[Warning: Some sensitive content]
I will never forget the way the sun shined down on the concentration camp of Auschwitz Birkenau, like the spirits of the camp were shining their memory across the place where they were suppose to be forgotten. It symbolized to me that the victims were in a better place and looking down in happiness because people are remembering their lives.
I have studied the Holocaust for over three years at my university in California, on a quest to understand how a horrible atrocity could happen on such a large scale and for as long it as it did (Hitler came to power in 1933 and the war ended in 1945). For years, asocials, homosexuals, communists, and especially Jews were targets for random acts of violence and deportations into the unknown because of their so called “non-Aryan” blood that the Nazis desired for the Third Reich. The three main camps of Auschwitz were a way for the Nazis to subject these groups that they deemed unworthy to live to violence, forced labor, starvation, and for many, being gassed to death in the gas chambers. Auschwitz I opened on April 1940, Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau) in October 1941, and Auschwitz III (Auschwitz- Monowitz) in October 1942.
It was truly an emotional experience to walk across the same dirt that millions of people marched to their death on. There were flowers placed on many parts of the grounds at Auschwitz I and clear pictures of the victims to remember and put faces to those who suffered. As we started the tour at Auschwitz I, we came to the sign “Arbeit macht frei” or “work will set you free.” However, this sign proved to be a lie, with the death rate of people being sent to Auschwitz at 1.1 million Jews and 200,000 other victims.
We continued through the site, and I stood speechless looking at the barbed wire, a reminder to the people in the camps that there was no escape. We continued on through bungalows with evidence of the horrors of the camp such as the room full of victims shoes. One room in particular that left me in tears was the room full of human hair, one of the many possessions that the Nazis stripped from the victims who were placed into the camp.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Krakow, Poland
The last step of the tour was to walk through one of the gas chambers. This was truly a haunting moment in touring the camp because chills went down my spine as we silently walked through where many men, women, children, and families perished.
The next stop was Auschwitz-Birkenau, the larger camp of Auschwitz. We first walked through the railroad track that went directly into the camp, where victims were forced off the train and were selected for death or work.
We walked into the the bunks, where people were suppose to fit sometimes six in a bed, cramped together on wood like animals. These tight and unsanitary conditions led to diseases such as typhus and caused a significant number of deaths in the camp.
We had free time after to walk through Auschwitz-Birkenau, where I found time for reflection and to take some time to breathe after what I had just seen. Especially with all the craziness that is happening in the world even in of 2016, it is important to remember that coming together peacefully can make such a positive difference and can prevent horrors like these from happening. Auschwitz is a way to remember a tragic part of Polish and world history by recognizing the suffering the victims faced during the Holocaust. The tour of the camp put a face and place to suffering and helped me remember I must always ask questions and act as a leader and a preventer of hate in order to keep atrocities like these from happening again. It was a life-changing experience for me because I could finally see the victims shining their memory down on me.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
– Elie Wiesel
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