There are some places on earth that you never plan to visit, for me Auschwitz was one of them. I had never even given it a thought until I found myself walking around a political prison in Portugal. I wouldn’t say I had developed a spark of fascination for places of terror, in fact, I questioned myself if it was right for me to go there.
Auschwitz, came into my mind when I was planning my trip to Poland. I found it difficult to understand why people would want to go and visit such a place. The world knows what atrocities happened there and do we need to experience it to feel remorse and anger with humanity? What did I know? How could I have an opinion unless I went to see it for myself?
The sky was overcast and grey, so fitting for what lay ahead of me. The people on my bus were seemingly quiet and not in the mood for any light conversation. It felt as if we were all on our way to a funeral, I guess we were.
We traveled for an hour leaving the outskirts of Krakow. The lady in the seat next to me fell asleep.
Feeling the need to break the ice I approached an Australian lady who was in front of me in the queue at the entrance, I wanted to ask her the reason for her visit? I was to regret the question. Somberly she told me her father had all of his eight sons circumcised so that society would never be able to differentiate between them. As Jews or any other religious denomination. Although I failed to understand the logic of her father’s actions, which she expressed with great pride, I now, unfortunately, have a picture of eight angry Australian lads in my head. This is not a great start. I severed our conversation and followed behind our group. Determined to be silent for the rest of the tour. Auschwitz deserved my respect.
We walk under the forged arch which mocks the words Arbeit Macht Frie, which translates, Work sets you free. The place has many lies as I am about to find out. The heavens start to spit rain on the graveled path and I begin to wonder, how many tears have rained on these stones under my feet. The place seems cold and empty. it is lifeless and without energy. even the ghosts have gone. We shuffle about in groups connected by headphones. We are here only to listen. The guide is the only one speaking as we form stuffy sweaty lines, in and out of the blocks that are now museums.
I had prepared myself for the effect the items which belonged to the victims, were to have on my thoughts when I came face to face with them through the glass. I had seen pictures but now they were real, the hair, tin pots, and enamel bowls all had a story. The children’s shoes gripped my emotions. I wanted to stop but the line was pushing me forward. The little white shoes which sat alone, who wore them? What was her name? Was she holding her mother’s hand as she walked towards the gas chamber? So many questions.
Walking into the gas chamber was the worst experience for me. The guide asked us to be silent with him. I looked above me to see where the gas came in through a square opening in the roof. You feel the terror in here. It is hard not to imagine their faces as they started to cough, was it then they realized this was their final moment. The Nazis had told them to hang their clothes on a hook, and to remember the hook number. They thought they were going in there for a shower. What kind of sick evil happened in the place where I was standing at this moment.
You begin to feel so overwhelmed that you start to wonder if this was all real and if atrocities like this actually could happen. That is where you wonder, how do we explain all of this so that it never happens again?
We are taken to Birkenau, just three kilometers away. It is late and the rain is getting heavier. We are walking along the railway track. I can imagine the women walking in the cold, their hair shaved and their bones shaking. They are sick and some will die before they get to the gas chambers. Nobody cares. Nobody in the outside world is aware of what is happening here. The poor wretched souls are merely a number which can be seen etched into their arms. Some deaths are not even registered. But exist they did and they knew it. Their ashes are here in the soil, thousands of Polish Jews and Jews from all over occupied Europe, they rest uneasily with Gypsies and other undesirables. People, not wanted, for reasons some of us will never be able to explain. But we the people know the truth now. We know what humanity is capable of and I feel sickened. There is no way on earth that this could have been hidden from the world. A world that could be just and forgiving.
The rain is heavier and it is dark, we use our mobile phones to light the path as we enter a barrack preserved from 1945. This place is not suitable for pigs, the dirt floor is uneven so we must watch our step. My feet are now wet from the muddy ground.
The lights in the distance are flickering from headlights, shots are coming from the woods behind us, I hear a dog barking. There is too much evil here to fight, but we are safe knowing it is now a memory. It belongs to history.
The scenario is broken by the sound from an aircraft flying low in the distance. I want to shout ‘the Russians are here’ but that would be wrong. Back on our bus people settle and relax. They let down their guard. It has been a day of reflexion and questions, there are still answers we need to hear. I still don’t understand why, why should something like this happen. At least we can say we have been to see Auschwitz, we are the silent witnesses. What can I say? I do not know how I feel, only that we must never allow this evil, despicable and dark side of humanity to surface again. I am clinging to the hope that love is enough for us all, and if it isn’t then God if he does exist needs to rewrite the blueprint. Please follow and like us:
ONE THOUGHT ON “RAINING TEARS”
- Mike WadsworthLauren, you were very brave and determined to do it and more credit to you. We visited Belsen camp when I was posted to Fallingbostel in Northern Germany, there is nothing left but burial mounds but the sheer scale of death chills you to the bone. The museum within the camp amplifies the horror and terror that must have prevailed.On a recent visit to Berlin we visited the railway museum where lie the very trains which took the wretched souls to the death camps, suitcases and other personal items are on display which again serves only to highlight the dark thoughts which invade your consciousness. There is also a relatively new museum not far from checkpoint Charlie which is very simple, a large hall with boards to which are attached thousands of photographs charting the rise of the Nazi party and the helpless plight of European Jews. Far from wishing to forget those haunting scenes, we watch Schindler’s List at least once every two or three years to remind us of mans inhumanity to man and how we must all collectively fight to make sure it never happens again