Bring on the Bling

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Auschwitz II - Birkenau

After about 2 hours of being in Auschwitz, I realized that I was shaking. Bad. I decided that it was time to go. I had seen the buildings, the items, the watch towers, the “roll call” area, the sign. I had felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for when and where I was born. I had felt the Spirit strongly as I prayed for those who died in the camp. When I left, I saw a sign that Auschwitz II-Birkenau was just a 5-minute drive on the other side of the rail yard. 

I needed to see it. 

I needed to walk on those train tracks.

So, I grabbed a taxi and headed to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, The Extermination Camp…

One thing that I was not prepared for was the sheer SIZE of Birkenau. It is huge. I was stunned. This place wasn’t as crowded as Auschwitz was, yet. I’m sure it would fill up, but it wouldn’t be as noticeable. I picked a side of the train tracks to walk down, and started crying again. I couldn’t help it. 

I walked quite a ways until I reached the “living quarters.” Most of them were closed for refurbishment, but there was one that was open, with a sign indicating that it was a women’s building. 

I walked into the antechamber, and saw this:

Again, I traced her name with my fingers, wondering about her story. Was she liberated or massacred? Where was she from? How old was she? Then I stopped and saw the bunks they lived on.

At this point, I physically couldn’t move. I was alone and the feeling I had in this large room was overwhelming. There was a very interesting and unsettling spirit I could feel in the room and I decided to leave. I’m so glad I did because again, as soon as I left, I could feel a noticeable lightness to my back, neck, and shoulders. I looked down and noticed that my skin had been crawling and the hairs on my arms had been standing up. There was something otherworldly in that room and I didn’t like it. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to live there.

Original bunks
 At the opposite side of the camp, there was another memorial set up, this time next to a large pit (filled with rain water) and deteriorated buildings with a marker that read, “To the memory of the men, women, and children who fell victim to the Nazi genocide. Here lie their ashes. May their souls rest in peace.” Again, I took a moment to offer a short prayer, asking for peace. I can’t describe it.
The pit is filled with rain water on the sad

At the end of the train tracks lies an international peace memorial to those who died during the operation of Birkenau. There are many plaques that are laid into the ground; each in a different language, but bearing the same message, “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945.” There is also a lovely memorial with flowers.
International Memorial 

As I made the long trip back to the front of the camp, I walked along the other side of the tracks. This side was an interesting sight that took me a second to fully comprehend what I was seeing: all of these chimney-looking things were actually ovens. There were SO. MANY. OVENS. Literally, mind-boggling. Staggering. I had to catch my breath and hold it for a few seconds. Again, the Nazis knew how to use psychological tactics with their prisoners. I can’t imagine having to work one of the ovens, pushing in bodies of people I probably knew. Maybe even family members, wondering if I was next? Unfathomable.

Halfway down, I stopped by this rail car and wondered. This was an actual car that was used to transport people to the camp, packed in like cattle in the worst conditions, heat, cold, unable to breathe, unable to sit down, unable to move. One thing you notice right away is that there aren’t any holes in the sides of the car: no way to breathe, no way to see where you were going. You had no idea where you were until the doors were finally opened and you stumbled out, limbs stiff from not being able to move for hours.

The last few hundred meters or so, I walked along the rail lines, again grateful that I could do this. Randomly, I remembered an episode of Oprah where she visited Birkenau and Auschwitz I with Elie Weisel. I couldn’t remember much of what they talked about, but I remember neither of them talking at all when they were entering the camp, and then Elie only whispering when he would talk. He said that he never thought that he would again enter the camp on his own free will and volition. I can’t blame him, only knowing a fraction of what happened.

When I would walk around the camps, I made sure that I spent a lot of time looking at the actual road and pathway that the prisoners would have walked, wondering what they were thinking. We read about what happened at the camps, we watch videos, we read journals and letters, we visit museums and the actual camps, but we have NO IDEA what it was like. I am both grateful and humbled by that fact. I started thinking about an acquaintance that is German. She is older and lived through WW2, but is one of the few who believe that the Holocaust didn’t happen and it was all a scare tactic. Now, I am not saying that I believe her. It happened. But I wonder at that mindset. Is it straight out denial? Was that the belief of her parents? Were they Nazi sympathizers who, like most of the world, didn’t really know what was going on? Were they ignorant or did they know? How can something like that be covered up? I remember a book that I read last year called “In the Garden of Beasts,” by Erik Larsson. It’s a historical non-fiction about the life of the American ambassador to Germany right before WW2. It talks about how most of the world had no idea about concentration camps and what was being done to the Jews and Poles. I’m so grateful to have studied history and am able to process this a little bit.

While I didn’t enjoy visiting the camps, I would say it was a very satisfying day. Nothing compares to actually walking among the bunkers where prisoners were kept, worked, and died. The feelings I experienced will stay with me forever. I will never forget, I will never take for granted my freedom, my religion, my life. Now comes the next step: what to do with my experience. How do I pass on what I have felt, what I have learned?

1 comment :

  1. Wow. What an experience! I couldn't even get through these last two posts without crying! Thanks for sharing! - Lizz (PM&R)