Service Makes Free
Lead Educator Ryan Sparzak and Special Projects Coordinator Brian Mathis led an educational and group service trip to Europe.
They made a very important stop along the way.
by Ryan Sparzak
Not sure what my expectations were before pulling into Auschwitz death camp. They were washed away shortly after approaching the front gates on this blustery, and rainy Spring morning in Southern Poland. However, now that I have walked under the “Arbeit Macht Frei” entry (meaning Work Makes You Free), wandered the neatly ordered rows of brick buildings that housed millions of terrified victims, and stepped into the ghastly gas chambers and crematorium, I cannot recall my preconceptions.
Until you are there, Auschwitz is just a distant concept…
No matter how many times I’ve visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. (I was there not more than a week ago), no matter how many documentaries I’ve seen on this terrible event, I was still not prepared. The cold sheets of rain helped to reinforce the reality of Auschwitz. Suddenly, everything changes when you walk the cobbled streets, feel the biting rain, see the piles of children shoes, and physically experience the scale and size. Metaphorical language and analogy can’t really explain the connection; until you are there, Auschwitz is just a distant concept, a loose concatenate set of images and projections tagged with related words like atrocity and genocide.
Then, WHAM. It shook me to the core.
The brokenness of humanity is a deep crack that can be found in every human soul. There is a fragile balance that exists between the good and evil within every human heart, in this place the darkness took hold and won, and it did it with creativity, order, and a certain twisted beauty. A people known for their ingenuity, efficiency, and structure had turned those noble gifts into brutal tools focused on the single goal of establishing a purified race of people free of genetic flaw, and the “other.”
These cracks run deep and stretch far beyond Auschwitz and they spread from the beginning of time into today. These atrocities still happen, and in order to combat them, great sacrifice must be made.
Because of recent visits during student trips to Arlington National Cemetery and the handful of war memorials in Washington, D.C., the importance of sacrifice worked it’s way into my thinking. As it is written on the Korean War Memorial – Freedom Is Not Free. Along with the millions of lives lost in Auschwitz there was another set of lives lost in the attempt to end Nazi aggression and abuse. The freedom of those sentenced to death in concentration camps came at the cost of hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across the world. The golden stars at the WW2 Memorial now take on even more meaning. Each star represents 100 U.S. casualties during this great War. There are 4,048 lining the back wall and the phrase “Here we mark the price of freedom.” America lost over 400,000 young men and women, countries like Russia shared similar death tolls, perhaps without their sacrifice, millions of others may have faced a similar fate to those in Nazi death camps.
Finally, my reaction to Auschwitz was completely unexpected. Part of the Global Travel Alliance difference is that we are committed to having someone on our team guiding trips and walking alongside our school partners whether it is on a group trip to Washington, D.C., New York City, or further afield like Costa Rica or Europe. At times, we get wrapped up in group safety, logistics, other travel details, and overlook that the places we visit change lives and evoke strong emotions. The reality is we are not detached spectators on our trips, seated on the sidelines. We are changed and moved by the places we visit, just like those that choose to travel with us. We form strong bonds with our travel partners because we share in the moment, help them process and understand what they are seeing, hopefully influencing future generations to be men and women that stand against anything that even tastes of the horrors that transpired at Auschwitz.
Contact a Global Travel Alliance team member today to learn how we can lead you and your student group on a trip to Europe by calling 866-313-2577 or by sending us an email.