Reflections

Decency and journalism

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By Kristian Jebsen On display at the ramp at Birkenau are photos documenting the selection process of Jews arriving by train from Hungary. The SS doctor stands in uniform, gesturing to his right, sending an old man with a cane to his death. Perpendicular to the offloading ramp, a long dirt path separates the male […]


Sonderkommandos on the platform

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By S. Parker Yesko At several points on our tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau, our guide Pawel Sawicki’s narration turned to the complicated role of the Sonderkommando unit at the camp. The Sonderkommandos were Jewish prisoners handpicked to carry out some of the grisliest tasks of the extermination process. They were the ones sent into the gas […]


One in the crowd

Photograph on display at the Topography of Terror; only in the crowd does not salute during a Nazi demonstration. (Jessica Davey-Quantick/FASPE)

By Jessica Davey-Quantick I’m standing in the Topography of Terror in Berlin. In front of me is a wall of photographs, some black and white, some startling color. History isn’t supposed to be in color; it more often seems a blurry smear of black and white, a uniform, a grin-and-grip. I’m fixed on one photo, […]


Between narratives: my Polish cultural upbringing and the Holocaust

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By Joanna Plucinska The FASPE fellowship is designed to train us reporters to think more ethically about our jobs. I hoped that this trip would remain for me in the purely professional realm: it was going to be about journalism, not about my Polish identity. But as we discussed Jewish identity in Poland before World […]


Talking through what’s taboo: how I uncovered my family history

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By Alexandra Levine I was physically and mentally exhausted. We had walked much of Kraków that day, and we were off to Auschwitz the next. I sank into the red sofa in the hotel lobby and as soon as I got back on Wi-Fi, I found a jarring text message from my Mom. “You do […]


The trees of Auschwitz-Birkenau

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By Lindsey Anderson   Pine trees smell like freedom. They are cool summer nights roasting marshmallows, slow walks, relaxing afternoons, lounging at a campground. They are family and friendship, new adventures and finding myself in the Great Outdoors. Pine trees smell like freedom, but I see no freedom here. Rusty barbed wire fences outline the […]


On the outside looking in

Block 27 Yad Vashem

By Laura Smith Early on, the FASPE faculty urged us not to have expectations about our reactions to Auschwitz—and despite all their urging, we often had expectations. In some ways, my expectations were met: I expected to feel and mostly did feel incomprehension and blankness. I think this is reasonable. I don’t think anyone can […]


On bookends and parallels

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By Alasdair Wilkins On FASPE’s first afternoon in Kraków—also my first day in Poland, the seventh new country I had visited in the previous three weeks—half our group gathered outside the Hotel Campanile to begin our tour of the city with FASPE European director Thorsten Wagner. In the preceding free hour, many of us had […]


Lessons from Auschwitz

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By Lex Talamo I could still hear my heartbeat in my head as I descended the uneven concrete steps and left Block 11. Moments before, I had crawled into a torture cell in the bowels of the building. Inside there had been darkness, silence and barely enough room to stand. Outside in the cobbled street […]


The fields of Auschwitz-Birkenau

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By Katelyn Verstraten The birds sang the whole time we were at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It may seem a strange thing to remember about the Nazi concentration and extermination camp where more than a million people were murdered, but that’s what I most recall. Bees buzzed over the ruins of gas chambers. Buttercups and daises dotted the […]


Indescribable

The mausoleum at Majdanek, near Lublin. (Roland Geider/Wikimedia Commons)

By Krzysztof Sadomski Before we travelled to Auschwitz, we were warned that we should not expect anything—that visiting such a horrifying place can cause different emotions in different people and therefore we should not judge others, but instead focus on our own reactions. A few days before coming to Poland, we had visited the Memorial […]


There’s still laughter

Inge Deutschkron as a young woman.  (Courtesy of Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt)

By Alyssa Creamer At 92, former journalist and Holocaust survivor Inge Deutschkron speaks with fluid wit in a tongue she hasn’t spoken for years about a time unfamiliar to the young journalists hanging on her every word. The fellows, at least 60 years her junior, are trying to imagine the building-turned-museum they sit in as […]