To GT-Lorraine...and Beyond!

25 years of academic excellence and adventure

Category: Lina (Page 1 of 3)

Final Blog Post *sobs*

Well GTL, this is it. This is my last post. Amidst the impending chaos of final exams and the packing and cleaning of dorm rooms, I think it hasn’t quite sunk in yet that this is the last week we have as a group in Metz. Reflecting on my semester, it seems like only a week ago that a very jet-lagged and food-poisoned girl walked into orientation and met her professors for the first time. Now as an engineer, it is my job to provide you with the hard data results of travels.

Weekends Traveled: 15

Countries Visited: 9

Cities Visited: 20

Museums Visited: 18

Classes Taken: 4

Travel Mishaps: 8

Now, before you go making graphs, fellow engineers, I would like to share that a GTL experience cannot possibly be measured with just numbers. Not in the above statistics: The amazing lifelong friendships, the feeling of being alone in a place with a language and culture far different from your own, identifying with a city where you don’t even speak the language, and learning more about the history of the world than you have in your whole life prior to coming. This feeling of novelty, of being out of my comfort zone, and this feeling of wonder when I learn new things about the world I didn’t know before will be hard to hold onto when I go back to the US.

Now that I am done uncontrollably sobbing about going home, here is a detailed account of some of my favorite memories every weekend. Planning a trip to one of these places? Check out my favorite things!

In Heidelberg, the first city I visited, my favorite memory was standing in the Heidelberg Castle grounds, looking at the city below. I will never forget the look on my friend’s face as he looked out over the valley. It was his first time in Europe.

In Paris, I loved the Hall of Impressionists in the Musee D’Orsay. I remember the light feeling I had looking at the Degas paintings, inspired to dance and do ballet again. This is when I truly made a new friend, my fellow blogger Sam.

In Salzburg, I loved talking to the Australian guy in our hostel. He came with our group to get dinner and we learned so much about his culture, and he about ours.

In Prague, I loved going to the communist museum. Reading about the communist occupation of the Czech Republic from the perspective of someone who lived through it was truly eye-opening. It proved to me that we can’t be complacent in the world, because terrible things were happening in our parent’s lifetimes.  

In Garmisch Partenkirchen, I skied with an infinite view of the top of the world. It reminded me how small I was, and how lucky I was to experience such beautiful nature. I also got to know a really great group of people, and experience their wacky skiing mishaps with them. It really brought us together.

In Venice I loved going to the Doge’s palace. I learned about the immense wealth and power the city state had, and how much that sea-based land could be worth.

In Rome, I loved the Roman forum, standing in the footsteps of the greatest ancient civilization and realizing that our world has come a long way since Roman times. The ruins reminded me that nothing is forever.

In Florence, I learned that art is captivating, and the more life-like the painting or sculpture the more talented the artist. I also became friends with two amazing people here. (What up Bryston and Peugh!)

In Cinque Terre, I loved hiking to each of the villages. Each were unique in their own right. I felt strong and happy.

In Amsterdam, I thought the Van Gogh museum was beautiful. It reminded me that things don’t have to be exact to be beautiful, and don’t have to be completely real to make you feel.

In Berlin, I loved going on the walking tour. It showed me that my love of history doesn’t just belong to me. Looking at all of the people in my group made me realize I love this earth, and we can learn a lot from our history, good and bad.

In Krakow, I visited Auschwitz. I walked the path of the millions that were slaughtered. It reminded me that hate cannot be allowed to win, and acceptance is the only course of action.

In Munich, I loved the Deutsches Museum. It reminded me why I became an engineer, and gave me back that childlike sense of wonder for science that I had forgotten in school.

In Interlacken, I learned to push myself. I didn’t give up, and rode 28 miles on rough hilly terrain. Even though I needed to rest I pushed through and I am very proud of myself.

In Stuttgart, I visited my exchange student and attended Wasen, the big festival. I made great friends and I really felt a part of traditional German culture.

My experiences are unlike anyone else’s. They are uniquely mine, and I am infinitely lucky to have been able to experience them. So if you can, come make memories. Travel. Be outside your comfort zone. Because you will grow so much. Thank you all, and to all good night.

