Right after our visit to the Salt Mines and a quick fastfood lunch detour, we drove straight to the first of our next two destinations and reached Auschwitz I, the infamous camp of unbelievable horrors 80 kilometers west of Krakow. We arrived at 3 pm, the peak afternoon sunshine beating down and with temps in the mid-30s, the conditions for contemplation weren’t at all ideal. Given the location’s history and context though any complaints about discomfort would have been tone-deaf if not highly insulting. Mentally prepared as much as possible for what we could see and hear, firmed up perhaps by our visit to the Oskar Schindler Factory the day before, it was still hard to tell how much more horror would be on display this time around but it was time to finally find out.
Originally created as a Polish military camp, it was taken over by the Germans who had only the most unspeakable plans in mind. When the camp became too small for their operation, Auschwitz II was created close by – much larger and consequently even more horrific than the first.
Each and every object, shoe, clothing, portrait, and bunker left behind represented unimaginable levels of loneliness, desperation, and despair of those others, the atmosphere at both Auschwitz I and II wasn’t close to anything life-affirming and putting myself in their position, with the relative comforts and notions I’ve been accustomed to, it would have been a quick end for me in any situation.
Given the many stories, documentaries, and films covering the subject, it was easy to get more acquainted with this horrific period in human history – an event denied by some, mourned by many, and slowly ignored or forgotten by an increasing number. Personally, it wasn’t hard at all imagining I was one of those unfortunate others singled out, separated from family, sent elsewhere to be hidden, and eventually exterminated, randomly or not, for being different. This was the world that millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, and many other groups lived in just 80 years ago. Auschwitz is a somber, sobering place, made more immediate by near-similar events going on in many parts of the world. While telling this story over and over again may have little effect on some, by doing so it’s with some hope that most will see how actually connected we all are, and that our commonalities far outweigh the easily-noticed differences. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure this is never overlooked.