be completely fine with another holocaust.

I see it everywhere now.

Every train track to me is a part of the tracks of Birkenau. When I’m cold I think of the cold I have never had to endure. It’s everywhere.

Reading about the holocaust has always saddened me. But I forgot about it for awhile. In speech it became unmentionably taboo to do a “holocaust piece.” The holocaust became a part of history, one I tired to forget.

But seeing it, seeing the face of the crimes, it overwhelmed me.

It started with fear, and it ended with anger. Anger at the perpetrators. Anger at the bystanders. I know that “none of us know what we would do in that situation.” But if any of us would stand by and do nothing, then we deserve just as much reprimand and just as much guilt as those who signed the documents and murdered the victims themselves. You can say that you don’t know what you would do, but that does not absolve the fact that you did nothing.

It also ended with gratitude. I will never, ever understand how this could happen. But my life is so abundant right now. I come back and hear about friends’ squabbles and quarrels, and it all seems so meaningless. It doesn’t matter. I am so incredibly humbled and thankful not only for what I have, but for what I have not had to endure. All of it is so incomprehensible to me. But if nothing else, remembering the Holocaust again made me remember all that is great in my life.

It sounds trite, maybe, but please do the same. Just remember, and remind yourselves, remind each other, what’s really important. Not race, not ethnicity, not religion, not sexual preference. None of these are deserving of hate. To hate for these reasons is to say that Hitler was just, that the Nazi regime was good.

So, to quote American History X, “Hate is Baggage.”

Keep that in mind.
-Eva

  

           

Published in: on March 25, 2008 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Hope Cristin Plans On Packing A LOT of Dramamine

I am most afraid of Allan causing an international disruption.

On a serious note, the greatest physical fear I have is the flight. I’m absolutely terrified of heights, and the longest plane ride I’ve ever been on was a four-hour flight; needless to say, I plan on borrowing a lot of Cristin’s Dramamine.

And I suppose the most…ethereal thing I am afraid of is my own reaction. There has been so much excitement in the group, in me, about going to Europe, many of us for the first time. We’ve all been so jovial and giddy with disbelief and awe that I think some of us have, maybe even consciously, blinded ourselves to what we will actually be doing.

I am the type of person who can laugh in almost any situation. I can make almost anything amusing to myself in some way.

But the Holocaust robbed people of everything; especially their laughter.

I’m afraid of the emotional state I will be in when we stand on the actual grounds which teem with the skeletons and ghosts of such a woeful time in history.

I know that a historical site shouldn’t be the only thing which sends one into a realization of the past, but the past is harder to ignore when there is visible stone and dirt present to shape the images all of us have written about.

Victims of the Holocaust had their humanity and their simple lightness of heart stolen; and when we are face to face with the fences of Auschwitz, I’m afraid that I may momentarily lose mine.

-Eva

Published in: on March 3, 2008 at 4:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Walking Along New Streets and Reading the Signs We Know From Memory

There are two things that stick out in my mind. There are two things, above everything else, that most excite me about our upcoming adventure.

The first is the atmosphere of Poland; Dr. Clark described how Poland is a romantic country, a noble country with cathedrals and castles. Frankly, that just sounds cool. That type of culture is fascinating and mystical to me. I can’t wait to step back in time to a totally different realm that I have never experienced.

The second thing I am excited for is very different.

I believe that desensitization has occurred largely in America. We are often overwhelmed with story after story of tragedy, whether it be by the Holocaust, 911, or Hurricane Katrina, that we become numb to the true depth of what was lost. We, as humans, have no other way to cope with such indefinable atrocity. But I have read the stories, I have seen Schindler’s List, I’ve been exposed to so many versions of this tragic piece of history, but I believe that seeing the grounds stained with so much innocent, and even non-innocent blood, will open my eyes again and help me to see what happened in a new light, and hopefully help others to do so as well.

-Eva

Published in: on February 7, 2008 at 10:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Ruse of Possibility

So I’m supposed to tell everyone about my reactions to learning that I’d be going to Poland; and, frankly, I haven’t finished reacting yet.

It hasn’t fully sunk in.

I remember sitting there, not even hearing Russell say that we were going to Poland because I was so carefully strategizing in my head how I was going to succeed in this ruse of an interview.

To put it simply, I needed this.

Far too often I’ve expected great things, and they never really panned out how I had hoped.

And I was afraid that this was just another one of those times.

But it wasn’t, and now that I have been granted this amazing opportunity…I’m still holding my breath.

It’s funny how we tend to fully feel the impact of despair but hesitate in believing the possibility of our joy.

But I know that when I am there, when I am there…I will be breathless.

And this is my chance, my opportunity, to really do some good.

To learn, and to teach.

And I can’t wait.

Published in: on November 19, 2007 at 7:28 pm  Comments (1)