Meet Remi Gourdon: New Grad Student with New Ideas

I met with Remi right outside his robotics class. Sidestepping a moving robot as another student navigated it through the hall, we sat on the couches to talk. Remi was friendly and helpful, clearly a hard-working person. At GTL for only four months, he has been here as long as we have. He was able to give me some insight in the differences between U.S. and French education. Here are his responses to some of the questions that I asked him.
What made you want to come to GTL?
I spent a summer as a U.S. university for professional development in Ohio in a small town. I had the opportunity to come to Georgia Tech from my school, and I took it. I wanted to experience more U.S.-style education.
What is your favorite part about GTL?
I like the way the courses are taught. It is very different from French engineering school. There are a lot of projects and practical work, as opposed to lots of lectures and tests. It gives time to read books and learn material and is more interesting when you can apply the theory you learn right away.
Are you working on any research right now?
I am working on a special problem in the robotics lab. It is not what you think of when you think of a traditional robot. Its function is the detection of faults in metal plates using ultrasonics. I am in charge of the processing of the signal, but we have lots of people who work on other aspects like mechanical and electrical.
What do you like to do for fun?
The amount of work here is different from what we are used to. This limits what I can do outside of school. This last weekend though, I visited Metz in daylight for the first time. It was very beautiful and I enjoyed to walk there.
Do you have any advice for new GTL students?
Be prepared for some cold. Be prepared [for] a much smaller campus. I spent a summer at a large campus and it is much different than here. At the same time it is good to have a small group that you can get to know. Make friends with the people, because they can help you in school and in travels.

Easter Break: From Witches to Waffles

This weekend I got to see my family again! The weekend kicked off in Riquewihr, a small town in France dating back to the 1500s, known for its beautiful vineyards and amazing architecture. Every house looked like a gingerbread house, the cobblestone streets were winding and sloping, and the roofs were topped with old tile or thatch. We spent the day walking through the town, hiking through the vineyards and sampling local foods. I even had frog legs!

Here is a picture of me in the town of Riquewihr.

As we walked through the town, we couldn’t help but notice that there were witches hanging in every doorway. These wooden or porcelain doll witches ranged from scary to cute, and dark to colorful. We walked through the streets puzzled, until we found a shop that sold witches exclusively. After talking to the clerk, we learned the reason. Legend has it that a young widow was banished from the town for being a witch. As she gathered her things and left, she spotted enemy soldiers approaching the town. She ran back as fast as she could to warn everyone, and the town was able to protect itself from attack. As a result, hanging a witch by the door or the window as a lookout will bring good luck and help you keep your enemies out.

The next day we hopped in our rental car and began driving north. Destination: Brussels. We stopped in Strasbourg for lunch, eating in the old city and admiring the tudor-style houses. Next, we forged on to Metz so my family could see where I am going to school and spending my weekdays. I showed them the cathedral and my dorm. Late that night, after a great deal of rain and traffic, we arrived in Brussels.

Picture of my lovely sister Kat in Strasbourg.

My mother and sisters flew back to the USA the next morning. My dad had business in London and would stay with me another day. After dropping them at the airport, we decided to take a quick train ride over to Bruges, an economic capital of Europe where luxury goods were traded and crafted. Famous for its tapestries and lace, this old city gives off an air of luxury. All of the facades of the houses were carved in amazing detail, and many roofs and windows were gilded. After a nice lunch of traditional stew, and a waffle for dessert we browsed the lace and tapestry shops. It is amazing how intricate these two thread-based art forms are; many pieces can take years to complete. We returned to Brussels that night and went to sleep.

Picture of the main square in Brussels.

The last day, we woke up early for a nice breakfast. We then decided to take a long walk through the city to see the Sablon district, famous for its antiques and old books. We then made our way over to the European Parliament and the Victory arch. After a brisk morning of walking and photo taking, we returned to the Grand Place, the big square surrounded by old fancy buildings. After a bit of sightseeing, we had to part ways.

All in all, it was a lovely weekend.

