Poland: Warsaw III (Final Days)

As we return to Warsaw for the last leg of our program, we all feel the weight of the last handful of weeks as well as the reality of our time as Psychology of Genocide students coming to an end.

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On our first day back, we had a later start to our programming than usual, so several of us opted to go for breakfast at our beloved To Lubię!

 

Later, we were hosted by our Jewish cemetery expert, Alicja Mroczkowska, and received a tour of the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street. It is difficult to conceptualize just how massive this cemetery is! It is full of different decades of Jewish families that, depending on their wealth or the political climate of the time, have varied forms of denoting the location of their deceased friends and family members.

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That night there was to be a huge thunder and lightening storm, so we decided to get out of the hostel before it started and hunkered down in To Lubię for a few hours to get some studying done… But really, we wanted that Weekend Layer Cake.

 

… And every other dessert on the menu.

The next day, we learned about Jewish folks in Poland following World War II and the triumphs, struggles, and adjustments that had to be made in order to continue surviving. For many, that meant leaving Poland and starting a new life elsewhere. We also learned a bit about psychoanalysis and its relationship to the Holocaust before watching a… Unique… Documentary about Lublin, the “Magical City.” The next day, we were to visit Lublin, so this was our introduction to its history (and it was very confusing and narrated by some interesting individuals).

On our way to Lublin, a city whose Old Town is largely untouched (architecturally) by World War II, we stopped for a tour at the former Labour and Extermination Camp, Majdanek (or KL Lublin).

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(Graphic content ahead) As we completed our tour, we stopped to reflect on the lives lost in this place beneath the shade of a massive memorial, filled with human ashes and soil from the camp where bodies were burned in pits in an effort to get rid of them in greater numbers. The ridges of earth where those pits once were have softened but are still visible next to the memorial whose inscription reads, “Let our fate be a warning to you.”

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Once arriving in Lublin, we were taken on a tour of the NN Theatre, then had some free time to explore the town on our own before receiving a formal city tour and heading “home.”

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And then…

It was June 7th.

What? These were the most tiring 30 days of many of our lives, I think. While we are lucky to say that this is one of our greatest levels of fatigue – especially in the context of what we are learning about – our emotions are very mixed on this final day.

To start off the final day, every psychology student went to beloved To Lubię for breakfast together. It was a really special morning full of exhaustion and elation and gratitude for good food with each of us that made it through this program as a team.

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Our concluding seminar as a psychology group was full of passion and renewed enthusiasm for what many of us were motivated by when joining this program – helping people who are suffering in some way. We created hypothetical interventions to assist an imaginary government with a growing issue that could lead to genocidal acts, and the creativity and psychological prowess being employed by everyone was really inspiring! I struggle with feeling like I didn’t take a hold on my psychology education early enough in my degree to feel like I mastered it, but hearing everyone’s strategies for helping others creatively made me feel good to be there.

 

At day’s end, we rushed to pack our things, as many were catching early taxis, trains, and planes the following morning, and we wanted to be ready to go when we came back from an evening of celebration. I, personally, was having a hard time facing the end of the programming with feeling like my grades were mediocre and that I was exhausted and that the idea of continuing to travel was too exhausting. However, we all supported each other in getting done what needed to and generously offered hugs and snacks and helping hands to make it through the evening and subsequent morning together.

Saying good-byes was difficult, but there was some comfort in knowing that we would all (almost all – I’m looking at you, NW) see each other again for our eventual presentations in September (if you want to go, clear your calendars on the 14th and/or 15th!). There was support offered across programs, as well, and our fellow Witnessing Auschwitz students joined us for dancing, packing, and taxiing to our next destinations.

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It feels very normal to be back home, now, but more adventure awaits and I still don’t think I have fully processed my time as a student in this program. Perhaps, come presentation day, I will have had the opportunity to do so a bit more, but I think over the next year or so I will continue to reflect and think, “Wow, I did that.” This was my first grand travel adventure, and I think it has opened my mind to the possibility that I am capable of taking on these types of challenges.

However, none of this would have been possible without friends to give me reasons to say “yes” – “Dope photos. Dope blog posts. Dope experience” – as well as my family for making it both spiritually, mentally, and logistically imaginable and feasible.

Once arriving in Poland, it became clear that without all of my new friends I also imagine I wouldn’t have made it in tact to the end of the program, so thank-YOU.

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Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you! I really am grateful for the opportunity to learn about the lives of so many individuals who deserve to be remembered. It is a responsibility to learn about these events, but also (in my opinion) not to forget that the Holocaust is NOT the only event of its kind, and genocidal acts have taken place before and continue to take place after. Especially as someone who calls Canada (Turtle Island) home, in a province where land disputes still take place with Indigenous folks who have been persecuted throughout the history of European settlers here, I feel it is important to be mindful of how these issues are seen as past problems when in fact they continue to impact many individuals. So thank-you for your lives and I am privileged to have learned about you.

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