I was in two minds whether or not to visit Auschwitz – a part of our history which conjures up different emotions in each and every one of us. But how do you come to Krakow – possibly a once in a lifetime visit – and not honour those who lost their lives during one of our darkest moments in time, by remembering their horrific journey.
Surprisingly my emotions were stable. I guess having read their story many times over and seen movies based on their torture, my visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau was merely a realization that – My God – this really happened.
The visit took you through their journey recounting the hopes and dreams they had when taking the train with their most precious belongings – just one suitcase was allowed – and of course their spouses and children. I could only imagine the happiness which filled the mother’s heart as she felt that she was being given a chance to make a new life for her family – and the father’s comfort in believing that he would be able to continue to care for and protect his spouse and young ones.
Their shattered dreams became a reality upon seeing their belongings piled high in glass cases -mountains of shoes, hair brushes, pots and pans, religious ornaments and praying mats. Suitcases with their names and addresses – a sign of hope and expectation – giving you an idea of the numbers of persons who lost and died at the hands of this tyrant.
Their living or rather ‘existing’ quarters, the gas chambers, the punishment rooms where four prisoners were made to stand in a 3 foot square room overnight after a hard day’s work, or the rooms where they were left to starve for no apparent reason, filled your imagination, and only your imagination, of what their ordeal might have been like. None of us could possibly understand the depth of their sadness, their humiliation, their loss.
The pictures of some of the inmates who were registered gave you a glimpse of what they may have been thinking. Women, with hollow eyes, grieving over their lost children. The father’s defiance and anger captured in their faces as they swore, albeit secretly, to avenge the death of their family.
As you leave, you pray that our world will never see this type of tyranny again – and you realize even before the end of your silent prayer, that nothing, nothing much has changed. Our world is still at war at many different levels. But you continue to pray and do your part.
May we each find some way, no matter how small, to bring peace to those around us.