MIDN 2/C Bobby Norlund
I applied for the American Service Academies Program because it seemed like it would be the most worthwhile summer training opportunity available. I thought it would expand my understanding of history and open my eyes to the past. I thought it would introduce me to a Jewish culture I had studied but never known, and maybe augment my inadequate understanding of anti-Semitism at the same time. The Program promised to expose me to Holocaust survivors and topical experts, to the reality of Nazi death camps and to other self-motivated Cadets and Midshipmen. Besides, it was in Europe.
I completely underestimated ASAP. I really did.
It had been more than sixty years since the end of the Holocaust when I walked the grounds of Auschwitz with the group, yet I remember feeling like the Holocaust had happened yesterday. It may have been because the standing buildings had the familiarity of military barracks, or it may have been the ubiquity of mourning somberness throughout the camp. Regardless, the relevance of Auschwitz was not lost on its visitors. The Holocaust must never become anachronistic; we must never consign the horrors of the Holocaust to the "otherness" of distant history.
I had asked myself "why?" and I had asked myself what I would have done differently. In doing so, I learned the pitfalls of haste judgment, even if inadvertent, in studying the Holocaust. The trip abolished my immature conceptions to reveal deeper truths: that the effects of dehumanization had created a horrible gray zone which rendered common human faculties of judgment inadequate; that the potential for human depravity is rivaled only by survivors' potential for forgiveness; that victims should never feel the guilt of perpetrators; and that questions can indeed become accusations (a truth easily understood but hardly articulated). After walking the grounds of Auschwitz, that place Wiesław Kielar justly called Anus Mundi, I am convicted to tell of the things I saw and truths I learned. Because of my visit to Auschwitz, I am empowered to say "never again" with an idea of what that promise seeks to prevent.