On the day of our longest intra-Europe travel day, we woke in the city of Lublin and journeyed to the extermination camp Majdanek. Today, the camp is situated alongside modernity—clear signs of the 21st century. According to our guide, the buildings closest to the camp were not in existence while the camp was functioning, but nonetheless the ability to view a modern city next to the best preserved Nazi death camp is rather chilling.
Majdanek is hard to miss as you drive out of the city center. You see a large monument on the right and behind that monument lays barbed wire, watch towers, rows of narrow buildings, and a crematorium. If you did not know what you were looking at, perhaps you just arrived on planet earth, Majdanek may appear to be a state park or other preserved landscape. To anyone who has ever read a story about the Holocaust, watched a modern day film, or toured a museum on World War II, it is unmistakable as to the true nature of this place.
The most chilling part of Majdanek would have to be a small building that houses thousands of shoes from those executed at the site. The shoes have been placed in containers which line the walls and take up three very high rows in the middle of the room. As you walk among the rows of shoes, you see the individuals who perished—a woman’s sandal, a man’s work boot, and so on. For our students, this was the most poignant part of our trip so far. The death toll was narrowed into individuals who owned shoes just like anyone else, and often, the shoes revealed how little people knew about the journey ahead.
After spending a few very somber hours in Majdanek, we boarded our bus and began our journey to Krakow. We stopped a few times on the way and finally got to our hosts at about 6 pm. It was lovely to see the kids get excited on the bus before we arrived—they were a mixture of nerves and enthusiasm. Despite some fears about being recognized, they very quickly met up with their host families and went off into various parts of Krakow. The teachers were met by our lovely friends who teach at Lyceum V. We were just as excited as the kids to see our dear friends again!
Today, we look forward to a full day in Krakow with some time at school, around the city, and a reception at the school this evening.