Not the happiest of days
Trip Start Jun 02, 2010
46Trip End Oct 03, 2010
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I had been staying in Krakow for 2 nights already and had seen much of the very beautiful city. So I decided that my last day in Krakow, and subsequently my last day in Poland, I should go to Auschwitz. "Why would you want to go to Auschwitz?" It is not so much that I wanted to go, as much as I felt I should go
Immediately I could tell it was going to be a long day. The train took much longer than I had been told it would. Then, when I got to Oswiecim, the city where Auschwitz is based, I had no idea how to find the actual camp. There were no signs and I could find no one who spoke any English, as usual. I finally managed to find some American guys and asked them how to get there. They told me to take the number 1 bus, so I did. Unfortunately I took it in the wrong direction. So an hour later I had had a nice tour of the entire city of Oswiecim and still had no idea how to get to the Muzeum. Luckily the bus driver knew what I meant when I said "Auschwitz-Berkenau" and using my body language reading skills I was able to determine that he would let me know what stop to get off at for the Muzeum. And the good man did and I finally arrived at my destination at 3:30 in the afternoon.
And I just managed to miss the last guided tour. However, I don't know if I would have taken it anyway. It doesn't feel right paying to be taken into a place where millions of people were forced to live. The whole experience was actually very off-putting. Here you see the barbed wire fences, the barracks, and the gas chambers that are so infamous and all the while people all around you are taking photographs as though it is just another tourist spot. It merely added to the immense discomfort I already felt. So I walked around the Auschwitz I camp, which is mostly still intact. The majority of the buildings in this place still stand and you can still walk into the gas chambers where thousands were murdered. The Muzeum has also placed signs everywhere as well as pictures to show exactly what living conditions were like. It was extremely difficult walking into building after building and seeing atrocity after atrocity, but it is something that I think needs to happen.
However, the most moving and distressing part of this trip was seeing the Auschwitz II-Berkenau camp. This is the main camp that everyone thinks of when they think of Auschwitz. You get off the shuttle right in front of the train tracks where hundreds of thousands of people were brought to die, in one way or another. And then you walk inside the camp. I cannot describe how powerful the sight is. Almost all of the wooden barracks were burnt down when the Nazis attempted to get rid of the physical evidence of this horrible place. All that remained were the brick chimneys. So all you can see is acres upon acres of brick chimneys, standing among barren land. Sure, I had seen pictures before, but nothing can ever compare to seeing it right in front of you. In school, when we learn about the horrible crimes that were committed in these camps we can still manage to keep ourselves at a distance from the whole occurrence. We are always slightly detached because it is treated like a far off history, one that we are told we shouldn't forget but that we still keep at the back of our minds. But when you are standing on that cursed ground, and you see the ruins of the place that bore witness to the worst crimes that man can commit against man everything changes. You can no longer be detached from these horrible acts because they are no longer merely pictures in a book, they are now tangible.
As I stood behind one of the few remaining barracks, looking out over the sea of brick, I suddenly began to weep. A cynic may say I was just overly emotional, but I think it was more than that. How can anyone look at this place, knowing what happened; knowing how many lives were destroyed, how many men, women and children were denied their basic human right to life; knowing that we as people are capable of doing such unimaginable things to our friends and neighbors; Knowing all this how can anyone look at this place and not cry? I stood there so disgusted that this could have happened. That the human race allowed this to happen. For we are no longer the barbarians that we once were. We were supposed to be enlightened thinkers, coming into the new century with open minds and open hearts. And still, millions of people were killed because of their religion, their race, or their nationality. How could we have allowed this to happen? And what's worse, could it happen again? We all like to think not, but the further it gets in history, the more we detach ourselves from the crimes of WWII, the easier it becomes for us to repeat what should never have happened in the first place. I like to maintain a sense of hope when it comes to the human race. But in a place like Auschwitz, hope is a foreign word that has no meaning.
I walked around for a while longer, attempting to wrap my head around what it must have been like to live and die in such a place. But I know I will never be able to. You can visit a place, but you can never know the pain, loss, and utter despair that was felt in this camp. As heart-wrenching as the experience was, as difficult as it was to get there and back, visiting Auschwitz was probably one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. By definition it is just a place, but once you visit it becomes a reminder. A reminder of all that occurred there and all that we must never let happen again. And it is also a reminder that no matter what challenges I may face in my life, no matter how upsetting a day, or how disappointing a year, I am blessed. I have been given a wonderful family, amazing friends, and a beautiful life. And that is why I think sharing this experience is so important. We must never forget all those who lost their lives because of hate and fear and we must always remember to live our lives in love and acceptance so that the victims of WWII will not have died in vain.