Yesterday I visited Auschwitz. There’s not much to say to introduce it, it’s the site of one of the worst crimes in the history of humanity. During 1940-1945, 1,100,000 people were murdered here, 90% of them being European Jews and the other 10% being a mixture of non-Jewish Polish intellectuals and political leaders, Romani/Sinti (Gypsies), Soviet POWs, gay men, and others.
Some of you may want to know why I wanted to visit such a place. Well, first of all, to honor, remember, and pay respects to those people that were murdered. Second of all, I’ve read a lot of history and I really do believe that history repeats itself, and those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Every Holocaust museum or exhibit all over the world, including Auschwitz, will tell you that their mission is to keep spreading the story so it never happens again. Thirdly, I think that seeing such things and contemplating them makes you a better person. Helps you learn to not take things for granted, and also makes you not complain about silly things. Finally, I think it’s incomplete for me to just come to Europe and visit and learn about only good things… you have to visit the bad things too, if you want to understand a place. You have to learn about the bad parts of history to understand history.
So off to Auschwitz I went. I learned a lot of facts along the way but really they aren’t important. I was already familiar with what happened. Here, in this pile of rubble and a few others nearby, a million people were murdered. Standing there has an affect on you that reading a book just can’t.
It’s rubble today because the nazis destroyed these gas chambers as the Soviet Army approached from the east. They were trying to hide the evidence of what they were doing.
There was one earlier gas chamber which was not destroyed because it was originally a munitions bunker, used for the earliest murders, and then reconverted back to a storage room when the bigger gas chambers were built. So today you can walk through this gas chamber if you visit Auschwitz. I walked through it, but photos are not permitted inside. Here’s the entrance. Remember that victims were told they were going in for a shower, right until the very end.
This site sits in a regular field just outside of a normal Polish town. It exists in real life, it’s not just something from a book. A visit drives that point home.
Dormitory for women who were unknowingly waiting for their turn to die. Up to six women shared a bunk at a time.
Dividing platform. Victims would get off the trains and be sent to the left or to the right by a nazi doctor. They didn’t know at the time, but right meant death and left meant slave labor (until eventual death).
Fences and guard towers:
Shoes and suitcases of the deceased. These and other personal belongings were a big piece of evidence to prove the nazis actions in the trials that took place after the war.
Monument, with this same quote on different plaques in all the languages spoken by victims: