Hello once again from the dorm room,
I am back after a bit of a long, albeit enjoyable and enlightening, day. It was a great day as far as class and culture and that is really what this trip is about. Dr. Polyuha and I have spoken about the importance of the academics as well as the experiential aspect of the course. Yesterday was a combination of both things as we visited Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau II. It was my second time there, a year and a day apart. Last year I wrote about the visit because it so overwhelmed me I did not know what to do with the sensory overload I had just been walked through. It was cold, damp, windy, snowy, and miserable, but ironically appropriate because I tried to imagine what the victims of that camp must have experienced. Yesterday it was also quite cold, and while there was no wind, it was bitter outside. The camp was just as stunning to me again and I saw some of the same things, but also a few different things. The walk through either gate at Auschwitz I or Auschwitz-Birkenau II cannot be understood through either a verbal or written description. It is, at least for me, quite impossible to adequately illustrate the sense of dread, horror, humility, or simple awe of this memorial. There is no way you can realize the magnitude of the extermination that occurred in such a relatively small area. Indeed the second camp is ten times the size of the first, but to imagine that every single person from both of the Dakotas died in this place in a four year period (in fact, there are 1/5/ of the states in the country that would have lost their entire population just in Auschwitz). In terms of the loss of 6,000,000 Jewish persons, 21 of the states would have lost their entire population in the concentration camps. Again, it is not the fact that the final solution was decided in 1942 that is the most illogical part of the Shoal, it is the fact that the Germans worked so diligently to do it so effectively, efficiently, and completely. That is not to say that I find Hitler’s decision to implement the solution is in anyway logical or acceptable.
Working through the humanities major when I was a student at Dana, one cannot help by be impressed with the intelligence, the creativity and phenomenal influence the Germanic people had on almost every discipline that affects Western culture. The natural sciences of chemistry, biology, physics, medicine, the humanities of music, art, painting, drama, literature, there is not a single field in which you will not find one or more Germans who contributed significantly. Yet somehow, a single person, and not even a German, but technically an Austrian was persuasive enough to convince them that the great majority of Germany’s and the world’s problems could be traced back to the Jews. However, it is more complicated than that. That is what I have learned in the last 8 days of class with @Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukovska. The term “stateless minority” still sort of boggles me. I know what it means and it is pretty straightforward, but it is the very idea that such a profoundly important group with such a significant history was characterized by this moniker. This circumstance is intertwined with their entire historical footprint. Again, for me the fact that there is a student in our group who can trace the loss of great-grandparents and other family members to this specific camp was both terrifically poignant and unbelievably heart-breaking.
This past year, they estimate 3,000,000 people have walked through the gates of Auschwitz. That is a positive thing for me because I do not know how anyone who has visited this place cannot be profoundly affected. What is more important, however, is what do you do with that experience? How do you take it with you and channel it into something much more positive. People often use the phrase never forget, but that is not enough if you do little with it. Ask those in Dafur, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, the Congo if we have learned to act differently since Hitler’s pogrom. As Gilles Deleuze noted, “If philosophy has a positive and direct relation to things, it is only insofar as philosophy claims to grasp the thing itself, according to what it is, in its difference from everything it is not, in other words, in its internal difference” (Desert Island). What happens when we see our differences as separating, but separating in a manner that creates a hierarchy of value? What happens when those in power see the difference as something to be avoided or exterminated? This is the problem. Little did I know that reading Guattari and Deleuze during my time at Michigan Tech would end up in my blog. Yesterday we also walked around the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz. We went to an amazing Jewish Museum and heard a number of things about the Ghetto there and what happened in Krakow from 1939-1942 when the final solution was implemented. There is so much about Poland to learn and admire. I am stunned by the complexity of this county’s history. It is beautiful in its culture and in its political history and resilience.
There is so much more I want to know. Fortunately, I think there are some possibilities regarding eventual return visits and my own work. . .
It is actually the morning of the 6th of January and it is both Epiphany for the Christians of the world, but it is Christmas for those of the orthodox persuasion. I need to write to my friend, former graduate school colleague, Nela. She is Yugoslavian. I actually caught up with her this past year, but need to get back to her and as today is her Christmas, it seems an appropriate time to do so. In addition, one of my former students, from the time when I was a graduate student at Michigan Tech, who was in a second semester writing class that was comprised of all non-American students is coming from Spain to spend the next day and a half. I am so excited to see Elena. She is one of the two students with whom I am still in contact. I could probably look some of the rest of them up on Facebook. She is flying in this evening and I am working on housing arrangements for her yet this morning. I think we have them figured out, but I am working with Dr. Polyuha on the last pieces. I have not seen Elena in person since 1997-98. We did Skype about almost two years ago and actually chatted for a while. As she and I have both noted, how do you catch up on 18 years in a day and a half. I am not really expecting to do so. Tomorrow would be my Grandmother Louise’s birthday. She would be 103. It is hard to believe that next year will be 40 years ago she passed away and the same for my brother. Elena and I, in messages the other evening were commenting both on the length of our knowing each other and staying in contact. We were also noting how much had changed. It occurred to me that she is the age now I was then when she was in my class: a bit of an irony. Time is such a fickle, yet complex companion. There is always this dual nature of understanding or perceiving time. I am not sure what we will do all day tomorrow. She will be here for the day and we will be together part of Friday and she will fly back. What an opportunity to catch up and reconnect. She is an engineer in her town and she seems to be able to work on a lot of things that interest her. Two generations is significant in the passage of time. I was 20 and thinking about college; I was finishing the service and America was getting ready to celebrate a Bi-centennial. I thought my pastor’s daughter, Barb, was the most beautiful person in the world. I had no idea in the next couple years I would lose both my brother and my grandmother. We plan, but we merely live. We imagine, but not nearly to the degree perhaps we should.
On another front, today students are going to see a production of Hamlet. It sounds like it is a sort of Avant guard production and knowing the professor who was able to procure the tickets for us, it could be a bit out of the ordinary. They do not have class today and most took advantage of that opportunity last night and are sleeping in this morning. In some ways, if they think carefully about Auschwitz and what they experienced on Sunday, this is how people do forget to some extent almost immediately. We go on with our lives. As I noted above, we have little idea what will happen and that which is past seems to fade away more that it should and more quickly that we might imagine. It is for these reasons that we have places like Auschwitz. We need to understand the reality of our differences. We need to ponder the consequences of our acting on those differences. We need to each, in our own piety, search our hearts and souls and come up with a logical answer for our illogical behavior and then try to make a change. I have taken the opportunity to screen capture the Christmas greeting from Dr. John W. Nielsen, my advisor, mentor, and the first person to take me to Europe. As we see what happens to the “stateless minorities” and even those who have states, but flee, Dr. Nielsen calls on us to think. As always, he puts into words so eloquently things I imagine.
Thanks as always for reading and Merry Christmas to my orthodox friends.