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Auschwitz Trip: Morning of the Ceremony

  • WTWO Prepares

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Terre Haute TV anchor Elyse Evans (right) and photojournalist Mika Brown compare notes before the ceremony.

  • Birkenau Press Room

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Journalists from around the world gather in the Birkenau press room for the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

  • Students Prepare for the Ceremony

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    Photo: Stan Jastrzebski

    Bloomington students (L to R) Wendy Vencel, Benny Richmond and Courtney Sinclair ready their equipment to cover the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

I’m writing this from a well-heated (over-heated, really) press tent at Birkenau.  The warmth is a far cry from the debilitating cold we felt when we first arrived here Monday.  The tech guys were really helpful in getting my equipment to mesh with the signal which will be fed from the speakers’ platform in a few hours (and they didn’t even seem to mind that I appeared to be a dopey American).

Getting our press credentials has been an adventure.  First, we had to submit an application via a website a few weeks ago.  This seemed to go smoothly, despite a number of categories unfamiliar to American journalists (like asking us what our tax number was — which makes me wonder: am I really sure this isn’t all a Nigerian e-mail scheme of some kind?).  The only catch was that of the several events today, we were told on the website we’d only be granted access to one (and, as soon as we had credentials to one event, we’d be disallowed access to the other three).  It reminded me of the housing lottery in college — trying to decide between the best spot and the place I’d be furthest up the list.

We waited a few days and as we were all getting ready to depart Indiana on Saturday, we received a cryptic e-mail saying we had all been granted credentials, but vague enough to avoid telling us for what we’d been granted access.

So when we arrived at Auschwitz yesterday and tried to collect said credentials, our tour guide was met with a large man outside the press office who made it his mission to turn us away.  I believe it wasn’t clear to him that we’d all been accepted into the press pool and were just waiting to pick up our badges.

We made it clear to the tour guide it was worth barging into the press room to claim our bounty — armed with a teacher, a television anchor and two guys with Polish last names (I’d always hoped having a bizarre ethnic name would come in handy!).  One of the ladies in the office seemed to take a shine to the CANDLES museum’s public relations office, Kiel Majewski, and we had our walking papers in no time.

This morning, while the rest of our tour group slept soundly, we awoke at 6:30 in order to pack for the day, eat and catch a phalanx of cabs to a hotel in the center of Krakow from which all the press buses were leaving.  For the first time all week, it was snowing lightly in central Poland, which somehow seemed appropriate for the day.  Now, the sun is out and it looks to be a nice day for a ceremony.

The students I’m traveling with are all toting expensive cameras (video and still) and set off to stake out their spot on camera row.  You can view their work on the social media site they’ve set up.

And now it’s like most official press gatherings: hurry up and wait.  The actual ceremony is not scheduled to start for at least another 3-4 hours.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak, as is Polish President Lech Kaczynski.  More information about the site and the ceremony is available at the Auschwitz website.

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