Auschwitz, I will remember ...
I peer through the glass display, I want to dry-retch, but tears come up first. It was the piles of hacked-off hair that got to me the most—a big matted mass of plaits and ponytails. Two tonnes of hair were cut off and stolen by the Nazis to be used to make haircloth; fabric made of human hair.
“When the cold scissors touch my scalp and my hair slowly falls down, I can’t help it; my tears fall down, mixed with my black curls.” * Anna remembers her ordeal upon arriving at Auschwitz, being stripped naked and having her hair cut off. I think I saw a clump of black curls in the piles of hair tangled, all wiry like wool.
I slowly walk past another glass display. 43,000 pairs of shoes were found in the camp on the day of liberation. Piles and piles of shoes. Who was the woman who wore the red sandals? When she entered the camp and walked under the metal sign marked “Work Will Set You Free”, did she know she’d be gassed to death immediately … like Sarah Wiese and her daughter Tziporal? Or maybe that woman with the red sandals wasn’t gassed; maybe she was one of the young married women processed to Block 10, so Dr Carl Clauberg could inject her for sterilization testing.
My eyes zoomed in on a tiny brown boot sitting all alone in a corner. Who was the red-cheeked toddler clinging to his mother in the cold, screaming as daddy was directed to the right? His daddy, loaded onto a train, a prisoner, a slave, tattooed with a number, only to die of exhaustion two months later. The child would never see his daddy again.
I stare into piles of tangled spectacles, a symbolic sea of living, breathing, loving people with mothers, fathers, children, and feelings. Who wore those mangled glasses before they were mangled? Freddie, the Polish Dentist or Rudolf, the businessman from Czechoslovakia, or Benjamin, the Jewish poet, or Etty, the writer? All dead. We’ll never know!
I saw so many faces hanging in the Extermination block. Men, women, young and old. I stare into the sweet eyes of the twins, Maria and Czeslawa Krajewska. I’m sickened at the thought of the torture they must have endured. And how brutal their parting must have been. I keep walking down the dark corridor. Faces, faces, faces. Striped pyjama uniforms. Their names taken and replaced with a number that became their name.
The stench of death burns my nostrils, stings my eyes. A wave of emotion hits my gut, and again, I struggle not to vomit. I have to get out of this dark corridor!
At least 1.1 million people died a cruel death at Auschwitz-Birkenau. People just like you and me. People who another group of people decided weren’t worthy of freedom, weren’t worthy of being treated with basic human dignity or even worthy of life itself.
The Nazis stole their freedom, their dignity and their life; they reduced these beautiful, living people to nothing. Dehumanizing them to a burning rubbish heap. Bodies beaten, kicked, injected, experimented on, shot, sent to gas chambers. Killed and bulldozed like garbage. Dehumanized, thrown about, piled up just like the plastic in the sea we are all trying to clean up.
Though difficult to witness the atrocities of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the experience of visiting this historic place has reminded me of two powerful lessons …
LESSON 1: To be more conscious of my thinking toward people different from me. To do my best never to judge another person for their beliefs, race, religion, status, occupation or life choices. This is where dehumanization starts. Never let it happen again! Racism, bigotry and judgment still go on today, even in subtle ways. You and I may not be killing people with guns and gas chambers, but are we ‘killing’ them, hitting them right in the heart with our words, our eyes, our judgments, our avoidance, our shunning?
LESSON 2: Cherish your freedom. If you’re privileged to enjoy free will and free choice without punishment, don’t ever take it for granted; use it for good. Use your freedom to spread LOVE. Hold your precious freedom and never give it away freely to any other person, organization or society.
Over a million human beings had their freedom stolen at Auschwitz-Birkenau alone - their very lives taken because of their race, religion, age, affiliations, occupation or lifestyle choices.
Be the person that accepts everyone in love. Never let this happen again. We are all human. We are feeling, human beings, each and every one of us. We all have a right to freedom.
I have come back about 6 weeks ago and just now, re-looked at all the photos. I was also taken by Maria and am going to tattoo her number and initials on my arm in remembrance and that she is not lost in the millions. I’m still
Processing everything I saw. Maria has stolen my heart.
Wow Anne. I understand about the still processing. It’s unbelievable because it’s modern history … thank you for sharing your experience.
I visited Dachau in my 20’s. It took me weeks to shake off the feelings of horror and disbelief of what humans are capable of. I can still see the photos and feel the emotions of that place at age 63.Life changing .
It really is Cynthia. Makes you think about life and our freedoms. It also causes me to look at myself and ask would have I been willing to stand up against the tyranny.
[…] social studies teacher. I would become a leader who would protect human rights and make sure another genocide wouldn’t ever happen. […]
Holocaust is one of the saddest part of world history. So many people were murdered just because they belonged to some other religion. And you rightly mentioned in the last that we should cherish our life as we are the privileged one with the freedom.
Beautifully written post about a very sensitive subject. Fascinating reading and a place I’m very interested to visit and learn more about this horrific part of history.
There is so much to be said here, but I’m going to focus on your lessons. I dream of and pray for a world where no one is judged and everyone has basic human rights. Sadly, we are far from it. Even something as simple and basic as being a mom and raising our kids comes with so much judgment. Oh, the looks you get when your kid has a meltdown in public! And our medical freedoms are being stripped from us. New York just banned all religious exemptions to vaccines. I’m not up for a vaccine debate, but I stand for basic human rights and they are being stripped away. Thank you for this article and reminders of this unthinkable time in history. I just started reading We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter and it’s tough to get through it 🙁
Quite an impactful exhibition and thanks for sharing with us. Wish to see it and experience the message myself in person one day. @ knycx journeying
It would be very difficult for me to visit here, but it is part of our history and we need to learn from it. Just like your lesson #1 says, NEVER let it happen again!
Very touchy one, and can’t imagine such kind of brutal and shocking things happened. Those two lessons are indeed powerful.
Thank you for this photos, posting and sharing your feelings… never be forgotten!
Such a sensitive article on a very difficult issue. It’s so important that we see places like this so that they can never be forgotten but it’s not an easy thing to experience.
So true Angela. I watched the Netflix series “When They See Us” … so powerful and later watched the interviews. The term that stuck in my mind, was ‘It’s to easy but necessary’. Thank you for your comment.
I was here earlier in the year. It was so heavy with grief and horror. Although all of it was emotionally charged and quite difficult, I found the gas chambers and the prison cells to be the worst.
I was only a teen when I was handed a book on that prison camp to read. It was shocking and I could hardly read it. Man’s inhumanity to man
Yes, it is shocking – when you think that it wasn’t that long ago. These things are difficult to see, but so important that we do open our eyes to what happens around us. Thank you for your comment.
My friend visited and said the smell was something she would never forget. Thank you for posting and sharing your thoughts and feelings.
I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau a few months ago and it was a crippling visit. I still can’t even put into words how I felt when I was there. It was so surreal to be visiting places where such horrible things happened. I’ll never be the same after visiting. I love the lessons that you included at the end. They’re both great lessons that we should all remember. Thank you for sharing this post!