I debated about writing this post for awhile now, but I decided it was important for people to know and thoroughly understand what happened there. It’s been almost 80 years since the Nazis started their plan of mass extermination for the Jews of Europe and we cannot let it be forgotten.
For me, ever since I first picked up The Diary of Anne Frank when I was a little girl, I became fascinated with the Holocaust and WWII. After reading dozens of books about the Holocaust and infamous Concentration Camp, Auschwitz, I told myself I would visit soon, before it was all gone. Last April, I got to cross that goal off of my bucket list. My fiance and I traveled to Poland for literally 24 hours, just to visit Auschwitz, the largest of the death camps during WWII.
The camp is about 2 hours outside of the city of Kraków by bus. We booked an English speaking tour that picked us up right from our hotel. Once we were headed out to the country side, we were prepared for the tour with a documentary of the all too familiar sights of what had happened there.
Our first stop was the Auschwitz Camp 1. This camp was mainly for prisoners of war and processing paperwork. Just as the sky darkened and rain drops began to fall, we were greeted by the famous sign “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translates to “Work Sets You Free.” This camp outlined more of the logistics for us as well as showing the horrors the Nazis tried to cover up. When the allies finally reached Auschwitz, most of the objects taken from the Jewish, whom were sent there had been burned. Only 1% of everything in total remained. Shoes, hair brushes, actual strands of hair, eye glasses, suit cases, and photos were all displayed in front of our eyes from those who could not escape this reign of terror.
The next stop was what a lot of people actually think of when someone mentions Auschwitz. It is the camp where most of the prisoners were kept and killed. This was the place that, en route to, scared prisoners jumped out of the cattle cars to meet their deaths. Most of the wooden barracks have disintegrated, but the train tracks and ruins of the gas chambers still stand. During this part of our tour, it started pouring rain in 30 degree weather, and my mind instantly wondered how people could survive in these conditions without so much as a jacket or extra pair of clothes. The horrors were again intensified when we visited one of the last standing stone barracks. In these barracks, we were confronted with rows on rows of shelving. Each one of these shelves held 3 prisoners or more, the only comfort was a thin layer of straw.
Visiting Auschwitz was a look into the horrors of the past, and not to mention the inclement weather seemed fitting, only helping me realize and appreciate what I have now. These people who were sent there had their families, homes, lives and identities stripped away all for a senseless and inhuman ideal; those who were affected, the events and horrors that took place should not be forgotten. I am lucky that I was able to visit this place that seems so unreal in books, only to be reminded that they not just stories, but lives lived.