BDE Skis: The Best Bonding Experience for GTL

Last night, a whole gaggle of GTL students piled onto a bus and ventured forth to embark on a snowy winter adventure. Snow, in 60 degree weather you ask? Well, the wonderful BDE (a sort of the student council of GTL) organized a trip to Snow Hall, one of the largest indoor skiing facilities anywhere. We all chatted excitedly as the bus sped through the countryside. The group, a mix of beginners and experienced skiers and snowboarders, were bristling with anticipation as we entered the facility. The French-speaking students took the lead as we spoke to the friendly staff to acquire our skis and snowboards.

After acquiring my skis, boots, poles, and helmet, I was able to proceed to the facility. Temperature-controlled at exactly 0° Celsius and covered in powder, the facility was quite vast. Built up the side of the hill boasting a beginner slope, intermediate slope and terrain park, two ski lifts and a friendly staff, it was crazy to imagine that all of this fit inside a warehouse. The beginners headed to the bunny slope and the old timers headed toward the intermediate.

Watching the way the GTL community came together to help the new skiers and snowboarders was truly amazing. From helping them pick the best equipment, to making sure they knew how to use the lifts, to teaching them the basics, it was truly great to see everyone so helpful to each other. In the words of brand new skier, Mr. Ben Frumpkin, “This was a crazy amount of fun.”

When people fell, GTL acquaintances were there to help them up and get their equipment back together. Everyone was friendly, waving and cheering each other on as they passed on the ski lift. There were friendly competitions on who could get the most air on the small bumps on the slope. The BDE staff, especially Zivan, who helpfully handed out and collected cards, and sprinted between the bus and the desk to make sure that everything had been returned properly.

My favorite experience was watching the beginners try the intermediate hill for the first time. Their friends went right behind them to make sure they were all right. Teeth bared and leaning forward they traveled slowly down. Their faces full of determination, and pride at what they had accomplished. I think everyone shared in the excitement of these newbies learning a new skill. It was also really awesome to see some members trying out the terrain park, going over massive jumps and grinding on rails.

All in all, I am very proud to say that I love BDE and I love the GTL community. We have definitely been brought closer together.

Munich: The Ultimate Food Guide

Munich is a beautiful city, and although it 90% of it was destroyed in the second world war, the rebuilding efforts for the 1972 Olympics have preserved the old world charm of the classic Bavarian city.

This is the Neues Rathaus, the city government building in the center of town.

So, my posts have been quite history heavy lately, so I decided to change things up this week and talk about my favorite food: Bavarian Food. With its amazing ham dishes, wonderful sauces and great atmosphere, the food scene in Munich cannot be beat. Here are some of my favorite Munich foods, ranked from 5th-most delicious to most delicious:

5. Bratwurst mit Sauerkraut

You can never go wrong with bratwurst in Munich. Sold on the street at small stands, in restaurants, or in beer halls, this Bavarian classic is a go-to tourist food. Bratwurst is served as a nice thick sausage, served in a small bread roll so the ends stick out, topped with tangy sauerkraut. Deliciously messy, this is really fun to eat  and an absolute must-taste in Munich! Where was the best one I tasted? In a small street stand right across from the Neues Rathaus in the city center.

 

4. Kartoffelpuffer (Potato Pancakes)

Vegetarian? No problem! Due to Lenten restrictions, I was unable to eat meat on Friday. As a result, I tried one of my new favorite dishes- Kartoffelpuffer! With the consistency of a flattened hashbrown, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, served with applesauce or sauerkraut, you will be singing the praises of this dish in no time!

 

3. Spanferkel (Suckling Pig)

This delicious cut of pork is so tender you can cut it with a fork and it melts in your mouth. Typically served with potatoes and in a dark brown beer gravy, this dish is the perfect ending to a day of sightseeing. Where did I find the best Spanferkel? The Augustiner Keller, famous beer garden restaurant of Munich. Definitely worth a taste!

