Letter to Aaron

This is a letter I wrote to my friend Aaron who is, as I write, at boot camp for the Marines. It contains some inside jokes and personal stuff (I also took out somethings that were in the original letter), but I thought I would post it on the blog anyways since I haven’t posted anything in awhile:

Hey Aaron!

Sorry if this took forever but the day after I left for Poland your letter came. Poland… hmmm… what can I say? I’ve been giving everybody else the short answer “it was fun” but really it was something more. If I were to put it in one word I would say that it was meaningful. Dude, I cannot wait until you are able to go to like Japan or something because then you will know exactly what I am talking about! Going to another country is so eye-opening to how big the world actually is. There are so many people with so many different opinions and worldviews, but the weird thing that gets me is all the similarities. You’ll see this soon!

It’s hard to talk about how I felt at Auschwitz-Birkenau, mainly because everyone has this preconceived idea that what I felt was sadness, which it was, but it is more solemn then melancholy, really. Auschwitz, which was the work camp, pretty much has the atmosphere of a museum now, which is not necessarily a bad thing because it was a great educational experience. There was a couple times I got choked up in Auschwitz, though. There is this one room that is full of shaved hair. I was sort of flabbergasted when I saw it. We had just been through like 3 rooms containing stuff like documents, and then without warning from the tour guide we enter this huge room (it is more like a long hallway, really) and it is full of hair! It kind of knocked me back with the un-expectancy of the whole thing. Then there were other rooms full of shoes, suitcases, peg legs and other instruments for the handicapped. It was all very hard to take in. Another eerie thing was the crematorium. They have where you can actually walk in. It was so silent inside. I know that God is everywhere, but he does not speak there. There God is silent. It was raining that day and I don’t remember it being this cold but when I was inside the crematorium I could see my breath and then got freaked out, not of ghosts per say, but of the evil that once lurked there.

Birkenau, the death camp, was the hardest to go to because it looks the same as it did in 1945; nothing has changed. My first glance of the camp keeps on playing in my mind. We were on the bus talking and what not, trying to forget where we were going, and then as soon as we turn the corner and get first sight of the camp, a light snow starts falling. It is so weird to have one of those moments when a bunch of people are talking and then they see something so somber that everyone just stops whatever they’re doing and just stares. The entire time I was there I couldn’t stop from shaking, in retrospect I suppose my shaking could have been due to the weather, but at the time, my being cold was the last thing on my mind. There were so many emotions I was having there that they just kind of blended into this dark mauve-like color of an overwhelming amount of sadness, hatred, guilt, disrespectfulness, anger, and numbness.  What I hated most though is that I could not bring myself to cry. My bottom lip was quivering, I was twitching like a crack addict; I had all the symptoms and yet I could not bring myself to cry. Then we went to this area called “Canada”, which was a new building the Nazi’s had just built before the Russians came that they have turned into an exposition (other than this everything is exactly as it was). Inside “Canada” there is this room that has individual pictures and stories of prisoners before the Holocaust. They were so simple, just short biographies with information about their family, what they did for a living, what they did for fun, etc. I wanted to read them all! It was so weird the teeter-totter play of happiness and sadness I had while reading these. It was like I was reading about people I knew! Like I was reminiscing with their families! There was this one about a girl and it said that she loved to pose in front of the camera and it had all these funny pictures of her with her friends at the beach or in the mountains. This girl in particular reminded me of myself as I thought back to all the crazy pictures I have taken. Especially all the group pictures, I just kept thinking of what all the comments might have been before (and while) the photos were being taken, and of course in a large group picture it seems someone has to be the clown lying down with leisure in the front. While reading these I hadn’t even noticed I had started crying. I probably looked so funny the way I was crying with this huge grin on my face (considering where we were). This was the last thing we saw before we left the camp, and it is what has stuck with me the most. Seeing other people’s memories displayed like that made me think of my own memories. I left the camp with this new sense of inspiration because I realize how much I cherish simple memories with friends and family and I want to fight to preserve those and to create new ones.

