Memorable Auschwitz

Trip Start Sep 11, 2005
Trip End Dec 13, 2005

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Today we went on a heartfelt journey. It was one that broadened my perspective and will surely haunt me for a long time. Today we went to Auschwitz. As we took the bus ride into town I was already not feeling well. Some of that was from the bus ride, and the rest of it was from the reality which I was about to experience. You can see it in the movies, or read it in a book, but because we see so much fiction I think the reality of it is somewhat hidden. Today there was no hiding the tragedy which took place here.

In the past when I thought of Auschwitz I thought that it was a concentration camp that killed many people. I thought of it as one big death camp. Actually it is made up of two areas that are kind of like college campuses, or barracks. Auschwitz 1 was originally Poland's barracks for their military. When the Nazis took over this area they decided to change the practices which took place here. Because it was on a major railway line and out in the country, it would be easy to gather people here and to keep it hidden. So much of what happened here was wrapped in deception.

Initially the Polish political prisoners were kept here and the grounds were to be used with termination of the Polish people. It ended up that various groups of people were sent here in masses. The Jews were obviously the largest group of people who suffered here. I was not aware that many others did as well. Many prisoners of war from various countries, Gypsies, homosexuals, political leaders, medical scientist, and others were brought here to be used and executed. Just mentioning this place brought terror to mind, and it should.

As we entered the grounds we passed under a sign that translated to mean, Work Makes You Free. It made me shudder, what a lie they were telling. This was not the first lie the Jews had been given. Many of them were told they would be moving to a new area and had even purchased homes and land from the Nazi government. They were to bring their most prized possessions with them, and they did. Of course these were gathered up and stolen from them.

Robbery, that word describes for me much of what took place here. People were robbed of their life, their belongings, their family, their pride, and their humanity. I hope that deep down they claimed their dreams and their Savior and would not allow them to be taken. I am sure that was very difficult though.

The question that I am most faced with is how did this happen? That question brings many more that follow. How do individuals hurt others so dramatically? How could they sleep at night? What rationalizations occurred each day? Why did God allow it? Was Satan in control of these people? How do you hurt children? The list goes on and on.

As I went through the various blocks at Auschwitz 1 I was impacted in many ways. The thing that hit me the hardest there was the gathering of the belongings, the many locks of hair, and especially the children's clothing. Since I work with children I started thinking about my experiences with them. I would do anything to protect them, encourage them, and prepare them for life. I can't imagine people choosing to bring about suffering and death for so many of them. I would see the adorable pictures of these kids and not comprehend how people lead them to their death. It does not make sense to me.

I also thought about my brother David, and my husband Charlie, blonde hair, blue eyed beautiful baby boys. They might have been saved, Germanized, and been allowed to live their life. They had what it takes, a few simple physical features, and of course good health and a good mind. Did these people think they were God?

Usually I blame Hitler for the devastation which occurred. Now that has been broadened. One man could not have killed one and a half million people at Auschwitz. He had to have help and support and he got plenty of it. Thousands of people helped to murder the many victims of Auschwitz. It is heart wrenching and uncomprehendable.

As you walk the grounds you are able to see photos of all that took place here and the many people that were lead here to die. Picture after picture showed somber faces. People who knew their fate was near. Once official told the people shortly after entry, the only way to leave this place was through the chimney. For over a million, that was the case. I stood in the chamber where the victims were gassed. My heart ached. Then passing through a simple door you see the crematorium where the bodies were burned. Like garbage they were burned away casting ashes into the sky, finally being set free.

Auschwitz 1 was powerful, and opened my eyes to the tragedy that so many experienced. I had no idea that it was just beginning. We took a bus over to Auschwitz 2, Birkenau. I wasn't sure what to expect.

Auschwitz 1 was not big enough or efficient enough for the Nazis. Their goal was to kill the entire Jewish race and anyone who did not meet their qualifications for survival. They needed a place that could do this quickly and effectively. Birkenau, or Auschwitz 2, was designed for this purpose. The people who had been assigned to slave labor did an excellent job of building this treacherous compound. It was huge, covering 425 acres, just the immense sight of it brought fear.

Building after building were built to house prisoners until it was their time to die. Of course if they could not work, their time was up. We wandered across the grounds peeking into the windows of these housing units. I was still curious for more. We found an open door and I was somehow changed. I now believe in ghosts. If anything in this world is haunted, it is this place. Chills ran up my spine as I wandered the various rooms where the victims were housed. I thought about the fear which had to penetrate their soul, and the suffering they were experiencing. I wished I could find a way to save them from their awful fate. The coward in me instead ran for the door, I had the freedom to walk away from this nightmare. They did not.

The fresh air brought a calmness, and a quiet drizzle of rain fell from the sky. I wondered if they were tears. Tears of the many who had suffered here, tears of my God as He too remembered what happened, tears of joy from those who were rescued by death. Tears had been gripping my eyes so many times throughout the day. Charlie and I walked the entire grounds of this place. I thought about the paths I was taking, and how many had preceded me. I hoped that in the midst of their terror they were granted seconds of peace and joy.

I thought about the paths they took leading to their death, and saw the ruins of the five gas chambers built to efficiently kill thousands in a days time. I walked the train tracks that lead many to their death. Thousands came here for no other reason that to die. The tracks lead straight to the death chambers. They were told they would be getting a shower before they entered the camp. The Nazis didn't want utter panic, so they surrounded so many things with lies. The people undressed, the Nazis didn't want to waste their clothing, and headed down the corridor to the "shower." They were never greeted with that refreshing shower, but instead crystals of Cyclon B. When the crystals hit their skin the poison was released, and their death occurred within a few minutes. The bodies were examined for anything of value and then taken to the next room to be burnt. The ashes which remained were dumped into a pond.

As we walked around we realized that if this place had been used for other purposes, it was actually a pretty place. The trees near the back set a beautiful scene. We then learned that if the train dropped off a group and the gas chambers were full, the people would wait in the trees until it was their turn. Somehow the trees looked a bit different after that. They held the final exchanges of many people. They saw the turmoil and witnessed the horror. Sadly, they survived and the people did not.

Overcome with all that we were experiencing, we missed the last bus leaving the grounds. I couldn't imagine being left here for even one night. The five years of torture which had occurred here could still be felt. It is still lurking in my heart. I pray that nothing like this ever happens again. Yet the people who it happened to thought this type of thing would never happen in their country. I think the same thing, could I be proven wrong? I desperately hope not.

We were able to catch a taxi back to Auschwitz 1 and find another bus home. I was saved from spending the night here, although I can't seem to escape the ghosts which haunt this experience. This place holds a strong message, one that is not easily forgotten, nor should it be. As I ate my dinner I thought about the many who died of starvation and disease. No matter where I am, I am still being given a reality check from my visit to this terrible place. I am thankful that the place is still there for us to see. The Nazis tried to burn it down and hide the treachery which took place, but they were not successful. The message lives on.

I am sure the message is unique for each individual and ever-changing. Walking through this place is one that cannot be adequately described. Every time I try to wrap my mind around it, I am again blown away. I am grateful for the experience. I am confident I will reflect back on it often gaining a new message each time. The people of this place are still talking and I am sure they have a great deal to say to many people. I hope we will continue to listen.
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