On Visiting Auschwitz

Editor’s note: As much as I have enjoyed writing about baby Karis this past week, I must take today’s post to break away and talk about something different. For regular blog readers this will be a departure from my usual tone and focus, but I felt I needed to write about what I did today=. This will not be graphic, just simply getting my thoughts down on paper so to speak. I will return tomorrow to our regular scheduled programming.

Today I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp (1940-1945). Even though it’s only a one hour drive from our house here in Czech, I don’t think I’ll be going there very often–maybe even once is enough. It was something that my father-in-law and I had been talking about doing, but since it would just be he and I we weren’t sure if we would have the time. An opportunity presented itself this afternoon and we decided to go and take a standard 3.5 hour walking tour. It’s a sobering place, but looking back on today I am very glad we were able to go.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

In his travel book, American travel-guide, Rick Steves, answers the question “Why visit Auschwitz?” He writes,

Why visit a notorious concentration camp on your vacation? Auschwitz-Birkenau is one of the most moving sights in Europe, and certainly the most important of all the Holocaust memorials. Seeing the camp can be difficult: Many visitors are overwhelmed by a combination of sadness and anger over the tragedy, as well as inspiration at the remarkable stories of survival. Auschwitz survivors and victims’ families want tourists to come here and experience the scale and the monstrosity of the place. In their minds, a steady flow of visitors will ensure that the Holocaust is always remembered— so nothing like it will ever happen again. Auschwitz isn’t for everyone. But I’ve never met anyone who toured Auschwitz and regretted it. For many, it’s a profoundly life-altering experience— and at the very least, it will forever affect the way you think about the Holocaust.

After visiting the sight today I can only agree with his assessment. To walk the grounds, visit the buildings, and hear the detailed history is humbling, overwhelming, and saddening. It’s only as a Christian who knows that the Lord is sovereign over history that I could really make sense of it. Within the first few minutes I found myself pondering Ecclessiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” Auschwitz is a house of mourning and today I laid it to heart.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

I took very few photos and even the ones I did take aren’t too heavy. Mostly I just wanted to listen and take it all in. The tour is well planned and very informative while not being overly emotional. I’ve been to the Holocaust museum and memorial in D.C. twice and I think it was way more intense than Auschwitz is, at least by design. Our Polish tour guide was very calm, quiet, and that’s how it should be. Even the lighting inside isn’t so intense. What struck me was that even though we live in a digital age and we love to take photos, I could tell that generally people were limiting their use like I was. And really, other than a few snaps for this blog, I’m not exactly sure what I would do with a bunch of photos of a place like Auschwitz.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

There are two parts to the tour. The first takes you through Auschwitz I which was a Polish army base that the Nazis converted to a concentration camp. The second part takes you to Auschwitz II which was built completely by the Nazis using prison labor. Like most Americans I had to study this horrible place in school, but today as we entered Auschwitz II I was overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the facility. No picture will do justice to just how big the camp is. The electric fence lining the perimeter just seems to go on forever, along with the railway which runs right down the middle of it. Below are two photos I took from the guard tower which give a little context but still the scale is hard to capture.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

In the second photo above, if you were to follow those tracks to the very back (more than 1/4 mile–far!) there is a memorial that was erected for the more than 1.3 million lives that were taken at this place. On the ground beneath an artist’s sculpture are large placards written in every language that was represented at the camp (there must have been 10-12 of them). Below is the one in English.

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

For the sake of my wife and others who might read this, I’m leaving out any details about the buildings and actions taken inside. If you know the history, then you know what happened. But I just wanted to say that standing in the rooms and seeing what the Nazis did caused me more than once to consider the sinfulness of my own heart. As much as it is right to be angered by the atrocities that took place at Auschwitz, it was the work of men just like me who did these things. They were just like me in the sense that they have the same sinful heart that I do. Mark 7:21-23 records the words of Christ when he said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” I guess that’s what I meant when I said earlier that I was taking it to heart. How could I not?

