Sunday, June 15, 2008

Auschwitz

I was in Krakow for a couple of days, and I initially thought that I would try to avoid Auschwitz, which is only an hour and a half away. I've been to the Holocaust Museum in DC, so I know what happened and I've seen all of the sad family photographs and personal effects of people who died. and I wasn't sure I'd want to see an actual concentration camp and retrace the footsteps of so many people who suffered - does it get any more depressing than that? but in the end, I was convinced by my roommates at the hostel that, really, it's my duty to go once in life. so I went, and even though I'm glad I did, I never, ever want to go back.

everyone knows about Auschwitz, so I won't bother rehashing the history of the place. and I hope you've seen Schindler's List or something, because I didn't have the heart to take pictures. but the first thing you notice about Auschwitz is that it is huge. logically it should be, but I guess I never thought about the scale of the operation when I learned about it. but it's at least a kilometer long and wide.

the second thing you notice is how quiet it is. Poland is a beautifully green and fertile country that oozes with life, and even on the bus ride to Auschwitz, I was surprised to see how many thriving communities we passed -- I just assumed that everyone would be too freaked out to live anywhere near it, but no, life went on. when you get to Auschwitz, you're dropped off at Auschwitz-I, which has been converted to a museum; to get to Birkenau, the actual concentration camp, you have to either wait for an hourly bus or walk 3km. I walked the 3km and it was one of the quietest walks of my life, despite the fact I was walking on a main road with the occasional car passing by. I just assumed that I was imagining how quiet it was because I was feeling really solemn, but I figured out what it was once I got to Birkenau. Birkenau is, hands-down, the quietest place I've ever been. don't get me wrong, I've been to deserted islands and I was just in mongolia, which is one of the most remote places you can go. I know what quiet sounds like. but what I realized at Birkenau is that life has sound, even if one never stops to notice. It's only once you get to a place as lifeless and awful and unforgiving as Birkenau that you notice how much more quiet a place can get.

for me, it wasn't seeing the old barracks or even the ruins of the crematoriums that finally pounded in the devastation of what happened. it was all of the smaller details that are overlooked in textbooks and museums. like I would walk down a gravel path, and there would be a sign informing me that Jews who were chosen to be sent to the gas chamber immediately upon arrival would be herded down this path. or you can still see a lot of scratchings on the barrack walls made by the prisoners. or the one that really got to me -- Auschwitz has no shade, and it was a pretty hot day, so I veered off the path into the trees to cool off a bit. at one point, I came across a sign saying that when crematoriums were full, women and children used to wait among the trees for their turn to die.

I won't bother trying to analyze Auschwitz any further -- it's a personal experience that is different for everyone, and honestly I think it will take a long, long time to deconstruct everything I felt there. there's not much more to say about Auschwitz except that you should go once in your life, not only to honor the dead, but also to gain a new appreciation on the life you have.

2 comments:

corazon icasiano-francisco said...

The silence of the place tells a horrible story.

corazon icasiano-francisco said...

The silence of the place tells a horrible story.