Today was the heaviest and most informative day of the trip so far. Today we went to Auschwitz I and II or Birkanau. I had started off the day with all the built out anxiety from before about how I would feel today, both physically and mentally. As we waited at the gate with the famous and ironic saying “Arbeit Macht Frei” or work sets you free, my thoughts were racing. Even before that, I had trouble sleeping at night knowing that Auschwitz was across the street. The largest mass grave in the world was just feet away and it was stressful. When we finally go there and went through the tour of Auschwitz I, I was sad but I didn’t cry, even though I thought I was going to. I just felt a dull ache in my heart, a sort of weight bringing me down the entire time.
In Auschwitz I, which was more like a museum, there were artifacts that depicted the amount of lives taken in that camp. I was shocked. What shocked me even more however was the drawings. There were drawings salvaged and redrawn from the kids of that time. The drawings start off innocent and grow sadder and darker, depicting more and more death, the sad reality that awaited them. Those drawings threw me. This is what those children had to go through and most of those children died in the camp. Their lives were stolen and that thought put a strong and deep type of rage in me.
When we went to Birkenau, I was astounded at the sheer size of the camp. It was 65 football fields long and 45 wide. The fact that the Nazis were planning to make it bigger is absolutely insane. All of the killing was not enough. They needed more. Fortunately those plans never came to past, but the thought still haunts me.
Knowing history is different from being there. Reading about something in the book and then seeing for yourself evoke completely different reactions and understanding. I am so fortunate that I was able to see such a horrific and important place. It makes me sad that I am probably one of the last generations that will see it standing. Nonetheless I am happy that I don’t have to go back. Visiting Auschwitz is such a powerful thing that you only need one visit in your adult life to truly comprehend the horrors of the Holocaust.
There’s not one comprehensive word to describe what I felt today, or even several. It seems close to impossible to put into the words the level of emotion that one feels when going to the world’s largest mass grave. So instead I’m going to try to best describe the moments that hit me the hardest.
Auschwitz 1 was set up much like a museum, with brick barracks either renovated into exhibits or preserved. It’s remarkably smaller than expected, yet packs a lot of emotion in within that space.
In Auschwitz 1, there is a building filled with different supplies of all of the things taken from the Jews who had arrived at the camp. Lining both sides of a hallway, 40,000 pairs of stolen shoes, all grayed by time. One room, a sea of pots and pans and plates. Another filled up to the ceiling with suitcases, with names and birthdates written on them. The tour guide pointed out the nearest one- if the girl lived to 1945, she would be turning 9 as the war reached a close.
Throughout the buildings there are pictures of Jews, with their names, numbers, birthdates, and death dates. Few survive more than a month or two. Many have died within a few days. 1 million five hundred thousand Jews died at Auschwitz-Birkneau, a fact that is impossible to forget walking through the camp.
The most impactful room is one where artists have recreated the drawings of children detained in Auschwitz. In a white room, drawings done directly on the wall serve as the sole decoration. Some are sweet and innocent, a flower pot with “Pour maman” written next to it. Others depict better the horror. A drawing of three men being hung sticks out amongst the others. This would be heartbreaking in the first place, and is only even more so once you realize that most, if not all, of these children died. Then everything takes on a more haunted aspect, as you realize just how short so many lives were cut, and what horrors they saw in that time.
Birkenau allows the scope of the camps to be seen. It extends for miles, with rows upon rows of barracks. Many have been destroyed by dynamite, and only the ruins remain. In that way, it’s more visually impactful. It feels impossible to deny anything when it’s all laid out right in front of you- anything from the “sauna” where actual showers used to be taken before many were gassed to the names carved into the women’s barracks.
After Auschwitz we went to view the art of Marian Kolodziej, a survivor of it. Marian drew incredibly twisted images in which he recounted his experiences in the Holocaust. He draws men as skeletons, Jesus watching over the vamps, and the apocalypse that was the concentration camps. There’s an emphasis on the eyes in many of his drawings, which tiny details like a skull reflected in the pupil. His drawings line the walls and the floors, surrounded by barbed wire and cut outs shaped like human bodies. His art is some of the most beautiful i have ever seen, but in a grotesque way. It’s impossible to look away from and provides the type of visceral reaction that is only achieved when an artist puts all of himself into a piece. It, more than any exhibit, captures the inconceivable hell that was Auschwitz, a reality that many of us can never even begin to imagine.
Andy L-G (Gavi’s Mom)
2/20/2019 08:48:09 am
Morgan, while you felt you had no words; your words are so impactful. I hope you all have some time to experience some of the lighter side of life now too. It puts into perspective how very privileged we are comparatively even when we are experiencing hardship.
2/20/2019 01:28:51 pm
Sounds like an incredibly moving experience - I wish all the world could experience the emotions you describe.
suzanne goren (max's grandmother)
2/20/2019 05:10:23 pm
It takes courage to stand where you have stood for the past few days, facing the ends to which hatred and ignorance can lead. My grandparents fled this part of the world around 1900, and I am sure that the ashes of those who stayed behind are in the grounds of the camps you visited. Now having seen the worst, I hope you also take time to celebrate life....eat, dance, laugh, have fun.
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