Just over a year ago now I visited Auschwitz with my school on a History trip. I did not know what to expect. I mean I knew what happened - I had learnt about it in school; watched programmes about it; read books written on it but with all the knowledge on the Holocaust in the world nothing could prepare you for visiting Auschwitz. You can try and picture the horrors but no matter how many pictures you have seen; irrespective of the videos you have watched and regardless of the knowledge you think you have acquired, nothing will quite compare to actually walking around the crumbling death camp and experiencing the surroundings that were, for 1.5 million people, the last things they saw before their lives were cruelly taken. Sometimes I go through the pictures I took, 4 of which appear here, and try and remember how I felt walking around taking them but I simply can't. It is a place you have to experience to understand.
|"To the memory |
of the men, women and children who
fell victim to the Nazi Genocide.
Here lie their ashes
May their souls rest in peace."
It is impossible to take everything in. As I walked around, I was constantly hit by the thought, "This is a place that people were brought to be killed, the purpose of every building on this vast patch of land was to aid, in some way, with the killing of innocent people." Just think about that for a minute. It rendered me immobile on many occasions, whether I had just seen what remained of living quarters or heard stories of children being instantly separated from their parents. The whole thing is literally incredible.
Every so often I would walk close enough to the guide to hear what she was saying. Almost every time it shocked me, just when you thought the horrors of Auschwitz could not get any greater, they would. The most chilling comment, the comment that I can still picture her saying was as we were stood next to one of the memorials (to the left above). There were quite a few of those stone blocks dotted around, always appearing as fours - in Hebrew, English, Roma and Polish. We'd stopped, broadly in our group, gathered around the first set of four we'd come across when she uttered a few words that shocked me to my very core:
"...And it is a sad fact that wherever you walk in Auschwitz you are walking on the ashes of people whose bodies were burnt after the Nazis murdered them..."
She went on but I do not remember what else she said. I lifted my foot up nervously. You could not see anything other than grass but to imagine that, with certainty, you had stepped on the ashes of someone murdered by the Nazis, perhaps even a child, was an image that I do not think I will ever be able to erase from my mind.
I had never heard so little from a group of Habs Boys before. Of course you could argue that is not surprising. Sure Habs Boys are loud and whatever else, but when it comes to it very few people, least of all supposedly intelligent ones, could be disrespectful walking around Auschwitz, so of course they were quiet, they were just being respectful. There was something else though. There was a feeling, at least for me, that even if I tried to speak words would not come out. That is what Auschwitz does to you, it renders you speechless so shocked you are by what happened on the very ground you are walking.
If you have not been to Auschwitz, I would recommend it as an experience that is incomparable to any other. You will not enjoy it, that is not the point, but you will learn a huge amount about the unspeakable inhumanity that humanity can show. A lesson that, unfortunately, remains needing teaching. Dwight D. Eisenhower said of the Holocaust:
“Get it all on record now - get the films - get the witnesses -because somewhere down the road of history some bastard will get up and say that this never happened,”
and how right he was.
The systematic plans to exterminate an entire race of people from the face of the Earth is something that, hopefully, we will never ever witness again. That is what we mean when we say never again.
|Those words will stay with me for the rest of my life|
I've been to Auschwitz too, one of the most harrowing experiences of history you can have. The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is also a moving place to visit- have you been there?ReplyDelete
I've not, no. In fact I've not been to any Holocaust memorials outside of Poland - we visited a a couple of memorials and other concentration camps on the trip. I should go to the one in Jerusalem really, I go to Israel often enough!Delete
There's lots of good stuff in Berlin that's well worth a look at, was there a week or so ago, was very informativeDelete
A great piece Raph, in fact I distinctly remember that feeling of barely being able to open my mouth - an extremely moving experienceReplyDelete
Thank you Harry, I hope all is well!Delete