Auschwitz-Birkenau (6/9/15)

One of the last things that we heard today was about the liberation of the camp on January 27, 1945 (for some perspective, my own dad turned one year old on Jan. 28, 1945). The Russians were able to free the camp and about a week before this the Nazis (knowing the Russians were coming) began to destroy as much evidence of their crimes as they could. They blew up buildings, burned things to the ground, etc. and then fled. As I sit here tonight and ponder those events I’m actually thinking about the glorious and wonderful gospel which liberates our hearts from the penalty of sin. I don’t have to run from the Lord in fear like the Nazis did from the Russians, but my soul is liberated by the horrific death of Christ on a cross. The Nazis may have outrun the Russians (only 10% were convicted of their crimes), but unless they knew Christ and trusted Him in faith, they were never (or are never) able to outrun the God who judges their souls. It’s only in the Gospel that I can make sense of Auschwitz. Christ died for the men, women, and children who were murdered there as well as the men and women who ordered their deaths. He also died for my sin and your sin. As overwhelming as a place of death like Auschwitz is, I am equally overwhelmed by the place of life given to me and many others through the work of Jesus.

As Rick Steves said, “Auschwitz isn’t for everyone,” but the Lord used it today to remind me of His amazing work. For that I’m eternally thankful.


A Birth Certificate-ová

There is something kind of neat about Czech and Czech culture that hit close to home today. I don’t claim to understand exactly how this works, but When a girl is born in Czech her last name is given the letters “ová.” For example, check out this list of Czech female tennis players on Wikipedia. The overwhelming majority of them have the added “ová” to their last names. As I understand it, at their birth or when they’re married, if their last name was say “Smith” then it would be come “Smithová.” So what does this have to do with us?

Rodny List!!! (6/9/15)

Today we went to the city hall in Ostrava to obtain Karis’ Czech birth certificate, or “Rodný List.” We need it in order to move forward with getting her a passport and social security number. Although she’s an American citizen by birth (because of Bethany and I), we have to go through the normal process of obtaining these documents so we can travel with her (among other things). Culturally in Czech, moms don’t usually take their babies away from home until six weeks after their born, so it’s often the dad who will go to obtain the birth certificate and the mom is not required to be there (of course, because she’s at home recovering). So today I, along with our friend Jenny and my father-in-law went to do just that. Jenny was kind enough to come and help translate and I’m so thankful she did.

Basically what happened today was that I had to decline the Czech naming convention so Karis’ last name wouldn’t be “Thomasonová” but just Thomason. Normally this requires the mother’s signature, but Bethany wasn’t with us. The Lord was gracious, however, and somehow we got it figured out today without having to drive back another forty minutes and get Bethany. The lady at the city hall was really kind and through Jenny translating we were able to get it squared away. We were only there for a few minutes and we left with a complete birth certificate and Karis can carry our family name in the traditional, American way. Step 1, done.

Karis Gets A Birth Certificate (6/9/15)

Step 2 involved going to the “Foreign Police” to register Karis (shown above). Because we don’t have a passport yet, we were a little unsuccessful but got the ball rolling which was good. Again, Jenny was a huge help in navigating the language barrier and figuring out what will happen next (THANK YOU, JENNY!). It sounds like the Czech government is going to send us some documents in the mail and give us a 60 day window to make it all happen. Step 2, done.

Step 3 involves multiple things, but it involves getting a “Consular Report of Birth Abroad,” applying for passport as well as a social security number. For us this means a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Prague which will happen on June 22 (unless we can get an earlier appointment). We’re going to Prague this week with Papa and Nana for a few days and we’re hoping that an appointment might open up while we’re there. It would just make it easier on us as Prague is over four hours by car or train. We’ll see how it goes!

At the end of the day I’m thankful we were able to get what we needed to take the next steps in this big process of having a child abroad. Even tomorrow we’re hoping to get her passport photos done right here in our town. Pray for us!


