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  • Writer's pictureAlison Conigliaro-Hubbard

The Agency of Learning and Growing and the Profound Impact of Visiting Auschwitz

No emojis for this post.  It’s an important story that stands on its own.


Last October my mom mentioned she was heading to Europe in May for a meeting. Originally, the meeting was to take place in a country in Eastern Europe, and being a geography buff, I paused for a second and said, “Hey, maybe we can go on our vacation a little early and meet up in Poland?”


I knew for a long time that I wanted to visit Auschwitz, and it was something I wanted to do with my family - not only because of our Jewish roots, though it’s a history I have only more recently begun to understand more deeply.


I have always felt strongly that it is our responsibility as humans to learn as much as we can about atrocities such as the Holocaust, so that we do what we can to honor victims, prevent its memory from being lost in time, and make sure it is never repeated. For me that means standing in the place, and accessing my empathy to imagine what it would have been like to be in someone else’s shoes. Every 9/11, I always look closely at the images of jumpers because I never ever want to forget what that may have been like.


We just returned from this trip, which we started in Krakow, Poland, meeting up with my mom and my brother Andy. We all flew in from our respective places. Together we shared 3 days in a country we didn’t know much about, but now on the other side of this experience, we have so much to reflect on. I’ll start by saying that Krakow is a really interesting city worth visiting, bustling with activity, restaurants, history, and encircled by beautiful geography. It is so much more than what I expected it to be. The people are truly lovely, and we had wonderful hosts in Jakub Vanek and Piotr Strycharczuk, who showed us around.


It would be impossible to encapsulate the experience we had visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in a post. It would also hideously fail to honor the 1.3 MILLION humans who were subject to this cruel place of death and horror. 1.1 MILLION were not merely murdered; there are no other words for it: they were tortured and purposefully exterminated; 90% were Jewish people.


For me to share with you in a single blog what we saw and heard would never have the impact it merits. In fact, after our day with a private tour given by an outstandingly knowledgeable women, Marta Bielska, I think it’s fair to say that each of the four of us have had to reflect in our own way in an effort to process elements of what we saw there.


In my processing, I found myself reflecting on some horrific scenes, and every time I start to write something it becomes perhaps too intense for this forum. I tend to be someone who seeks to help others step into a feeling – but this didn’t seem right.


I started to describe what would have been the experience of a family (perhaps one like yours) – a father, mother, children of varying ages, a grandfather…but what I wrote was sickening.  It seems like you really must walk through Auschwitz to begin to comprehend the immensity of it all. Having read about it in many ways over my lifetime, and as a child, having spent time with survivors with numbers tattooed on their arms, and having read Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning through new eyes last year – sure those experiences have offered me perspective, but nothing can match the immensity of what we saw being there.


I myself chose to stand in the place that was a firing squad line, looking outward and wondering what it would have been like. I chose to stand in a dark 3.5 x 3.5 stone cell where 4 humans were forced to stand overnight with no ventilation in the dark, before being sent out to work all day in the freezing cold with only a small bit of soup made from the leaves of an oak tree and water to nourish them, only to have to return to that same cell and stand all night again—that is, if they were still surviving, over and over again.

For me, this is some of how I choose to connect, to relate, to honor each human who exited a crowded train car to be sent immediately to a gas chamber or who made it through the line only to be tortured in other ways first.


I’ll leave it here:


My purpose for this post at a time when we spend more time creating facts out of headlines and worrying about the small stuff, is to share the importance of learning and growing and having agency and honoring one another. Each one of us is a member of this global community, and we have the responsibility to explore ways to make it the best it can be – a win-win for all instead of I win, and you lose. We each can choose whether or not we want to expand our perspective, to learn and grow – to find out the things we don’t know that we don’t know, or instead we can stand in our own righteous box and…be right.


What’s more important?


If you have gotten to the end of this post, thank you.  What is one choice you can make – in or out of work – to learn something new about a person, community or topic that will expand your perspective and build a bridge for the benefit of everyone?



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