 

2. Weisswurst (White Sausage)

I love weisswurst, which is a white colored sausage made from pork and veal back bacon ground with herbs. Traditionally, weisswurst was a breakfast food because before refrigeration, it was the sausage that kept the least fresh and was therefore a dish for the morning! Where is the best weisswurst in the city? Pay a visit to the Viktualienmarkt close to Marienplatz. This outdoor market has the finest meats and crafts in Bavaria. Pro tip: Peel the skin off before you eat it. Although you can eat the skin, the locals may laugh at you a bit.

 

1. Schweinshaxe (Pork Knuckle)
The number one delicacy of Munich is Schweinshaxe, which is a particular cut of pork. With its amazing, crispy skin on the outside, and a texture reminiscent of roast beef but the tenderness or pork you can’t go wrong with this dish. Served with baked potatoes, it is the most highly acclaimed Bavarian dish. Where to get the best one? Pay a visit to the historic Hofbrauhaus! In addition to hearing amazing live music from a traditional brass band, you can enjoy some of the best food that Bavaria has to offer. Happy eating!

Top 5 Best Museums I Have Visited and Why You Should Go

I love museums. They are my absolute favorite activity everywhere we go. No matter the subject, museums are a great way to immerse yourself in something and really learn what it is all about. Getting lost in these amazing buildings is a way to expand your mind, appreciate beauty, and have a really fun time. I am using this blog to honor my favorites.
 
5. Schindler’s Factory (Krakow)
This museum, located on the site of Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory, is a brilliant memorial and tribute to the victims of the Holocaust, as well as an immersive experience of what daily life was like for German citizens at the time. Starting in the pre-war 1930’s, you walk room to room, reading firsthand accounts of events, seeing startling photographs, and being immersed in recreations of important rooms such as courtrooms, rooms of Jewish ghettos, and other such places. The reason this museum was so special was that it gave you a personal connection to the people of the Holocaust, and helped you walk in the shoes of the people that faced these struggles. Highly recommended.

Schindler’s Factory Museum. (Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.)

 

4. Capitoline Museum (Rome)

Many museums, such as the Vatican Museum, are so opulent and full of priceless artifacts that it can be overwhelming. The Capitoline Museum in Rome was different, in that the art and artifacts were presented in a way that wasn’t cluttered, but rather displayed in an open environment. Housing many ancient Roman and Greek artifacts, we learned many things about popular legends, the gods and goddesses, and the daily life of the ancient Romans. What really made this place stand out was the amazing view of the Roman forum. Directly overhanging the forum, this museum offers unencumbered views of all the ancient ruins in the best vantage point you can get. Go here for the views!

The view of the forum from the Capitoline Museum.

 

3. Musée D’Orsay (Paris)
This beautiful museum not only houses amazing art, but is a beautiful building with spectacular architecture. Boasting art from all periods of history, this museum is comprehensive in its display of art history. From medieval art, to the hall of impressionists on the top floor, you won’t be bored in this museum. Highlights include a full model of the Paris Opera house, the most extensive collection of impressionist art in the world, and beautiful sculptures; this is a great place to go celebrate the artistic achievements of mankind.

View from the top floor of the Musee D’Orsay.

 

2. The Deutsches Museum (Munich)
The engineer in all of us is dancing for joy in the Deutsches museum. This science museum is great for people of all ages. There was a metallurgy section and a mining section, which was really interesting for me as a Materials Science Engineer, and an early machines and machine shop section which particularly excited my Mechanical Engineering friends. This vast museum holds amazing copies of all kinds of machines, helps you learn about various manufacturing techniques, and does so in a hands-on and interesting way. In the maritime navigation section, there was a tank where you could sail different hulled model boats across to examine the different wake patterns, for example. Block out a whole day for this museum. It took us all morning to see the first floor!

The steam machine room of the Deutsches Museum.

 

1.  The Van Gogh Museum (Amsterdam)

This museum was a life changer. As someone who is a bit of a worrier and gets hung up in the details, Van Gogh’s paintings prove that the picture doesn’t have to be exactly right to be beautiful. Each floor of the museum represents a part of his life, from his early dabblings in art to his final days in the mental institution. Not only do you see his life story in his work (he always paints his surroundings) but you learn his life story through his personal letters to his friends and family.

