I think that often times, my generation feels that World War II is so far away, because we couldn’t imagine ourselves letting atrocities such as Auschwitz happen. However, it’s only been 67 years.
In 2010, I visited Auschwitz, trying to get a feel for what happened there. It was controversial to go- I did not want in any way to feel like a “tourist”- this is a terrible place, where lives where lost in despicable ways. It was haunting how mathematical and efficient everything at the camp was- it was almost as though once one walked under the sign, “Arbeit macht frei” (Work will make you free), that humanity was erased.
When Hannah and I went, we weren’t prepared for how emotionally exhausted we would end up being. It was spring in Poland when we visited, and flowers were blooming on the grass in the camp. It felt eerie to see life sprouting in this place. We went through and saw photographs of all the prisoners , before they tattooed the serial numbers on their arms. Exhibits of the Zyklon-B cyanide tins they used to kill people in the “showers” were on display, as well as a massive glass case of hair- slowly turning into colorless reminders.
We made the walk along a street with cars to Birkenau, the second part of Auschwitz. Again, the out-of-body feeling came on, because we were walking down a sunny street on a place bordering a town, walking to a heinous place where unspeakable things occurred. The railroad tracks are still in place, and the barbed wire remains. Hannah and I felt so drained by the whole thing. We left Auschwitz on a small Polish bus (which was really just a van) and Hannah promptly fell asleep due to all of the things we had just seen. I stayed awake, watching the country side change into Krakow.
May we never forget.