Will I Hate It? Should I Go?
January 9, 2015 12:13 PM   Subscribe

So, I have a chance to join a small group trip to tour Holocaust sites in Warsaw, Krakow, and Israel. My husband is not going to come. I doubt I'll know any of the other travelers. I'm generally fine with solo travel.

A significant number of my mother's family were exterminated, and probably some of them died in Auschwitz/Birkenau, which is on the itinerary. My mother herself came to the US at age 3 just ahead of the Austrian Anschluss. I have been educated on the Holocaust all my life, and previously visited some of the itinerary stops in Israel. I feel a real and deep duty to bear witness. Should I spend the money and time to do this without my husband? Passing on this trip and waiting for a future one will not be effective in changing his lack of desire to go.
posted by bearwife to Travel & Transportation (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What's your hesitation? It sounds like you want to go. Is there any reason not to do it?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:16 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

You haven't explicitly stated reasons for your not going. Would one be the emotional intensity of the experience?

If that's so, maybe you could talk with the tour guide or tour operator and see if they know whether any of the other participants will be going through similar experiences, and consider whether that would comfort you.

Also: given the importance of this to you, is there a chance your husband could come along and not visit the actual sites with you, but maybe could be there in the evenings and during train trips (or however the travel works) to comfort you? He could do a survey of local beers, or train stations, or museums, or something rejuvenating for him.
posted by amtho at 12:19 PM on January 9, 2015

Best answer: I would not want to go. (NO effing way.) However you seem to have a need to go. It's a very heavy and import filled trip for you. It's perfectly okay to go without your husband. He's allowed to not want to be overwhelmed by the sorrow and anguish of this type of trip. It says nothing about either of you frankly. Go and bear witness. I wish you Godspeed.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:20 PM on January 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The answer to this question is always yes.

You get to decide how to bear witness. Maybe that means you see remnants of the Warsaw ghetto and stop there. Maybe that means you see the camps. And maybe you weep and maybe you sob. Maybe you leave a stone for the dead and drink Polish wine with your fellow travelers and find some solace amongst the ache.

I wish you good travels.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:30 PM on January 9, 2015 [19 favorites]

Best answer: I would definitely want to go. I am sure it will be emotionally intense, but as a solo traveler you probably know you will likely be able to befriend or at least talk with others on the tour. Also, I would imagine the tour operator has experience in handling the emotional content of the tour. Maybe you could discuss with them in advance what the experience of past solo travelers has been? Group tours can be an excellent way to more easily accomplish trips when you don't have a traveling companion, so solo travelers are a big part of group tour markets. I'm sure you won't be the first.

In your shoes, I might go prepared to document and write about my experience in order to help process it while onsite. I might not actually choose to do that, but would want to be ready with journal, camera, pens and sketchbook as I imagine certain ideas and feelings would overtake me at times and it could be useful/cathartic to capture them in the moment. That way you might lessen the feeling of needing someone intimate to turn to. You can turn to these creative/personal/expressive outlets.

I also wonder whether having somewhere to "put" your experience when you return would help lend focus to your trip. For instance, having a library talk or a visit to a cultural group or women's group planned where you talk about your experience and the impact it had.

It sounds as though if you didn't go "bear witness," you would regret it. Perhaps also think about bringing something or planning some memorial act you can leave behind to honor those family members who were taken, as a way of lending more meaning to your journey. Good luck and travel safely.
posted by Miko at 12:32 PM on January 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I feel a real and deep duty to bear witness.

I think you should go.

Quite frankly, I'd prefer to attend something this resonant and personal on my own instead of dragging along an unwilling traveler. It's easier to find a quiet moment, slip away, concentrate on your own reflections in peace instead of hurrying back to attend to a partner who's there in person but perhaps not exactly present in this particular journey.
posted by mochapickle at 12:35 PM on January 9, 2015 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Will you hate it?

Maybe. It's going to be a hard trip. I grew up, probably like you, in the shadow of the Holocaust, with family who died in it, with friends whose parents were survivors, with elderly neighbors with blue tattoos on their arms, and I hated all of it, because it was all so awful.

Should I Go?

That's for you to decide, and I don't think there is any way to make that decision easily. It will be a difficult trip, and a very emotional one, and it will involve staring at the legacy of genocide and hatred, repeatedly, across thousands of miles. It will take its toll.

