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.
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.
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 …