Today I was face to face with humanity at it’s worst. We traveled with the Holocaust survivors to Stutthof concentration camp. Before we had even entered, the decision was made by the group to skip the documentary film outlining the history of the camp. They offered it to us, but we declined as well. Although everyone got off the bus initially, a few returned to it just a few minutes after entering the grounds. The first to head back was the man who was one of the only people to share their story of spending time in concentration camps (this was going to be a nightly thing, but very few have been willing to share publicly). He simply didn’t want to see it, and I don’t blame him. It was horrible. I’ve studied the Holocaust enough, read enough books and first person accounts, that there was nothing new I learned today in terms of what happened. But being there…. it was overwhelming. I can’t imagine if I had memories from my childhood that included being in a place like that. I’m not sure I would have gotten off the bus. The first thing I saw was a map of the camp. Reading labels like “Death Gate”, “gas chamber” and “crematory” in the same manner you would find your way around an amusement park… it just set me immediately into an emotional state. Beyond that was a building where they had on display the leather shoes taken from the prisoners. Ben saw them before I did and I didn’t even go in that building. I just couldn’t look at the number of them. The barracks, the infirmary, the gas chamber, the train that brought them there, the memorial of ashes with clearly identifiable human bones… it was all horrible. I brushed away tears through the entire tour and couldn’t fight them anymore when we got to the bus. I knew it happened, I knew it was real, and I knew I had just spent a week with the people who lived through it, but being there today put me right over the edge.
Please… let’s move on to something happy. We then traveled to Gdansk, on the Baltic Sea. It is one of the oldest (and when something is old in Europe, it’s REALLY old) and largest cities in Poland, and was the location of the start of World War II. We walked through the streets, shopping (of course) and enjoying each others company. We took a boat (a pirate ship, actually) along the river to the Baltic Sea and back. It was cold and rainy and I was not really dressed for such weather, which was of great concern to the sweet 90-year-old woman that was part of the small group I was walking around with. She gave me her purple jacket as soon as it started raining. I had given it back to her when it stopped, but then it got cold again, so she wrapped it around both of us. Then she gave me a scarf to wear, which I apparently did not put on correctly. She showed me how to tuck it into my blouse to keep me warm. This sweet lady is the same one, by the way, who always starts the dancing at the evening sessions. She talked my ear off today in Russian. At one point I said something to her like “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I don’t understand a single word you’re saying. I think you’re cute and very sweet though.” She just smiled and said something else in Russian, probably “How could you be so stupid to wear flip-flops and leave your jacket on the bus?” I wish I could show you her picture.
We were all tired from our long day of traveling, so we decided to wait until tomorrow morning to leave for Warsaw instead of tonight. This is probably for the best because Poland plays Russia tonight in the Euro Cup, hosted in Waraw. The two countries are not on friendly terms and some brawls have already happened, so I’m not too upset about waiting until the game, parties and whatever else has subsided.
Since I won’t be able to post before it happens, please be in prayer for tomorrow evening’s session. It is the last evening of the camp, and the time when Kazik will share the gospel with them openly. Please pray that God will prepare their hearts to receive that message. There are some who are already Messianic Jews, others who have a strong faith in God but do not accept Jesus as the Messiah, and others that have no living faith at all. Although we won’t be here to witness it, we’ll try to get a report from the interns about how the evening goes and pass it on to you.