The museum takes a delicate look at mental illness, and shows that Van Gogh was not a violent madman, such as when he cut off his ear, but rather a troubled person, afraid of the rush of the cities, longing for the serene peace of the country and the solitude it brought. Although the entrance fee is a bit hefty, this is for a reason. The museum is expertly crafted to be easy to follow, easy to grasp and moving to look at. I must say I shed quite a few tears in this museum. Definitely the best I have been to.

The Van Gogh Museum, photo courtesy of Luuk Kramer of the Arch Daily

Meet Brandon Carroll: Soon-to-be-Doctor and Excellent ECE Professor

Walking into Brandon Carroll’s office hours, I could tell that he had a lot on his plate. Answering a student’s question, his laptop screen filled with graphs and his notebook annotated in detail, it was easy to tell that this is a man of multitasking. I was thrilled that he had time for a few questions for the blog. He is one of my favorite professors, and has a knack for knowing exactly what the students mean when they ask questions, which is a rare gift. Here are some of the questions I asked him.

What classes do you teach right now?

I teach ECE 3710, which is a circuits class. It is definitely less stressful than my other class, which is ECE 3048. It’s a junior level Electrical Engineering class about signals and systems. It is a LOT of math, with Fourier and Laplace transforms. It has a lot of things that I haven’t done in a while. But you certainly learn the material better if you have to teach it.

What are you working on right now besides teaching?

I am working on my PhD with Dr. Anderson at the moment. So I have to work a lot on writing and defending my thesis. My research is about using machine learning algorithms to study chicken behavior based on sound. We put a microphone in the chicken house and analyze the sounds they make to determine how they are feeling. People are really interested in animal welfare, and if perfected, this system could replace the method of taking cortisol samples, which stress the animals out. This would be a way to measure the system without disturbing it, and would really benefit animal welfare.

What is your favorite part about being a professor?

Someone came up to me the other day and said, “This is the first time I ever fully understood convolution.” You can tell they are understanding something they didn’t before. Seeing that light come on is really rewarding.

What is your favorite part about GTL?

I haven’t thought about it a whole lot. This is my first year at GTL. It has been a lot of fun trying to learn a new language, although finding the time for that is hard. I love experiencing the culture around here. The food and baguettes are really amazing. The scenery around Metz is really pretty too. I took a 3.5 hour walk yesterday, and passed all these picturesque fields. It was amazing.

What are some of your hobbies outside of school?

I love playing tennis, and camping and hiking. I especially love reading. Picking a favorite book is hard, but I would have to say To Kill a Mockingbird. I also really liked The Book Thief, and The Name of the Wind is really cool too.

Daerstetten to Interlaken: Peaceful and Intense

This weekend I decided to break the mold and go somewhere not in a city. I love the outdoors, and heard that Interlaken is nice this time of year. Before I get to the activities we did, allow me just a little time to gush about the awesome AirBnB that I found.

Our small cabin was in the village of Daerstetten, about an hour from Interlaken. In the hills, and boasting a meager population of 2000 people, this tiny town is made up mostly of cow pastures around the mountain river in the valley. Our AirBnB was in a cluster of traditional log cabins dating back to the 1600s. With an amazing view of the mountains and a sheep pen right outside our window, I felt about as far away from the city as you can get. According to our host Jorg, most people live their whole lives in that town. He himself grew up in the neighboring house.
 

View from our AirBnB. Hello, sheep!

 
On the first day, we decided to go hiking through the hills around our AirBnB. We walked past many traditional cabins, tiny clusters of houses, and lots and lots of cows. Hopping a train to a neighboring town, we followed a mountain river, then climbed through a cow pasture and down through another town. The views were absolutely pristine.
 

Reppin’ GT in the countryside. #buzzinabroad

 
The next day, after taking the train to Interlaken, we decided to rent bicycles in the town. The lady at the rental place suggested a route around Lake Brienz, and we were off. The lake was so clear that you could see straight to the bottom even at great depths. It was glittering and blue in the sun. We rode our bikes up and down hills, around sharp corners, and over the dirt paths. It was a total of 45 km, or about 28 miles. About halfway through, I took a nasty tumble on my bike, but I had to keep going. I am very proud that I did! It’s much better to say, “I biked all the way around Lake Brienz!” rather than “I biked about three quarters of the way around the lake and then had to take a train back because of a few bruises.”
 