Wow. Sorry, this was incredibly long (I hope you have time to even read it) but I needed to share with someone on the outside (of the now close-knit group that went to Poland with me) and someone that I trust, what I was feeling. Also, before you left you said to write you about the concentration camps to remind you that you could you be in a much worse place. I’m trying out your “how time flies when you’re having fun” theory to get you back home sooner! Is it working? I haven’t got a hold of Mexican, but I haven’t tried either. I just keep hoping for the day that he calls me. I know that you are bound for greatness and I am still praying for you! Just don’t let them brainwash you!!!

                                                                                         Your Brother in Christ,



Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 2:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

First Task: Amarillo, Second Task: The World

Hate is hate. This sounds simplistic, but I do believe it’s easy to confuse a soldier in Darfur that’s killing innocent victims and a racist man walking down the streets of Amarillo. Given, the Amarillo man does get a brownie point for not murdering those he hates, but he still hates. His heart is no different. Several weeks ago I met a young man that was smart, funny, nice; a Christian gentleman. I was shocked when I heard him say “…those niggars…”. I gave him the benefit of a doubt for a couple of seconds until he went on to say that while he doesn’t “hate niggars” he doesn’t think they are productive to society or the world in general. I’ll be honest, I didn’t say too much. I said that I disagreed with him and as a Christian did not share that idea but I honestly didn’t know what to say. That seems to have started off my eye opening experiences to the racist world around me…a couple of other moments similar to this have happened in the past two days.

1) I was at working and helping an older gentleman. He was nice and talkative and we ended up having a long conversation. He was a Vietnam veteran and a Christian and, of course, both topics interest me. I don’t remember how or why, but homosexuality ended up coming in to the conversation. He basically said that hated homosexuals and as a Captain/Corporal/Whatever in the Marines in Vietnam he would have kicked anyone in his squad out if he found out they were homosexual. It was “bad for morale” after all. Being at work I couldn’t kick him in the balls. Oh but how I wanted to scream at him! The only appropriate thing I could say was “I personally try not to condemn people just because I disagree with their choices. God’s the final judge, not me. Thank goodness! I’m going to love any sinner because that’s what I am. God allows free will and people are allowed to live any lifestyle they want.” This was probably the better choice anyways because screaming at someone that they are a bigot won’t help any situation along (oh but I would have felt great yelling that!). I was frustrated that I was at work and couldn’t really tell him what I was thinking or look him in the eye and ask him if he’s read in the Bible past the Old Testament. Didn’t Jesus sit at the same table as a tax collector? Didn’t he love a harlot and allow her to be in his traveling group? Didn’t Jesus love? Didn’t Jesus come from a direct line of a harlot (Rahab) and an adulteress (Bathsheba)?

2) The other day I was playing an online computer game (yes I’m a World of Warcraft geek) and some random player started yelling things like “…I’m going to lynch niggars just like all those Jews burned.” I had no idea if he was kidding or not, and it doesn’t matter either way (there’s nothing like a good ol’ Auschwitz joke…*rolling eyes*). I started yelling back at this guy that he had no right to say crap like that unless he had been to the death camps and seen what I had seen. Some other player started whispering that I just needed to leave this idiot alone and ignore him and let him ramble on and make himself look more stupid. I was shocked. I don’t care how dumb he is or the fact that my words would do nothing to shut this idiot up but I had to say something. I couldn’t just stand idly by and let some ignorant person yell about things he didn’t understand. I was more upset that someone had the nerve to tell me to stop talking than this guy that was yelling the racial slurs! No I won’t let him keep talking! No I won’t allow words like that to go unnoticed!