But others have done so, and managed it, and felt that it was right for them. I've known some who have made this trip and not a one of them regrets it. And there is value in it. History is, after all, a living thing, in that it isn't something that we write down and forget, but we take into ourselves and remember and chew on and try to understand, and there get to be fewer and fewer that were direct witnesses, and there is value in there being more and more who are indirect witnesses, who knew the people and gave seen the places and so understand it in a way that won't come directly from a book.

It you think it will be valuable for you, then yes, go. You're not obligated, and you shouldn't feel obligated, but there is value for the rest of us if you go as well, in that you will be able to represent history in a way more intimate and direct than the books offer.
posted by maxsparber at 12:45 PM on January 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I loved Warsaw. I thought it was a beautiful city - even more than Paris, France, in my opinion. I would love to go there again.

Krakow was even more beautiful - but in an older, dirtier way. Warsaw was mostly rebuilt after the war, but Krakow very much survived, so it has a more lived-in feel. I personally opted to not go to Auschwitz, and went to the salt mine instead. I tear up during the national anthem at the beginning of baseball games, so I didn't think I could handle ... all of that. But then, I don't have the personal history that you have.

I think you should go. I think it will be a profound experience for you that you will never forget. I don't think you'll regret going, but I do think you'll be disappointed if you don't go.
posted by jillithd at 1:12 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As the others say I don't think you'll regret going but be prepared for the rawness of it all - I don't really have a better word to explain it, speaking from the point of view of a Polish person that grew up being educated about the Holocaust and concentration camps for as long as I remember and first went to Auschwitz on a school trip at the age of 13. I've gone twice more since then as part of remembrance events for LGBT individuals who died there. I don't really ever want to go back but I think it is a trip you should make at least once in a lifetime to bear witness as you say yourself. Be prepared to come away from the experience changed. And I do hope you enjoy Poland, if you need any recommendations, memail me!
posted by coffee_monster at 1:20 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

<>Passing on this trip and waiting for a future one will not be effective in changing his lack of desire to go.

Wait, what?

Maybe I'm all alone on this, but if this is really important to you - unless this is a major financial burden or has other serious life impact - I think your husband should go with you. Like: maybe y'all could make a side-trip to the Louvre or something?
posted by doctor tough love at 1:52 PM on January 9, 2015

Response by poster: - I think your husband should go with you.

Well, I do too but I'm not going to engage him more on it. He initially said no because he thought it required him to go to Israel and he refuses to do that until there is a Palestinian state. Re Israel/Palestinian stuff, if you think MetaFilter is bad at handling the topic, let me assure you we are much worse at it. After some incredibly bitter hurtful fights we decided long ago to treat this as a third rail subject and just stay away from it. And then he said no because the European only side of this trip seemed too short to him? I'm not sure what that is about but I know him well enough to know he is not going to change his mind and that nagging/cajoling/pleading/arguing is just going to breach the peace.
posted by bearwife at 1:59 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

The longer you're married, the more things you'll each find to do without the other. Go.
posted by Melismata at 2:01 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How generally do you feel about emotionally intense experiences? Think of funerals that you've attended. Have you ever gone to a funeral and thought that going was a mistake? I haven't been to those sites but I'm interested in going (I feel like that's not an appropriate thing to say and maybe there's a better way to phrase it but it's true). And I've been to funerals for children where I basically wept in public and did not regret going. I've read devastatingly sad books and not regretted reading them.

I read your question and thought that there were a lot of reasons mentioned why you wanted to go and two reasons not to go - money, which you mentioned in passing so it doesn't sound like that's a big concern, and your husband. I travel without my husband. Two months after we got married, I traveled without him internationally for over a week. I don't think that should stop you. I vote that you should go. Bring journals, pens, and tissues and make a plan to take care of yourself emotionally.

I hope that you are happy with your decision whatever you choose and that if you go, that you have a rewarding experience.
posted by kat518 at 2:19 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've read your question through a few times and....I am not quite clear what is motivating the question.

* Are you asking "should I go" because you are afraid you are uneasy about taking a trip without your husband?
* Are you asking because you are afraid that maybe it's more overwhelming than you're anticipating?
* Are you asking because people have just told you that it's a bad idea to travel alone in general?
* Are you asking because you're afraid of the extra fees that solo travelers often get hit with?

