A Cry of Despair

The whole point of making the side trip to Poland during our vacation was because Gilles really wanted to go to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  I had serious misgivings about this part of our journey.

I felt there was a certain distaste about creating a tourist attraction from a place of such abject horror.  Gilles, however, felt that we have an obligation to preserve these places as memorials to remind future generations of things that must never be forgotten.

In the end, we both agreed that it was a very difficult day – both mentally and emotionally overwhelming.

image

People come by the thousands, every day, to visit here.  By the time we left the camp in early afternoon, there was an hour and a half wait just to buy tickets for entry.  It was a very hot and humid day – adding physical discomfort to our emotional unease.  With some exceptions, the crowds were very quiet and subdued during the 3.5 hours of our tour.

Although photography was allowed in most places, it felt wrong.  The photos I took are few but the mental images I carry of this place will not be forgotten.

image

In Birkenau, the Nazis attempted to destroy the evidence of what was happening in this camp when it became clear that Allied troops were advancing.  A large section of the camp was destroyed, including 3 of the 4 crematoriums.  In the above photo,  the chimneys of destroyed prisoner barracks are reflected in the glass of one still completely intact.  Dozens of chimneys can be seen in a massive area that is staggering in its size.

I fear that my generation will be the last one to fully appreciate the horror of this war – or perhaps the generation after mine who were influenced by the stories told by their grandparents who lived through this time.

For others, it will simply become history learned from a book/internet without the emotional connection that is acquired from parents and grandparents.

Perhaps this might explain the large group of young teenagers – ironically sporting Israeli flags – who were loud, disruptive, and occasionally disrespectful of their surroundings.  They seemed bored.  Their lives have been affected by different – more recent – wars.  Our tour leader reprimanded them more than once – in front of their own group leaders.

This is one chapter of history I can only pray will never be repeated.

Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity …

 

About Joanne Sisco

Retired but not idle. Life is an adventure - I plan to continue to embrace it.
This entry was posted in Random Stuff, Travel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to A Cry of Despair

  1. Rebekah M says:

    I’m glad at least it hasn’t been turned into one of those ‘touristy’ memorials we’re used to seeing here. Good for you, you did this trip. No reading, or watching films, can replace ‘being there’. We’re probably the last generation that can relate. Not many survivors left now, and they’re getting really old.

    Like

  2. Pingback: K = Krakow, Poland | My Life Lived Full

  3. TheLastWord says:

    I was standing at Omaha beach earlier this year at the edge of the water and looking out over the water. Even over there, one can feel the pressure build up inside. I would like to visit the camps, but at the same time I wonder if I could handle it.

    Like

  4. My mother grew up in Nazi Germany. She carries with her such a sense of shame at what her countrymen did. I try to reassure her that she need not carry the weight of the Holocaust on her inner child’s shoulders but, nonetheless, she is deeply and sorrowfully ashamed as so many Germans today are. So important that we never forget and that these places are visited with reverence and not as tourist sideshows.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      It’s very sad that your mom should carry shame for something she had no responsibility in.

      I was relieved to find that the memorials were all very well done and it was quite moving to be with so many people who were subdue and respectful of where they were.
      I guess I’m used to the North American way of setting up a souvenir shop everywhere and I was worried that that’s what I would find. Thankfully not.

      Like

  5. jannatwrites says:

    It’s hard to believe in such recent history that such atrocities could happen. I’d like to think that this couldn’t be repeated, but there seems to be so much hatred in the world, I just don’t know…

    Like

  6. mukhamani says:

    Yes, we should all pray that such chapters will never be repeated, but sometimes there is this fear in the mind, that we never seem to learn from our mistakes.

    Like

  7. sb2711 says:

    very poigant…:(

    Like

  8. What an emotional and heartfelt post and good for you for going – I so fully understand your initial reluctance. My stomach clenched against welling tears just reading this. We don’t seem to have lived up to the determination of ‘Never Again’ do we?

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      You are so right. Given the stuff that’s going on in the world today, it appears that nothing has been learned. I think that’s why I find what’s going on in Gaza so shameful – to everyone involved.

      Like

  9. I think it is important to visit these places as well – to preserve the memory and the important history we never want repeated. I went to Dachau in Germany in the 90’s and was also struck by how quiet and somber the crowds were. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks for your comment. It saddens me to realize that the world’s nations haven’t really learned much at all with the atrocities that continue to happen everyday in various parts of the world.

      Like

  10. It is difficult to “like” a post such as this. I understand how difficult it must be to visit a place that has so much hatred and death surrounding it. And then to take photos and write about it. But as you, and Gilles, and many before us have said, it is important that we preserve these places as memorials, as reminders. Thank you for sharing this and being honest with your feelings about it.

    Like

  11. This is an experience I will not likely have. Because I am frightened of it. I appreciate your resistance and admire the fact that you overcame it.

    I think the photo of the window reflection is phenomenal! Inspired artistry, Joanne.

    This is a great post and I thank you for that.

    Like

  12. Such an incredible and moving experience to live. Thank you for putting this down on paper, so to speak, Joanne. I have always wanted to visit these places to pay my respects to those who died and to appreciate the strengths of all who survived, but I doubt I’ll ever get that opportunity. The next best thing is getting to hear about it through the eyes of a friend.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      I never thought I would have an opportunity to go either – especially Poland. I was astonished to hear that survivors actually go back and visit. Our guide told us some stories of survivors she had met on tours who talked about their experiences. I can’t begin to imagine how THEY feel. I’m not sure I would have their courage.

