I’ve been trying to write down today’s impressions for over an hour and I don’t know where to start. Of course I’ve read a lot about Auschwitz, also these days in the wake of my visit. But seeing the place is completely different. I’ve seen death camps before, like Oranienburg close to Berlin or the Choeung Ek memorial in Cambodia. I’ve also been at places that have seen death at massive scale, like the WWI battlefields or Stalingrad.
Early this morning I went to see the Auschwitz-Birkenau site. The parking space was empty, and when I walked towards the gate a sombre feeling overtook me. There was no ticket counter, a group walked into and I just followed. And suddenly I stood in the middle of this immense field, where mostly concrete frames and red brick chimney remains still stand of what were barracks of this camp. Birkenau, or Auschwitz II, was an extermination camp (Vernichtungslager), not just a concentration camp. This place was built to kill, on an industrial scale.
I won’t go into the details of “I saw this and did that”, it’s irrelevant here. Pics are at the bottom. There was a building still standing that was used to shower newly arrived detainees. I learnt from the exhibit that on one side people came in, on the other side anonymous, shaved, barely dressed beings with a number tattooed on their arms came out. It says that people would barely recognise themselves.
Besides the smaller gas chambers and crematoriums there were pictures of how the dead bodies of the gassed victims were burned in a corner of the camp, in the woods. The piles of uniform corpses had lost all human aspect. There are several areas used to dump the ashes of the crematoriums, the path leads straight through them. The scale is so scary.
There’s a third section in Birkenau that was never finished. Would the war not have ended, these people would have even expanded the killing operations.
A group of Germans from VW were installing fresh barbed wire on the separation of two sections of the camp. Very orderly, and under the close supervision of an older man that just stood around and made sure the work was done properly.
The other day I visited the house my grandparents were evicted from and went to visit the grave of my grandfather on a neatly kept war cemetery. Today, as I was reading an information board at one of the camp section entrances, a woman asked her mother with a clearly American accent how long their grandmother had been at the camp. The mother answered with the dates, they were there for a few months and somehow survived. As they walked away the girl looked at me with her dark brown eyes. She looked like so many of those faces I had seen a few moments before on the picture collection in another building, that tells the lives of some of the dead.
I left the place when the tourist hordes became too much. Some groups seemed to have misunderstood today’s destination: no it’s not the beach, nor the disco, it’s the death camp, a sort of open air cemetery for an insane amount of people. I hope the Insta-selfies look good. Unbelievable.
I tried to see Auschwitz I as well, but between a rip off scam at the parking lot, and the impossibility to visit without a paid group with a ton of other people during the main hours of the day I decided to pass. Also, the place was so packed and loud that I didn’t feel I could take it.