Sunday, October 25, 2009

Auschwitz and Birkenau

I have written and rewritten this post dozens of times. I’m not sure words are sufficient to describe what a touching, soul wrenching, moving, and horrific an experience it is to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. Writing these words now fills my soul with the ache that was ever present during the time we spent there and for many hours afterward. I am aware that I am well known for my gift of hyperbole and exaggeration but this is not one of those posts.

Auschwitz is place filled with ghosts, malevolence, and evil. There were buildings I was physically unable to enter because of the feelings that overcame me. Overwhelmed me. Even though my husband does not believe in things like ghosts he too said he felt the lingering evil in that place.

This former concentration camp has been turned into a museum. Tour guides are available but we chose to purchase a written guide and go around by ourselves. You can walk through many of the buildings and learn about the people who lived here, those who worked here, those who died here, and even the rare few who lived. Photography was not allowed inside the buildings.

Inside one room was a smaller area captured behind glass, filled to the ceiling with the human hair that was shorn from people before they were killed. Other rooms were filled with 40 kilograms of eyeglasses, 12,000 pots and pans, innumerable suitcases, artificial limbs, and more. These items once belonged to the people who were murdered here.

One display held innumerable empty canisters of Zyklon B, the agent used to kill people in the gas chambers.

Outside on the walkways tall guard towers can be seen at regular intervals. Barbed wire fences separated the inmates from freedom.

There was a series of buildings that each held a memorial for the different nationalities and ethnicities of people who died here. We entered Block 27, the building honoring the Jewish inhabitants of Auschwitz first. Further along were national exhibitions for the French, Russians, Romany, Polish, Czech and others.

Everywhere throughout Auschwitz were the names and faces of women, men, and children who died here. Who died for no good reason other than evil and hatred.

A short drive from Auschwitz is Auschwitz II or Birkenau, as it is more commonly known. If Auschwitz was emotionally draining then Birkenau was the final punch of disturbing reality. As you drive up to Birkenau, it is impossible to ignore the devastatingly massive scale of the place. It is 175 hectares in size – the size of over 320 football fields.

It took us almost thirty minutes to walk in silence from the entrance gates to where the crematoriums used to be located. We walked along a path with train tracks that once carried prisoners to their deaths on one side and the women’s barracks on the other.

At the end of that long walk are the remains of the gas chambers where innocent people were killed. Near to these harsh reminders of evil lies the Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial. In numerous languages surrounding the memorial can be found these words:
“Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered 1,500,000 men, women, and children, mainly Jews, from various countries of Europe.”

Visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau where the Nazis murdered an untold number of people affected me in ways I am literally unable to put into words. Evil was at work in these places and I felt it still lingering there all these decades later.

I know there are people who claim the Holocaust never occurred but those people cannot have ever been to this place where not even birds will sing. I hope I never again feel the aura (for lack of a better word) of hatred as I did that day. The atrocities that were perpetrated in these places must never be forgotten, denied, or ignored – they are a stain on the collective soul of the human race.

37 comments:

WhisperingWriter said...

Oh my.

This is just heartbreaking.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

You are brave to have traveled here. I don't think I could do it. This is a beautiful piece regarding a terrifying part of our history. Thank you for posting it.

Brenda said...

Not all of us have the opportunity to visit such a place but its important that people like you who do go remind us of the horrible things that went on so that we never forget.

Kaddee said...

I haven't been to Auschwitz, but going to the Killing Fields and S-21 in Phnom Penh did the same thing to me.

"Psychically bruising" was how gozi and I described it.

Jennifer said...

I just absolutely want to cry. Horrifying, how human beings can treat other human beings.

Corinne said...

I have always wanted to go...because I think it is important that we remember what evil human beings can inflict upon other human beings, so we never allow it to happen again.

Sverre's great-uncle has some harrowing tales, he was involved in the Norwegian resistance movement, was caught, and sent to one of the camps. Fortunately he survived.

Connie said...

I went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and, on my own, wandered the town, including the site of the 1936 winter Olympics. It's an amazingly beautiful location. Stunning. And yet, even there I could feel the poison of the time. Simple things - I'd look at a ski ramp ... covered in snow, set among beautiful trees, a mountain background, and couldn't help but think that the sporting festival it represented, was watched and celebrated by murderers.

cat said...

Oh I agree! Do you know that the concept of concentration camps was born in South Africa where the British did it in the Boer war (at the turn of the previous century). They did not actively murder the mainly women and children, but circumstances took care of that.

Cheryl said...

Nicely put. I can't believe some people deny history. This is why we're all going to Hell.
I visited the Japanese-Chinese one in Nanjing just a while ago, scared the life out of me.

Melissa B. said...

Thanks for reminding us of the atrocities of the past. The more knowledge we have of these, I believe, the less likely mankind will be to repeat these atrocities in the future...

Susie said...

I can image being there through your words! It seems like a journey every human should go on to remind us to never let something that horrible ever happen again.

Betty Manousos:cutand-dry.blogspot.com said...

It's terrible, horrible, cruel!Just imagine
how " human beings" can treat other human beings.
hugs hugs!!
P.S. I'm following:)!

Gaston Studio said...

You were very brave to visit these places of past horror! Love your last paragraph, which sums it all up.