When we all got back from the trip we were excited about changing the world. I think we jumped ahead of ourselves. First we much change Amarillo, then the world should be next on our agenda. What good is it to change the world if we’re surrounded by bigots in our own backyards? What good is it to let a fellow WT student or Amarillo residents spew words of hatred? We must first change our world, then change everyone else’s. But we must remember that even those who hate need our patience. I must not begin to hate those who hate. They still need our patience. After all, I had my own judgemental days where I looked down on all the “heathens” and forgot that I was just as bad off as everyone else. It took some time and patience of others in order for me to wake up and realize how stupid I had been. So we must go out in our community and treat hate with love and kindess (though don’t forget the last resort if someone won’t listen: kick them and run!). If we change those around us we can add members to our army of resistance, our army that won’t tolerate hate.


Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 2:52 pm  Leave a Comment  


The sky is dark, and angry.

The street is empty, except for me and my thoughts.

The wind blows through the trees, making the leaves rustle in the silence.

The silence is almost deafening.

It’s almost as if, if I stand still enough, and listen hard enough, I can hear their voices.

The voices of the past, whispering their secrets in my head.

Secrets of the dead and long forgotten.

There is so much pain and anguish, that I can’t hold it all inside.

The sky begins to shed its tears; tears that are long overdue.

I feel the first drop on my cheek. Sweet release.

As the sky began to weep, so did I.

The cold began to creep up on me.

I felt it in my bones, down to my soul.

That overwhelming coldness filled me up, and I was left numb.

As the numbness faded, it was replaced with a strong sense of determination.

I will not break, I will not crumble.

I will not be shown as weak in the face of my enemy.

I will resist.

No amount of hatred, or contempt can stop me from making a difference.

I will fight back, and I will win.

Published in: on April 14, 2008 at 2:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

God Grew Tired of Them

Last night my friend Jasinia and I watched a few documentaries regarding the Lost Boys of Sudan and the current crisis occurring in Darfur.    One documentary, God Grew Tired of Us, had an interview with one of the Lost Boys who said that he felt that God, indeed, had grown tired of them and that was why they were going through this personal hell.

What a powerful thought, “God grew tired of us.”?  Living the life they did; constantly running from genocide, never seeing their families, hoping for a better existence, would make me wonder this very thought.  It would be hard to keep the hope that I may get back to my home again alive.  

I admire these young men for their attitudes.  They are so thankful to just be alive.  All they want is to be back at home.  All they want to see is their parents, their siblings, their relatives.  Things we take for granted all the time are suddenly luxuries in their mind.  

Why are we as a society still letting this occur?  The images in the films related to the Darfur crisis scared me.  It is Auschwitz all over again.  Citizens are getting murdered and raped and villages destroyed simply because of their race and religion.  It’s heartbreaking to see this much hate happen. Though I am one person, I will take a stand.  I will not let them feel that God has grown tired of them. 


A few links:

God Grew Tired of Us

The Devil Came on Horseback

Save Darfur Coalition 

Published in: on April 6, 2008 at 8:00 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.

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

Life’s Beauty

It’s amazing how so much can happen in such a short amount of time. We have been back in the US for a little while now and it still seems as if it were just yesterday that we were walking the streets of Poland.That trip was absolutely amazing and so wonderful. I am so happy that we were all able to have the opportunity to be there and experience it.

One of the main things that really touched me that we saw on the trip was Auschwitz. Throughout high school we were taught about the Holocaust and told to write papers over it. During my junior year we spent three weeks learning only about World War II in all of our classes and it helped shed a great light as to what had happened during that time period. We watched clips from movies like Schindler’s List and viewed pictures online. We read several books and discussed the things that they had done to the Jewish people. The fact that I went to a Christian school made the topic of the Holocaust seem that much more sacred. In eigth grade, we took a trip to Washington D.C. and visited the Holocaust Museum. The whole time we were there, I remember being incredibly sad and so shocked at the atrocities that had been done. I never once imagined that I would ever be able to be in the actual location where this aweful crime took place.

Entering Auschitz and seeing the camp was an overall life changing experience. Being there and walking through the place were so many innocent people had once walked to their deaths was incredibly difficult and moving at the same time. I can’t fully explain to you what it was exactly like to be there. I could never truly put it in to words and pictures would never give it enough justice. After speaking with one of the surviors there, he told us a very impacting quote. He said, “These pictures can’t scream.” With hearing that, it really made me realize and come to grasps with the fact that this had actually happened. These awful things had really been done to these innocent people.

