Reflections on Auschwitz-Birkenau
13 March 2019
On the 13th of February 2019 at around 10:30am, we landed in Krakow, Poland, to spend the day at the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The cold weather and grey sky truly mimicked the feelings of standing on the grounds that an estimated 1.1 million Jewish people were killed on.
Arriving into Auschwitz we were surprised as to how close the camp was to the town of Oświęcim, no more than a 10-minute drive from the town we had just been touring, looking at modern coffee shops and an old synagogue that has been turned into a Jewish Museum and memorial.
We were shocked to see that the camp was not hidden away in the countryside as we had previously imagined, it however was in clear site on the side of a motorway which we imagine is seen everyday by local people on their daily travels to work. As we entered the camp, our tour guide stopped us to speak to us about the sign above our heads.
“Arbeit Macht Frei” hung above our heads, in English meaning ‘Work Sets You Free’, a cynical lie told to prisoners entering the camp at the time.
The day as a whole filled us with many emotions, mainly of upset and anger towards the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Our largest upset was felt upon looking at a cabinet filled with two tons of the seven tons of human hair that was found after the liberation of the camp in 1945.
Our eyes teared up at the thought of being stripped of our identities. Further viewings of piles of glasses and shoes enhanced our feeling of sadness. As two people who both wear glasses we couldn’t imagine having something as simple as our ability to see around us taken away from us.
The final part of our trip to Auschwitz 1 before going to Birkenau (also known as Auschwitz II) was being taken for a quick tour in the gas chamber, the room where countless amounts of people lost their lives. The stone building was dark, damp and immediately made both our chests tighten. While beginning to panic, our brains knew what had happened in this room and couldn’t imagine how the victims of the gas chambers felt if we were feeling this way myself.
It began to get dark as we went to Birkenau and the weather became suddenly colder. While thinking about how cold we were, we couldn’t help but try to imagine how the prisoners felt in only a thin pair of striped pajamas and slippers. Our day later ended in the evening with a memorial service to the people who lost their lives at the sites of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The long walk out of the camp felt wrong. We were taking a walk out of the camp that many many people never got to take. We left feeling saddened by what we had saw that day. Witnessing a place of attempted mass extermination makes it hard to return to your daily life and continue taking things for granted. We spent the next few days thinking a lot about what we had saw that day and even now reflect on that day very often. The main message we left with on that day and now tell people is that we as a human race can never let anything like the Holocaust happen ever again.