Bike trip! Before the fall.

 

The next day we all woke up exceedingly sore. Just one member of my group and I decided to go to the Trummelbach Falls, an UNESCO World Heritage Site and awesome tourist attraction. After a breakfast of eggs and tomatoes, we headed out on the scenic mountain train.  Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the mountain runoff from the glaciers began carving a path through the mountain. Trummelbach Falls is the only place in Europe with accessible tunnels to see these rock-encased waterfalls. The water can flow up to 20,000 gallons per minute, and inside the tunnels you can hear nothing but the roar of the water carving its way through the rock. The walls are perfectly smooth from the erosion, and it is all quite terrifying to look straight down.

Need a place to relax by biking nearly 50 km, or hear the soothing sounds of thousands of gallons of water crashing violently through a mountain? Interlaken is the place for you!
 

What the inside of Trummelbach falls looks like.

5 Tips for Train Travel

From using the Eurail pass, I have learned a lot about traveling on trains. Especially when one doesn’t speak the language, going on trains can be a bit daunting. Trust me, I have taken my fair share of wrong trains, slept in a few very cold train stations, and been to many an information desk. This post is a ‘learn from my mistakes’ type deal so I hope everyone is ready!

1. Make sure you are in the right car.
I know, I know, this sounds like a no-brainer. However, a lot of the newer trains have the capability for cars to split off from one another and go to different places. Make sure that the car you get into is going to your destination, because there is no way to switch once you are en route.

2. Secure your valuables with your companions so you can all sleep.
It’s always a good idea to keep your personal items close to you. I keep my passport, Eurail pass, and money in a money belt, and put it under my clothes. However, sometimes I worry about my backpack. I want to sleep, but I don’t want to have to worry about my bag being stolen if everyone in my group falls asleep. So, I came up with a plan. Whenever we are planning on napping, my crew and I all buckle and tie our backpacks together. That way no one can grab our backpacks and quickly make off with one, but will have to struggle through the tangle of backpacks and thus become discovered. It makes me feel a lot safer.

3. Bring a scarf or neck pillow for sleeping.
One thing I learned about taking trains is that you will never know when or where you will be stranded. It is always a good idea to bring extra warm clothes in case you are stranded in a train station, because most of them are not heated. Also, most train stations don’t have places to lie down for sleeping, so having a pillow to rest your head on can come in really handy.

4. Leave enough time for transfers
Even though trains are usually on time, small delays or train strikes can lead to some close calls and missed trains. When planning your route, make sure that you can always get to the next platform for your transfer. I think 20 minutes is a safe bet. Every train station is different, and you need time to figure out where the train is and how to get there. Leave stress out of the equation and plan for decent transfer time.

5. Bring snacks!
Although many trains have dining cars, bringing snacks along for the ride is always an awesome idea. Train travel makes you sleepy, and a quick granola bar, apple, or other snack can be a great pick-me-up. Trust me, you will love yourself later.

Happy travels everyone!

Krakow: The Old City of Eastern Europe

As a Lithuanian, I was very excited to go to Krakow, Poland. As any Lithuanian will remind you when you respond, “I haven’t heard of that country,” the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe during the 14th century, and Krakow was one of the main capital cities of the country.

This is a monument dedicated to the 1409 cooperation of Lithuanian and Polish forces in Grunwald.

The Polish are a proud people. They have seen some of the most brutal wars, famines, and atrocities of any European country. Since the 11th century, they have only seen about 100 years of peace total, in the 16th century. In the span of WWII to the fall of the Soviet Union, they lost about 35% of their population to death camps, shootings, war, and gulags. They have a fierce hatred for oppression, extreme national pride, and they oppose all things Nazi and Soviet. According to our tour guide, ask a little girl about 4 years old what the colors of the Polish flag stand for, and she will respond with intense expression, “White is for the innocence of our country in the many wars waged on its soil, and red is for the blood that our people have sacrificed in those wars.”

