A look back at an uncomfortable photo: Birkenau

In March, I licensed a photo to the University of Texas at Dallas that I took in July 2000 of Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp that is known to most people as Auschwitz. The image will be used by the university’s Holocaust studies center, which is a good thing. I don’t enjoy looking at these photos, but I do think this is one of the better ones I took from my documentary project I did throughout Europe of Nazi camps and places linked to that regime’s terrible crimes.

I remember the day I took this photo well too. It was pouring rain, in late July. I awoke at 5 a.m. to catch the train from Krakow to Auschwitz. I was the first one at the gate that morning. I met a death camp survivor right by that entranceway. He was at one of the subcamps, Gurtz. He was an elderly Israeli man, but fit and vital. We exchanged some words. He was tough and he hated being there, but he was there all the same. I then toured the whole camp. During the tour, I met a survivor and his colleagues and heard personal stories. I took a lot of pictures that day and learned a great deal about things that still disturb me. I remember the survivor shaking my hand as I left saying he was glad I had come. As I look back, I am glad I came, but some days I am not.

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Ending journeys and celebration rituals

On March 27, 2012, I submitted my capstone research project for my master of public health program at the University of Washington School of Public Health (UW SPH). (My program is called Community Oriented Public Health Practice.) My research focusses on the effectiveness of Seattle emergency preparedness communications, what residents know about emergency preparedness, who they trust, and how well these outreach efforts are reaching vulnerable residents. I really enjoyed this project and enjoyed the many professional relationships I developed during the course of my research. I also greatly enjoyed sharing my research findings with the emergency preparedness community of greater King County on Feb. 16, 2012.

From what I was told, my research project was the earliest any project had been submitted ever (a full quarter early) to COPHP. And it was a project well received by the City of Seattle, with whom I worked and who have already published my reports to them on their web site (look for  SNAP Research – “Owens Report 1” and “Owens Report 2” at www.seattle.gov/emergency/publications/#s). I also have published copies of nearly all of my original research and papers submitted to the UW SPH. You can review and download my finished work.

However, being early means you can’t celebrate. It is “out of place,” as some rituals are tied closely to shared experiences, not individual ones. At my undergraduate school, Reed College, the culmination of the undergraduate thesis (required for all students) was a thesis thermometer in the hallway of the main administrative building that marked every thesis turned in. The ritual culminated in a massive parade and a fun weekend called Renn Fayre. I always thought the thesis was a somewhat onerous burden with little practical real-world applications (for me at least), but at least the school “got it” when it came to marking the end of a long and arduous journey in academia. I have my own ritual in mind for when I get my next diploma. It will be very very fun. I’ll do it somewhere in the woods, and I look forward to that event.

We’re airborne….

For the near term, I am going to use this blog to post news, photos, and media that I find of relevance. My current professional and public health interests are the health benefits of pets and dogs in particular for humans, random current events that I care about, and the amazing world I share with billions of people.