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  • Umschlagplatz. One of the most devastating sites in all of Warsaw, it is the location at which many Jews were gathered and deported to Treblinka. A cement-block structure outlines what used to be a train car and behind it grows a large and beautiful tree. Standing in the cement walls is a frightening experience because it is where many people's lives ended as they knew them. Once they stepped onto that train, there was no other stop but extermination.

    Being in that devastating place, it made me think back to one of my favorite books and movies about the Holocaust, The boy in the striped pajamas. The author, John Boyne writes as the little boy, “What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”*

    The young boy in the story poses very important and significant questions. Just what exactly made Jewish people the target for Hitler’s horrible plans? And what about the Jews were so different from everyone else? As they were standing at Umschlagplatz, waiting to be loaded onto the train car, did they look any different from the other Poles standing around watching them? Other than their malnourished state, was there anything different about them? It’s a lot to think about, as you’re standing to in that small area surrounded by those cement walls.

    However, almost as if it is growing out of the devastation is a large and lush tree. It's as if it is larger than life. It represents the Jewish people that lost their lives and how they will never be forgotten. How we will always remember them in their glory and do everything we can to make sure this never happens again. It was very upsetting to be standing where people essentially left the world as they knew it forever but it was also extremely comforting having that tree growing above us. Almost like it was protecting us from the terror that had occurred there.

    *John Boyne, The boy in the striped pajamas
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