Nana’s Birthday

Today is Nana’s birthday! We celebrated with her in Krakow again today and it was a blast. The day started around 10:00, not because people weren’t awake, but because Bethany and I just had a bit of a rough night with Karis. Karis is doing awesome, but she just decided she wanted to be awake from about 3am on. Not too unexpected for a six day old, so no complaints on our end. But when we did make it out of our rented apartment the first thing on the agenda was a carriage ride through Krakow with the whole family! Below is a photo that Nana took of our new family of five while we were riding the carriage through the Old Town. It’s one the second photo ever taken of the five of us!

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

As you may have guessed, bringing a six day old on a mini vacation has it’s challenges–the main one being that she has to eat often. This brings challenges to trying to plan the day, so we mostly let Nana and Papa explore on their own today and enjoy the parts of the city that they wanted to see. But that wasn’t before our good man, Rick Steves, led us to a great pizza place via his tour book on Krakow. We had his book out while we grabbed fruit smoothies before lunch and found a place called “Cyklop” which serves incredible, gourmet pizza. The pizzas were being made literally in an oven next to our table and it was a great experience.

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

After the kids took naps, I told them we could go to the castle in town. Avery said, “Daddy, can we go to the castle where the princesses live?” to which Titus added quickly, “And the kings!” These kids have seen more castles in a few short years than I’ve seen in my life! As were leaving for the castle (just me, Titus, and Avery–Bethany stayed back to rest with Karis), Papa and Nana were arriving from their excursion and decided to join us. Instead of making the big walk with the kids to the castle, Papa saw a little golf cart service that would drive us up there so we did that. It saved buckets of time and definitely helped our tired legs. We made it to the castle in time to walk around, but were just a little late for tour tickets. Either way it was fun and here’s a few photos.

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

We wanted to do something special for Nana, so on our way back from the castle Bethany gave me instructions to pick up some cupcakes from a little shop we had visited before to celebrate Nana’s birthday. I was hoping to keep it a secret, but because Nana and Papa joined us I let them in on it and allowed Nana to pick a few for herself. We got a dozen cupcakes and took them back to the apartment where we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. It was a great way to end our time in Krakow before packing up and heading home. Here’s just a sampling of some of the flavors we got (in the photo below).

Nana's Birthday (6/7/15)

Since I struggled to get us to Krakow in a timely manner yesterday (e.g. we took the “scenic route”…aka: we took a LONG route), I made sure I thoroughly checked the map before leaving today. Thankfully, the route I chose was the right one and we got home in no time tonight, just around 10pm. We had a bit of a pause at the border because the Czech police were doing mandatory checks, but they checked my passport and documents and let us go. The kids had fallen asleep by the time we got home, so Bethany, Nana, Papa, and I enjoyed another cupcake together! It was a lot of fun celebrating this weekend and letting Papa and Nana see a little more of Europe since they had flown so far. We have another week with them before they head back to the States and we’ve got lots more to see even still!

But as the clock strikes midnight, I think I’ll sign off. We’re heading tomorrow to a government office to start paperwork for Karis’ birth certificate, so please be praying for that. Until then, good night!


Krakow With Family

We took a five day old on a road trip to Krakow, Poland. I know…we’re crazy.

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

Tomorrow (Sunday) is Nana’s birthday and I guess we were having one of those “when in Europe” moments and decided kind of last minute to get everyone in the car, rent a small apartment in the Old Town and head to Krakow. It was kind of a dream last week but we just didn’t know how Bethany would be feeling and if we could make it work with a newborn. But that’s in the past now because I’m sitting here in Krakow and we’ve made quite the trip today.

Krakow is only about two hours from where we live so it’s completely in driving distance. To my knowledge there aren’t any good trains, so driving makes sense. At least it makes sense until you take the “scenic route” like we did today and added about 45 minutes to our driving time. I would rather not discuss how that happened because 1) I don’t know how it happened and 2) it’s probably still a sore subject in my heart. We did finally make it here and after getting everyone settled in to our little apartment we hit the Old Town!

It was really fun showing Nana and Papa around Krakow and to get to experience it again ourselves. This is my second time here and Bethany’s third, so we’re definitely not pros but it’s a lot easier after you’ve done it once. Europe is just overwhelming in some sense. Everywhere you look it’s old, incredible, and full of history. Today it was really warm here, especially in the town square where you the heat just kind of sat in the middle and baked us, but we made it work by finding shade and eventually grabbing dinner and dessert.