      Like

  13. ChristineR says:

    I have read several books about the experiences of people, the last was a fictional family saga that took in that era, and it certainly brought home the horror to me, in a different way that non-fiction and films hadn’t managed. It was told from the point of view of a German character in the novel as well as from that of his English wife. I cried. I appreciate you writing of your troubled visit.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Christine. I too have read many books about the war – both fiction and non-fiction. With parents who both lived through the war in Europe, I’ve had an endless fascination with it. I think my fascination ended now.

      Maybe someday I’ll be able to write about what I saw and learned on this tour. For now, this is an experience that is profoundly felt.

      Like

  14. A touching piece, Joanne. These places need to be preserved and visited. Seeing images on TV doesn’t have the same effect. Perhaps one or two of the teenagers was affected and will take the message forward to future generations.

    Like

  15. NancyTex says:

    I remember how emotional it was just to visit the house in Amsterdam in which Anne Frank hid. I can’t even imagine what you felt visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. Thank you for sharing this though, Joanne. It is important that we never forget.

    Like

  16. Sue Slaght says:

    I can only imagine the distress you felt. Such an unbelievable horror.

    Like

  17. We chose to take our kids to the Killing Fields in Cambodia when they were 13, 10 and 8. We felt it was important that they know about these things. I think if we can build understanding and empathy when they’re young we may have a chance at peace. I’ve also been to Dachau, Hiroshima, Culloden. It’s not about doing the ‘tourist’ thing, it’s about making it real. You hear about these things, read about them but until you’re standing there in the physical remnants of human horror I don’t think you truly understand.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Maybe that’s why it kicked me so hard in the gut. I’m very well read about WWII, I’ve lived with it as a child with 2 European parents who experienced the war first hand, I’ve visited numerous war memorials in Holland and Belgium …. but I wasn’t prepared for this.

      I can’t imagine the Cambodia Killing Fields. Just the movie alone, many years ago, left us both sobbing in the theatre. That had to have been very difficult!

      Like

  18. Lynn says:

    I am certain there are few of us that can even fathom the horrors that took place on those that were sent to this place. It is practically impossible for me to conceive of such hatred & wrap my brain around how we can inflict such pain on each other. What boggles my mind is that we continue to witness such atrocities in our world today. Have we learned nothing? Shame on the group for showing such disrespect, it breaks my heart that they do not understand the significance that took place here.

    Like

  19. Wow. What an important trip this was to have made. I know alot of people are torn about wanting to keep it as a shrine or not wanting it there at all, but I’m so glad you wrote about this and I love the picture you included on the window reflection. It is important to understand our past so that the future can learn from it and not repeat the same mistakes.

    Like

  20. Tina says:

    Joanne,
    Paul and I visited Dachau several years back and know the despair you speak about. I believe that visiting the sites of these horrors are not about tourism but about remembering and honouring the lives lost, especially as time passes and the connections to the events become more tenuous. A hard visit but at the end of the day, one you wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
    Travel safely!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Tina – I have to agree with you now that I’ve gone. Reading about it, hearing about it, doesn’t prepare you for the reality of it.
      I guess I was worried that I would find a souvenir shop there. I was relieved to find it done very respectfully.
      I was even more surprised to learn of the survivors who have returned to visit. That’s courage beyond description.

      Like

  21. I’m very torn with regards to this. On the one hand, I believe they serve an important purpose to remind of us the horrors we (humans) are capable of and as memorials to those that have suffered there but on the other hand, I bristle at it being a ‘tourist’ attraction.

    I know of a friend who visited and still to this day she refuses to speak about it. Part of me feels compelled to go-my Grandad on my Dad’s side was in one for over a year before the end of the war and I would like to go to pay my respects. But I couldn’t cope with disrespectful youths-I don’t think I’d be able to keep my mouth shut!

    I think you’re brave for going and for writing about the experience xx

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      This is a tough call Sam, but now that I’ve been there, I have to agree with Gilles. These memorials are important as the links to these events are dying.
      I was afraid that I would find a souvenir shop there and was so relieved to find it done very respectfully.
      I had 2 uncles in a Nazi labour camp. Miraculously both returned. Neither talked about it. Nor do I know which camp they were kept.

      Like

  22. bulldog says:

    I cannot bring myself to click on the like button of this post Joanne… it all seems so unbelievable that one does not want to see it as being true… yet we know it was…. I think you a very brave person to have gone to view this place of horror… something I don’t think I would be able to do myself… It is these horrors of the past that are today being seen with disdain by the younger generations due to all the other atrocities that take place at present…. death and killing just seem so every day that such atrocities of the past are almost forgotten… and as I read somewhere this week… war and killing will continue till we learn to love our own children as well as all other children… then and only then will war end…
    Joannne I don’t condemn you for going to see this place of horror, if anything I admire your strength to visit and see a place that must be considered one of the worst places in the world… I would not have that strength…

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      I have to agree with you Bulldog that the significance of the Holocaust is being lost because it is getting replaced every day with new atrocities.
      I just don’t understand why it is so much easier to hate others – especially if they are different from us.

      Like

  23. JennyO says:

    I know how you feel, I’ve been to Dachau and Auschwitz. There was something about the rooms that they had at Auschwitz with all the eyeglasses and suitcases, the shoes and prosthetics that just had me end up standing at a glass window with my forehead pressed sobbing at the horror the people must have felt getting off the trains and slowly understanding they were not being moved…

    Auscwhitz

    Like

  24. My family lives near Dachau, and they’ve also converted the CC into a memorial/museum. It’s very well done. My grandmother, who was a teenager when the camp was in operation, told me of cycling past there on her bicycle and seeing “bodies stacked up like logs”.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s