You sound like you really want to go, and I'm having a hard time parsing what it is you think may be the obstacle you're trying to clear out of your way. Fortunately, these are all surmountable obstacles, but they all have different solutions.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I say go. It sounds like going to bear witness is something important to you, and this would be an amazing opportunity to do so. I agree with mochapickle that doing something this intense is much better done alone than with someone who clearly does not want to be there and is only doing it for your sake.

At least once a year, my mom will take a trip (anywhere from 2-4 weeks) to somewhere faraway - Europe, Asia, last year the South Pacific. My dad does not like to travel anywhere that requires a flight longer than 4 hours and/or a stay longer than one week. So she goes solo (on a group trip) or with a friend, and he stays home with the dog. It works for them, and they've been married 45 years.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:03 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My mostly un-informed opinion is; yes you will hate it, and yes you should go. You'll be glad you did. Everyone with a heart should go sooner or later. Sometimes things that are miserable to do, are important to have done.
posted by pjbw at 3:25 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am not quite clear what is motivating the question.

* Are you asking "should I go" because you are afraid you are uneasy about taking a trip without your husband?
* Are you asking because you are afraid that maybe it's more overwhelming than you're anticipating?
* Are you asking because people have just told you that it's a bad idea to travel alone in general?
* Are you asking because you're afraid of the extra fees that solo travelers often get hit with?

I'm motivated because I feel strongly this is something I should do. I cannot say it is something I want to do. Re your specific questions, in order:

1. Not uneasy. But we in general spend all the time with each other that we can. And we try hard to travel together. And we are of the same mind about the Holocaust, if not about Israel/Palestinian issues. So I know I will miss him, he's my best friend through thick and thin, and it will certainly be the first major non-business trip I've ever taken without him.

2. Yes, I certainly fear that.

3. No. I'm fine with solo travel. And this will be solo travel with a group anyway so low risk.

3. It's expensive enough that I want to be sure I'm spending my money wisely. It will be about $600 or so more for me to travel solo on this trip.
posted by bearwife at 4:21 PM on January 9, 2015

Best answer: Married couples go on separate trips for various reasons all the time. My dad takes trips to take photos without my mother because it was obvious after a few trips together that she wasn't interested in standing outdoors for 5 hours while he played with his camera settings to get the exact level of silky water he wanted. Your husband may have reasons he is not stating for not going, but that's no reason to skip the trip. Personally, as a non-Jew, I was extremely disturbed and upset by my trip to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I'm glad I went, but it's not something that everyone would want to do, especially if they associate travel with fun and good times. This is probably exponentially true of a trip focused entirely on witness and remembrance of the Holocaust. It sounds like it is very important to you, and it is something you should do. Six hundred bucks is a chunk of change, but it sounds extremely reasonable for a trip of this nature.

Is it possible that anyone else in your family might wish to go?
posted by xyzzy at 4:49 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't have any personal connection to the Holocaust, and as part of a High School trip to Germany we went to Dachau. Twenty-five years later, it remains one of the most heartwrenchingly emotional experiences of my life. I guess my advice would be, imagine the two or three most powerfully emotional experiences you have ever had. Would you have been able to bear those experiences on your own, in a strange country, surrounded by strangers that you have to interact with to at least an minimal degree?

I agree that you should go, but I'm not sure I would be able to do it without a very close friend or family member to lean on.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:09 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I vote go. I seriously doubt that after the fact you will think you should not have gone.

BUT. If you do not go there is likely to be a lot of angst over I should have gone.
posted by notreally at 6:28 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update : My husband has been looking more at info about this trip and volunteered to me that he feels uncomfortable being the only non-Jew. (I am not sure everyone will be Jewish.) After I told him I think I have to do this, and reminded him the Nazis exterminated an additional 6 million who weren't Jewish, he suggested Skyping and started wondering aloud if there was a less expensive way to do this. I still want to do this trip, however.
posted by bearwife at 9:20 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

As someone who has been the only non-Jew in some very intensely Jewish settings and experiences (including in certain very contested parts of Israel), I think your husband is being really weird about this, and I think you should absolutely go. Once you're there you can dial back your activities if it's getting overwhelming.

