A Harrowing Visit to Auschwitz, Poland
Where do I even begin with this post? If you have ever visited the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, I’m sure you’ll understand why I have struggled with how to express my feelings and have re-written these words a hundred times. There aren’t even enough words to describe what it’s like or to describe the horrors endured. If you haven’t been, I implore you to read on and see why you should.
If you saw this post, you’ll know that I recently travelled to Kraków for a city break with my boyfriend and some of our friends. On our third day in Poland, we got picked up by Damien and were driven to the infamous Auschwitz Concentration Camp. The weather was cold, moody and in-keeping with the day as thick clouds rumbled overhead. It would have felt almost wrong to have been where hundreds of thousands lost their lives on a sunny day.
With it being our first time there, Damien gave us an overview of Auschwitz’s history during the hour-long journey. Booking with a guide ensured that we learnt as much as we could and Damien was excellent. He described the events with compassion and respect, being sure that we learnt as much as possible. He also let us take in everything at our own pace, which allowed us to process the copious emotions that came upon us.
Auschwitz was originally split in to three camps: Auschwitz I, II (Birkenau) and III (Monowitz). And over one million people died there. Only the first two camps now remain, the third having been demolished. Although the camps felt familiar from photographs and documentaries seen or books read, each was still harrowing to walk through.
One of the most gut-wrenching moments for me – and the others – was walking in to the building which contained physical evidence of crime and injustices. One room in particular was full of shoes. Just shoes, nothing else. There were thousands. It simply astounded me and I couldn’t comprehend the volume. The emotions especially hit, with a force, when we passed the children’s shoes in particular.
Another heart-breaking moment was when we passed through the remaining gas chamber. And in particular, seeing scratch marks on the walls where people were fighting to escape. It was horrific and made me feel sick to my stomach that anything like the Holocaust ever happened.
After Auschwitz, Damien drove us to Birkenau and let us walk through the camp. Although the Nazis destroyed some of the buildings in an attempt to cover up their crimes, a lot of Birkenau is still standing. Walking the grounds felt eerie and I couldn’t help but think of the mass of people that died there.
The memorial inscription above reads: “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”.
Something that our group noticed and were disgusted by, was the amount of people posing for photos at Birkenau. Especially by those who had smiles on their faces. It was completely disrespectful and distasteful. If you visit the camps, take photographs of the buildings, but please show some respect by not posing for photos yourself. Keep in mind the amount of lives lost and blood spilt, think of the survivors and families left behind. Be a decent human being and think about someone else. Don’t think about yourself and whether that image will get you more Instagram likes. It’s offensive and despicable behaviour. Rant over.
Even though the day was a very difficult one, I would implore everyone to visit Auschwitz once in their lifetime. Go to remember those who had their lives taken from them. Visit to remember the barbaric atrocities that went on. Go to understand why it or anything like it should never happen again. Visit to simply pay your respects. Whatever your reasons, just do it. You’ll soon come to realise the value of your life and how much more appreciative you should be, we sure did.
To end this post, I would like to leave you with two very poignant quotes from Holocaust survivors:
“We may not live in the past but the past lives in us.” – Samuel Pisar.
“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” – Elie Wiesel.