Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Auschwitz: A Sobering Experience

An Auschwitz survivor - before my trip it was something completely different than it is now. Before when I heard that someone survived Auschwitz - I didn't really understand what that meant - because there are really few words to describe what an unbelievable feet that was.

When you tell someone that you are going to Poland - they say - cool what are you going to do there - then when you tell them you are going to visit Auschwitz - they usually don't say much - but oh. But I just felt that it was something I needed to see. I am not the generation of World War II - but I think that war shaped the future for my generation as an American. What happened to the world during that time is still have long lasting effects. So I wanted to see for myself - so I could just have another perspective on history.

I went - and the only world to describe the experience is overwhelming. I had seen movies and documentaries - but nothing prepared me for just how big the camp was - especially Birkenau. The vastness - the almost peaceful park like setting gives an eerie foreshadowing to what happened there.

When you go to visit - the first place you go is Auschwitz, which was a camp for polish soldiers before the German Invasion. The tour guide told us the original purpose of this camp was for Polish Political Prisoners - not for Jews. Now there were some Jewish prisoners - but they were mostly imprisoned because of their place within the Polish Political community.
But then the camp evolved. Then they began to execute people, first by shooting them then by using gas. But their operation got to big and they moved to Birkenau.
While walking through Auschwitz you see the Arbeit Macht Frei sign - which really seals the irony of this camp - because they always gave the prisoners hope - a hope that trually didn't exist. The former baracks had been transformed into more of a museum - there were maps and pictures and numbers and it was all very intense. But nothing was more intense than we learned about the place the Germans called Kanada (Canada - like the country) it was the place within the concentration camp - where they stored all the stuff that they stole from the prisoners. Shoes, luggage, clothes - there was a room dedicated to each of these things - you walked in and saw thousands of shoes, then you saw hundreds of suitcases. But the room that drew the most emotional and physical reaction from me was the room with the human hair. Yes, when the woman arrived to the camp they cut their hair - which they sent back to Germany to make fabric - in this room (behind glass) there was piles of human hair. I was overcome and had to leave before I got sick.

When we were walking outside the buildings - it was calm and surreal. Then all of a sudden these large dandilion type seeds started falling through the air - almsot like it was snowing. It felt you could see the souls flying in the air. I tried to capture a photo - but it didn't work.

Then after going through the museum - you got in the car and made the five minute drive to Birkenau. That place is just so massive - there is just no way to get the perspective of how big it actually is until you step inside. My photos don't really capture it either. On the hour drive back to Krakow - both Mary and I fell asleep. I think that it was just that emotionally exhausting. I am very glad I went, I can't understand anyone that denys what happened there, but I know that I don't think I could ever go back. And the words Auschwitz Survivor mean something entirely different to me now than they did to me two weeks ago.


Anonymous said...

Amazing, thoughtful, thanks again for sharing this experience with the rest of us....

Paul D

Franki S. said...

Wow, really touched me!