Bearing witness is an absolutely legitimate and real need for many people to gain intergenerational closure. Heed the call if it's there.
posted by mostly vowels at 10:03 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: uncomfortable being the only non-Jew

I would be too; the tour seems specifically defined for a group of which he is not a member. The homosexuals and communists and Roma killed by the Nazis didn't have much to do with Israel.
posted by beerbajay at 5:12 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My family roots are all in the former Soviet Union; I don't know of any relatives who were in the Nazi camps.

I've been to Bergen-Belsen with non Jews (my dad's ex who remained friends with him, her neighbor and the neighbor's paramour--who did not speak much English and who at first wasn't aware that I was a Jew; he made a crack about how I had ought to go to Bitburg as well, since Reagan did) and Sachsenhausen on my own. The sites are very different ( the original buildings at B-B are gone), but I don't regret going. I also took pictures of every brass block I found (marking where Jews murdered in the Holocaust had lived in Europe).

Personally I prefer to travel on my own than with a tour group, but I say go.
posted by brujita at 5:44 AM on January 10, 2015

My family history is similar.

So here's the thing. When you marry someone, you take on their baggage. When my parents got married, my father married in to my mom's wacky extended family, and that hasn't always been pleasant, because my mom's extended family is not always wacky in a good way. And my mom married in to the gaping hole where my father's extended family should be and into the trauma that goes along with that. My mother doesn't get to opt out of that. It's part of who my father is, and it's part of what she married when she married him. So yeah, it might be uncomfortable to be the only non-Jew on a Holocaust trip, but sometimes you have to do hard things because you love someone and have made a commitment to them. The OP can't force her husband to go on the trip, but I don't think he gets a moral out just because it might be something other than fun.

I do wonder if you need to go on an organized trip or whether you and your husband could go on a trip together, without the tour group.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:40 AM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's really starting to seem like the main thing preventing you from going is the fact that your husband won't. So I just want to reiterate that that is totally OK. You're a grownup and you'll be with others. I know you are very close and do most things together from your description, but that doesn't mean you can't function independently - it might even be a growth experience to be on your own again for a while (of course you can talk/email/Skype nightly if that helps). My parents are very close and often take trips apart for different interests that they have. I also frequently travel without my husband because our schedules rarely line up. It gives us more to talk about and rehash when we get together, and I think, keeps us both in touch with our own unique selves a little bit. It is something a lot of couples do, and when we travel, we invariably meet travelers who are part of couples but not together on the trip. Many older women travel alone or with siblings or women friends, because it seems like husbands who like traveling less are not that uncommon. Every now and then, it is fine to do something like this alone. Perhaps you can give yourselves both an incentive by planning to do something extra nice together a little bit later. Rather than assume it will be a terrible experience because he's not along, you might find it's a really good experience in some ways, even if you choose never to do it again.
posted by Miko at 2:29 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. Yes I am going. I invited my sister but she is tied up doing something else at this time. (She has been a huge resource already on running down family names to give the trip organizers.) My husband isn't, and I think that is the right decision for him, but he is certainly supporting me going, and he did think again and seriously about coming with me to provide in person support. We can do it via Skype and email I think.

You are a very compassionate and caring community and it helped me very much to read your responses. I particularly want to thank Miko and others for the thoughts about how to plan to process the trip.
posted by bearwife at 10:54 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Just in case anyone looks at this thread again, I wanted to add that I am now back from the trip, and it was one of the most awesome I have ever taken. I deeply bonded with at least four of the other members of the group, I was able to meet a cousin I didn't know I had (and who had a trove of additional genealogical information for me) because she happened to email when I was about to travel to her hometown of Jerusalem, and I was able to say Kaddish and light candles for the murdered in my family and other people's families in three extermination locations (Treblinka, Tykocin, and Auschwitz/Birkenau.) And I was able to weep many cleansing tears in many places, and get a long list of additional reading .

I can't thank MetaFilter enough.
posted by bearwife at 7:27 PM on July 20, 2015 [6 favorites]

Wow, thanks for sharing that, bearwife. I was really rooting for you to go and psyched to see that you went - and so glad your experience was, if not easy, so deeply rewarding. Congratulations on accepting the adventure, and peace.
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on July 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

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