I went to Auschwitz today. The sky had clouds over it and the rain fell softly. Slowly. What does it feel like to stand on the grave of one and a half million?
Auschwitz was all red brick barracks and dirt. It had two layers of barbed-wire fencing surrounding it. Its wires twisting and twisting and tangling and electric running through their veins. Halt! A sign said.
The buildings were lined up; even rows, methodical, clinical…just as the Nazis were. They’re thick and heavy buildings and as we walked through them there were rooms showing how they lived. Floors of hay; animals’ beds. After a visit from Himmel, bunks then filled the rooms to accommodate more prisoners, where up to 12 men slept per bed. Within the buildings, picture-walls of aged faces stared out with sunken eyes; these were the prisoners, these were the lost. Most lasted only 3-6 months in Auschwitz as they slowly starved to death or worked themselves to exhaustion.
And then we came to rooms filled with the belongings of the murdered. A room of eye-glasses. A room of brushes. A room of children’s shoes, ornate and decorated as they should be. A room of adult shoes. A room of suitcases; labeled with names and ages because they thought they were getting them back. And a room of human hair. Piled high. Discolored with age but still there. Still there. Remnants of life.
Barrack 11 housed cells. Where people were tortured with starvation, suffocation and standing.
We walked into the last standing crematorium. The others were destroyed by the SS a few days before the liberation of the camp. We walked down into its body. Pressing. Hundreds of thousands were killed in that room. In that room of concrete. Of dark. Of heaviness. And their screams could be heard from above, on land. The Nazis ran car engines to disguise the sound of despair. So when we were down in the room’s depths, we kept silent in respect. There is a furnace place where trays of bodies were placed in and cremated, by the hundreds. And to know that the SS Commander lived with his wife and two children in a house with a beautiful garden, too beautiful to move from, about 50 meters from the chamber.
This was Auschwitz, and we’d yet to see Auschwitz-Birkenau.
This second Auschwitz was 400 acres of death camp.
There was a brick entrance and steel gates which were only opened to bring in the trains filled with Jews. It was bare. The land was stripped bare. Rows of housing made from wood filled the space. Now, most are shells of the structures they were with just the chimney spines left. Inside one of the few buildings left standing were lines of bunks softened only by a bed of hay. I was cold and it’s summer, what must winter have felt like? The barracks had gaping holes in the roof, are dank-dark and had a chimney that was barely ever used because of Nazi prisoner rationing. The toilets are humiliating. They were only given a few seconds to use them, then came punishment.
We walked the train track. And stopped where ‘selection’ was carried out. Men and boys to work, women and children and elderly and injured to death. Right, left, right, right, left.
Then we walked their final walk. A memorial rests between the two giant crematoriums. The Nazis blew them up just days before Poland’s liberation but their crumbled structure of bricks and mortar are still there. Nothing could hide what these buildings were used for. Nothing ever should cover it. It is not to be forgotten. Remember so as to not forget and repeat.