In light of this whole experience, it allowed me to realize and come to grasps with the fact that life is so precious. Each day is a blessing from the Lord and we should never take anything for granted. This experience was completely eye opening in the way that it helped me to see what the most important priorities in my life should be. I wouldn’t have traded this amazing trip for anything.

Published in: on April 2, 2008 at 6:36 pm  Leave a Comment  


We have been home for eleven days now. 

That’s eleven chances for us to make a difference.  Eleven chances for us to wake up and decide that the injustice that happens, right here, on our own university, has got to stop.  Much like the little bubble Eva has talked about, we are a bonded group- a family.  Together we are strong.  A triple braided cord is not easily broken…

Every day that I have been back, my mind wanders back to the days of walking through Auschwitz.  The night of the culture walk.  The endless time spent traveling.  The nights we stayed up talking, bonding, and growing.  The fort, the Kabab’s, the inside jokes.  Those memories are a precious gift.  But not a gift to be kept to myself.  Its a gift that will keep on giving.  There are 23 students with a new passion, a new desire.  We are going to band together.  We are going to make a stand.  We are going to grow our Army of Resistance!  But this is going to take work.  We are going to have to expand our comfort zone [not step out of them].  We are going to have to hold each other accountable. 

We are going to want to be change.

And seek change.

And then be change.

Why?  Because we were changed. 

Published in: on April 2, 2008 at 6:34 pm  Leave a Comment  


Yesterday, I was writing a letter to all of my friends and family, telling them everything we did and saw while we were in Poland.  I wrote a lot, detailing each day, wanting them all to get a glimpse of what it was like to be there.

Finally, the time came when I had to write about our trip to Auschwitz.  What could I say that would truly express what it was like to walk on that ground… to see the barbed wire fences… to imagine all that had taken place there?  I started to discuss the basic things we did while we were there, in a somewhat impersonal way.  I talked about walking through the barracks, which had been converted into exhibits.  I talked about seeing the piles upon piles of human hair, or the clothes of young children. 

As I wrote, I started to think about what it was like to be there, to see my peers, my friends, crying as we walked through those exhibits.  I’m normally a fairly reserved person, and I remember struggling not to cry while we were walking through those exhibits.  I had been fighting to not show on my face what I was feeling so deeply within my heart.  I was feeling a complete, intense, and powerful sorrow, and it slowly filled me up and sunk its claws into my throat and my gut.  As I wrote, I remembered this.  And I remembered when I finally let down that barrier at Auschwitz.  We walked into the room with the mountains of shoes… so many shoes… and I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  I gasped, and that gasp turned into a quiet sob.  It was so hard to think about it, to take it all in. 

 I had to stop writing the letter to my family and friends.  I broke down into an uncontrollable sob.  It was as if everything I had held in since being there, within the confines of Auschwitz, suddenly broke loose within me.  I finally brought myself to fully mourn for those who lost their lives in the endless string of atrocities that occurred within Auschwitz. 

It is my hope that I will always remember what we saw and learned there.  I hope that through our mourning and sorrow for the horrific events of the past, we will be able to face tomorrow with a stronger resolve.  A resolve for change.

~Janelle Gross

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 2:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Days after Poland.

The Days after Poland have been overwelming.  I am still trying to  absorb what happened during the trip.  I am still amazed I went to Poland, it was a trip of a lifetime.  Never can I ever go back to Poland and enjoy it like I did.  What I mean is that I can’t go back with the 22 readership ambassadors I went with again.  It was one of those things you live once, one of those things lived at a perfect time that never come back.  Luckily I had a camera with me lol! Good thing I also know a group of 22 students who can refresh my memory! The trip was amazing, I will never forget it! I will grow old telling my grandchildren what a great experience Poland was, when I went for the first time!


Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 2:48 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.



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