This is the beautiful square in the heart of the city. The old city was so prosperous because of trade with Middle Eastern countries for horses!

After the lighthearted tour of the old city, famous for its walled defenses, beautiful castles and wonderful cathedrals, my group and I were ready to face one of the most difficult topics in human history: the Holocaust. About 1.5 hours outside of Krakow is the site where the most people were killed in the shortest span of time in history. Auschwitz and its sub-camp Birkenau, Nazi death camps, are today Krakow’s main tourist attraction. No one is excited to go to Auschwitz. Remembering all of the atrocities committed there is not a fun day trip. But it is something that every human should do, and it is a burial site that everyone needs to make a pilgrimage to.

The victims were mostly Jews, but also included Soviet prisoners, Romani people, and Polish people. Here are some statistics from the US Holocaust Museum website: “Jews (1,095,000 deported to Auschwitz, of whom 960,000 died); Poles (147,000 deported, of whom 74,000 died); Roma (23,000 deported, of whom 21,000 died); Soviet prisoners of war (15,000 deported and died); and other nationalities (25,000 deported, of whom 12,000 died).” When you enter Auschwitz, you see the sign above the entrance “Arbeit macht Frei,” meaning, work sets you free. However, this was not true at all for the prisoners sent there.

After arriving off the cattle cars after days of journey without a break, food or water, you would be filtered through the entrance. If you were sent to the left, you would be sent directly to the gas chambers. If you were sent to the right, you would be put in the forced labor camp or sent to the human experimentation area. The only people sent to the work camp were strong young men. Women, children, the elderly and those with any sort of disability were sent to the gas chambers.
When you entered the gas chamber, you were told that you would be taking a shower. Prop shower heads would be on the walls. However, the room was filled with Zyklon B, which would kill you painfully in about 10-20 minutes depending on your proximity to the vent. We walked inside the gas chamber, and could see the nail marks on the walls where people had tried to claw their way out of the gas chambers.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the camp as a sign of respect. Here is a view of the barracks from the outside. 700 people were kept in each building.

After the people were murdered, a forced Jewish labor force would have to shave all of their hair to be used for coat lining or mattress filling, and all gold teeth and rings would be taken (along with any possessions they had taken on the cattle cars) to houses in the camp known as ‘Canada.’ These storehouses for valuables were called Canada because Canada was a symbol of wealth for the Polish. Then, the corpses would be placed in ovens and incinerated. Walking the paths of these people was incredibly moving and powerful.

If you were sent to the work camp, you would be given insect-riddled and soiled uniforms and tattooed with a number. You would sleep 8 in a bed in barracks with mud floors, full of rats and insects. Only one latrine was provided and almost everyone had dysentery. You were given about 200 calories per day. You had to work 14 hours or more of backbreaking labor, and if you fell, injured yourself, or passed out from starvation, you would be sent to the gas chamber. If you did not fulfill work quotas, you would be subject to capital punishment, including having your arms broken, lashings, beatings, spending a night in a suffocation cell (no ventilation, many people to a room, only a few survive) or a standing cell, (four people placed in a 1 meter by 1 meter cell with no room to move at all. After all of this, you would be expected to work the next day.

At Birkenau, the site of the largest mass killings, our tour guide informed us that there was a 1 inch layer of human ash just below the grass. The camp was liberated by the Soviets. Many of the prisoners that survived, however, were sent to gulags – Soviet-enforced labor camps – immediately following their liberation.

I know this post has been really heavy, so I want to leave you with an inspiring story. On our tour, our tour guide mentioned a professor that was arrested and sent to Auschwitz in the beginning of Nazi occupation. He survived four years of hard labor in the camp. After the war, his political ideals landed him in a Siberian gulag, because he opposed the Soviets, where he survived another four years of starvation, hard labor, and cold. He lived to be 104 years old. When asked by a student how he lived so long, he responded “I wanted to live long enough to see Poland peaceful. Now, after 80 years of nonstop war, I can tell them at the moment of my death that everything is alright.”

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