A photo posted by Shay Thomason (@shaycam) on

We left Nana and Papa after dessert and they went for a carriage ride through Krakow. Our new family of five made our way back to the apartment which was surprisingly cool thanks to the rare air conditioning units this one has. Avery and Karis did alright considering that Karis was just born on Monday! Karis slept a lot and we tried to find places to rest as we walked around and enjoy the town. Tonight I ran to the grocery store to stock up on water and juice as we just felt a little dehydrated with all the heat. We should be set for day two tomorrow and we’re excited to see what else this beautiful city has to offer.

Here’s a couple more photos from this afternoon.

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)

Krakow With Family (6/6/15)


Life Keeps Moving

Titus' Class Photo (6/5/15)

We may have had a major event in our lives this week with the birth of our third child, but that doesn’t mean that life here has just stopped. I had this realization today as I took Titus to school and picked him up today. His teacher handed me the photo above of his class which you may remember from the day they took his class photo a little more than a month ago. As I quickly found Titus in the top row middle, it was as if I just realized we have three kids. They are all at different places in their lives, especially Titus who plows ahead with Czech schooling and learning tons of new things. Avery continues to make us laugh, especially with all her new questions about baby Karis. As for Karis, she just loves to eat and sleep but I know it won’t be long before her preschool teacher is handing me a photo of her class. Life keeps moving.

Sidewalk Chalk (6/5/15)

Bethany’s dad (aka “Papa) and I spent a ton of time today mapping out our plans for the next week. Papa and Nana we will heading back to the States next Saturday and we are still hoping for them to see a little more of Europe. They have thoroughly enjoyed their time here, but Nana’s birthday is on Sunday so we’re going to try and take her to Krakow to celebrate. It’s only a 2-hour drive from here so we figure we can make that happen for her, even with a newborn. We’re hoping to leave tomorrow at some point so you’ll just have to read that blog and see what happens!

We had a handful of visitors today who came to see Karis for the first time. A few of our missionary friends came by to meet and hold her, many of whom came bearing gifts as well as our landlord who came down with flowers, new clothes, and a winter outfit (shown below). I love having all the pink flowers in the house and it was just nice to see our friends and even have the opportunity to introduce them to our family. You’ll also notice in the photo below a little card from our landlord which we couldn’t completely understand but was so nice (I should also note that along with the clothes and card, she handed me a bag with a bottle of champagne). Again it’s just fun to have people here in our home celebrating with us!

Gifts (6/5/15)

Karis is doing great and again gave us some good chunks of sleep last night. It’s never easy to adjust to a new baby sleep schedule, but Bethany has been incredible this week and I’ve been doing my best to help her. It’s a little different this time around as I still feel the pressure to spend time with Titus and Avery while also helping Bethany take care of Karis and this is just part of the transition from two to three kids, I guess. It’s definitely nice to have the help of Papa and Nana and I’m doing my best to convince them that they could adjust well in Europe.

Karis Yawn (6/5/15)

Papa and I took Titus and Avery for a bike ride / run this evening and we discovered a great new place at the end of our street. I’ve never gone down to the other end of our street (barely two blocks), but tonight we went there and discovered the river and Polish border. We’ve been to the river and border many times but not right at the end of our road which was new and fun. The weather was perfect of a bike ride and I grabbed a few photos. The first photo is literally at the end of our street, about a 1/4 mile away from our driveway.

Fun By the River (6/5/15)

Fun By the River (6/5/15)

Fun By the River (6/5/15)

Finally, Titus found his kid-friendly razor and shaving cream that he got for Christmas and all day has been talking about “shaving” or saying “I gotta shave.” Tonight he finally convinced me to let him (note: it’s just this Spiderman themed foaming cream and plastic razor–no blade). So in keeping with tonight’s blog title that “life keeps moving,” I present this photo of my five year old. How is it that my third child is born and my five year old starts shaving in the same week!?

Titus Shaves (6/5/15)