I am still in the US, just finishing up my recruitment trip. This week, please read some thoughts by Mr. Bill Wiisanen, Bible Teacher, who was one of the chaperones on the Class Trip that went to Poland in September. He sat down to recount some of his impressions of the trip. They really will make you think.
Because of His Faithfulness,
Sharon C. Brobst, Director
In September, I was one of the chaperones on the school trip to Auschwitz with the eleventh and twelfth graders. History is a hobby of mine. I have studied both World Wars, and I am familiar with the Holocaust. I know enough about Auschwitz that I felt that I needed to visit the former concentration camp. Some things you do, not because it is fun, but because you should.
We stayed in Krakow and drove to Auschwitz early that morning. It was to be a long day. We started at Auschwitz 1, the head camp. The students were tired but somber, and anyone who has ever traveled with 40 to 50 teenagers knows there would usually be laughing and joking among them, but not on that day. We entered through the main gate to the camp and saw the sign ‘Arbeit Macht Frei,’ which means ‘work makes free.’ It is a mockery — there was no hope of freedom. A few people survived, but they were liberated by Allied troops. One did not escape Auschwitz.
Auschwitz 1 is a memorial to the Holocaust; it tells the story of those killed there. The Jews were told to bring their most valuable possessions, and rooms at the camp are filled with valuables left when the camp was taken. It is sobering. Shoes, brushes, pots, and pans are some of the things we saw.
One of the worst parts for me was the room full of human hair that the Nazis used to make horse blankets. I stayed and just stared, as did many of the students. It was numbing. There was, quite literally, over a ton of hair. If you looked closely, you could see the curls and the variations in color of the hair taken from the women who had been murdered there.
During our day there, we met with an Auschwitz survivor who told us her moving story. When she was finished, she asked if there were any questions. One of our students asked a bold question. She wondered if the woman had forgiven the people who did so much to harm her and her family. The answer was a flat “no,” with it being clear there was no room for discussion.
Later during the trip, my daughter forwarded me a video of another Auschwitz survivor that had been interviewed. This woman actually survived being experimented on by Mengle. Her experiences defied description. It is amazing that she and her sister survived when the rest of her family were killed. This survivor reached a different conclusion than the lady that we had met at the camp. In contrast, she publicly forgave those who had harmed her and her family.
The stories of these two women and their decisions to either forgive or not to forgive have really impacted me. It seems to me that forgiveness in this extreme is a choice. As a Christian, I know this level of forgiveness is required of me, as Jesus commanded us to forgive others as He has forgiven us. Even with this knowledge, I ask myself if I could forgive if I had gone through similar experiences to what these women endured. Honestly, I don’t know. I would like to think I could forgive and would do so, but I am not really sure. Perhaps this is where we depend on God’s strength when our own is lacking. I suspect this would be the case for me.
Mr. Bill Wiisanen