As my time in Sweden comes to a close, it is becoming harder to track the passage of time. It is difficult to locate myself in this time and place. I’m running out of time in Sweden, but the days feel endless with the continual hours of darkness. One night just runs into the next night. It finally snowed for the first time, so I can place it as winter time, but it otherwise does not feel like winter.
The holidays passed, but they didn’t feel like the holidays because they were lacking the usual significance and traditions. I spent Christmas in Prague which was an incredible experience, but I had continually remind myself that it was actually Christmas. I was with Derek, a friend from the study abroad program, so at least I wasn’t alone. I missed my family. I missed my traditions. But Prague cheered me with its sunny skies and bustling city atmosphere. It was the prettiest city I have ever seen. It was also incredibly affordable. This was a much needed respite from the expensive costs of Sweden. I had such a good time exploring the city and wandering through the Christmas markets. It was nice getting to know Derek more. We spoke a lot about the study abroad program, our expectations and the outcomes. We debated the meaning of existence and the ways study abroad can expand your definition of existence.
Then Derek left to go back to Canada. It was the first goodbye of a good friend I had made in Sweden. It made the finality of my study abroad experience real.
I took the night train alone to Krakow. Prague had been so astonishingly beautiful that Krakow seemed dull in comparison; however, I had one of the most educational experiences of my life in Krakow. I visited Auschwitz. I had debated whether to visit. It seemed morally wrong to go as a tourist. It felt vouyeristic and disrespectful to the dead. Then I realized I was visiting not as a tourist seeking entertainment but as a student desperate for accurate information. I don’t have the best understanding of history. When I visited Auschwitz, I realized how much I was lacking information or had wrong information about European history, WWII, the Holocaust, and the resettlement of Jewish people after the Holocaust. By learning the stories of the people who suffered there, I would have a greater respect for their courage and their death. I also wanted to pay my respects to the dead.
This experience was extremely powerful for me. I learned many horifying facts about the treatment of people in concentration camps and the terror German soliders inflicted on cities across Europe. Seeing the conditions detainees were forced to live in and walking where they walked made their experience tangible. The fridgid weather made their suffering real. I was all bundled up in three layers of clothing and they only had thin shirts and no shoes. The detainees stood for hours in the snow during role call. It wasn’t even snowing when I was there, and I was still freezing.
Everyone on the tour cried, myself included. I kept screaming in my head. “I’m so sorry! Nobody deserves to be treated like this!” I did not cause this. I cannot apologize for the actions of my grandparents. But I felt deeply remorseful for being related to a person who had been a part of this process in Germany.
I was struck by how the grass was growing between the rows of barracks. The tour guide said there had been no grass at the time the camp was in use because of all the feet trampling it. There had been only mud. Already the powers of succession are reclaiming this land. The world is repairing itself from these atrocities.
I will never forget my experience at Auschwitz. I was so disturbed by all that I had learned that I stared at the wall for two hours when I returned to the hostel. I felt helpless that there was nothing that could be done to save the people who died during WWII, but I also felt motivated to keep these atrocities from ever happening again. I thought about all the gay people who had been imprisoned at that time. I had hoped to learn more about their plight, but the museum did not have much information on their experience. I have decided to read more about this when I get back to the United States.
Since my visit, my mind has been consumed with thoughts of the 1940s. It has made it difficult to place myself in 2016. The New Year didn’t feel immediately different than the old one, but I guess it never does. It snowed for the first time in Vaxjo this season on January 1st. I watched the snow fall all day. Around 6 p.m. it stopped snowing. I wanted to do something totally crazy to commemorate my time in Sweden, something I could only do in Sweden. That night I went with my friends down to the lake with slivers of ice floating in it, and stuck my feet into the water. Cold is an understatement. The frigid water electrified my body and invigorated my soul. I woke up to reality: I am in Sweden for two more weeks, I am about to start a new chapter in my life, I still have classes to attend before I leave Sweden, it’s 2016.