Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The Travel Enrichment Grant I recieved made it possible for me to go from my host university in Trier, Germany, to the Auschwitz I and II sites in Poland. I received my grant to expand on my own working knowledge about cultural aspects of the concentration camps and Jewish ghettoes of the Second World War. There, I was able to see, experience, and learn more about a previous research project I conducted on art and artists held in imprisonment by Nazi Germany.
The project I embarked on came to fruition during my "Pfinstferien" break in mid-June, with four of my nine holiday days spent in Poland as a whole. Other days were spent, naturally, in transit and on other personal trips in Germany and Austria.
My trip began in central Germany, departing to Poland after a weekend of visiting friends near Frankfurt. After my arrival at Rzeszów airport, I traveled by train to Krakow, where I stayed for the duration of my trip. There, I spent a significant amount of time visiting other places of interest that pertained to my project in Krakow, such as the old Jewish quarter of the city. For my original project itself, I traveled via shuttle bus to the town of Oświęcim (Auschwitz, in German) to visit the camps.
At Auschwitz, I began by visiting the first camp which holds the exhibits assembled by the museum. I went at a time so as to have the option to explore the grounds without a group tour, and I found that doing so gave me a greater experience of what Auschwitz was to thousands of holocaust victims. This way of approaching the former concentration camp allowed me to spend time at parts of the site of particular interest to me, and to experience all that it remains today. There I was able to see exhibits that incorporated images and art into the history of the site. The art itself was the, most often clandestine, art of those who wished to tell their stories in any way they could. It was cathartic and rebellious, as well as costly and dangerous for the prisoners of the concentration camps.
To be at this location, especially having explored the site independent of any group tour, was emotional and perception changing for me. It's easy to know the numbers, or to read about the camps themselves. But it is an experience not easy to forget, when you find yourself standing in a place where so many lives were lost only a few generations ago. It reminds and reaffirms to the individual that one should not lose sight of compassion, or forget the atrocities of the past.
In this way, I also incorporated this part of my travels into its own section of an ongoing personal photography project. I will soon begin developing the film, and assembling together the photographs taken during my semester abroad into a portfolio of work, both abstract and representational in nature.