You must see the movie, "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas;" it's about innocense among the young, among other things.

Bluefish said...

I visited Dachau, Germany last year with my then fiance. It was a chilling experience to walk through the gate that says 'work will set me (or you) free'. I don't remember the exact quote but it was the most misleading statement ever.

I think there was a man who managed to escape to U.S. and wrote a book on Dachau. The tour guide (Poli Sci student) was telling us stories of that horrible concentration camp...it was overwhelming to absorb so many information at once.

Anyway, I've learned a lot of stuff that day and I hope people will continue to learn the truth about this horrible act against humanity.

Thank you for sharing.

Kat said...

I can imagine that this was a difficult post to put together. I am working on a post on our trip to Vegas. And it is certainly not like you can write this like a regular vacation photo opp.

My mother has always had this "fascination" with the Holocaust. She cannot read enough about it. I have taken on the fiction side of things. And I don't know what it is. This need to be constantly reminded about the horrible things that humans do to one another - but also about our endless capacity to love, honor, empathize, and help those in need.

And since you are a reader...my latest holocaust fiction is "Sarah's key." Have you read it??

The Blonde Duck said...

I don't doubt you at all. I just did a bunch of Halloween stories for work and talked to paranormal experts, and they said the more violent and dreadful a place is, the more souls that linger....what a terrible stain.

farfalla said...

Your photos are very depressing! You have the quiet - cruel past of Auschwitz artistically very well in the picture sedately. When I was one more school child, the whole school visited yearly together former concentration camps. At that time I found too early to confront children with this cruel history. Today I know that it is very important that this part of the history may not fall into oblivion. The Holocaust is a part of millions family stories. Photos and reports on it, cut into me. I ask for forgiveness, because of my bad English! Many greetings from Germany / Berlin

Grand Pooba said...

Wow, I couldn't handle that!

Sharon said...

I can't even imagine.

I know how I felt after visiting the Holocaust Museum in D.C. It is so important to see and be reminded, but so horrible and disgusting and horrifying. To look at evil and the consequences of derangement. My mind can't conceive it.

Thanks for your moving words and sharing your emotions. We all need to remember.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about Auschwitz and Birkenau so passionately.
merthyrmum

blueviolet said...

Just reading this and looking at the photos brought tears to my eyes. I can see how there would be a permanent evil aura over those locations.

sprinkles said...

I noticed we seem to read a lot of the same blogs so I popped on over to check yours out.

Wow, what an experience it must have been to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. Your commentary makes me feel like I was right there with you.

Thank you for sharing this tragic story. Although no one likes to be reminded of the horrors of the past, we need to be so that we don't repeat history.

Eve said...

I don't know if I will ever be able to visit those places. The stories alone bring me to tears.

staceyjwarner said...

Wow, I've been seeing your Giraffes and thought I'd stop by...strange that I chose today and this post.

I can't imagine going to Auschwitz. You wrote about it very well. It was nice to hear your experience.

Please stop on by the respite sometime...

much love

Betty said...

I have chills all over! I can´t imagine what you must have felt there, but you did a great job describing it. I watch any and everything I can about that time period on TV and it constantly amazes me how the people of that period could be so blind. I agree, we must never forget!!

Katherine Aucoin said...

I can only imagine how emotionally draining this visit was for you. I 've always wanted to visit, but wonder if I am strong enough emotionally.

Thank you for sharing your visit.

Just Playin' said...

Diary of Ann Frank is one of my favorite books. It's hard to imagine how people lived then and then ended up in the camps. Visiting the camps is a way to honor them. Thanks for the post.

the ungourmet said...

I was unable to speak after seeing Schindler's List. I can't imagine how it would feel to visit this place.

My daughter is studying the Holocaust this year in school. I am interested to see how it affects her.

Nicole said...

I remember the day we went there and I remember the emotions.
It was 4 of us.
We didn't speak for hours afterward.

LadyFi said...

All world leaders ought to be forced to visit these places before being sworn into office.

A profound post with an important message to us all.

Tam said...

Wow, what a moving and powerful piece. I have traveled much and was also an expat for many years. I never had the opportunity to experience this, although I wish I had. Your blog is fabulous and I'm so glad I linked up to it from someone else's!

Sandy said...

Thank you for writing what I am sure was a very difficult post. I have seen pictures of the case with the human hair and even sitting in my own home thousands of miles away, decades after it was collecting the chills that ran through me are beyond words.

Your words and photos well conveyed what must have been a life-altering visit to an evil place.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Wow. This one leaves me speechless.

Mom of Three said...

Thanks for sharing this. It must never be forgotten.

I am amazed that intelligent, educated people still believe that this never happened.

The atmosphere under which people must have lived when these atrocities were taking place (both victims and perpetrators)... I cannot imagine that energy.

BPOTW said...

So well written. And I agree that it should never be denied or forgotten. Thanks for sharing such an emotional place.

NV said...

It’s funny that you bring up the point of those who decry the Holocaust as never having occurred. I was thinking about them as I read your post and wondering how in the hell they do it.

Very moving post. Thanks for sharing this experience. We need to be reminded of atrocities like this to ensure that they never happen again.

Deborah Rey said...

Lest they forget!
Thank you for this very dignified, very human post,

Deborah Rey