Connecting with History
As I stood in front of the infamous gate that was once the gateway of horror and death to so many people, I felt nervous. I tried to imagine what it was like for the people who had been brought here by the Nazi’s. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the fear. Even though today the grounds are well kept and everything is nice and clean Auschwitz still puts a fearful knot in my stomach.
Passing through the gate and into the camp I wondered about those who foots steps I was walking in. I come upon a simple structure of two posts with a beam across the top. It looked innocent enough but nothing here is innocent. It is the structure they used to hang people. I am trying to process the emotions I feel when suddenly an older woman walks up and places a bouquet of flowers on the ground next to one of the posts. Without a word so much is said. It brings tears to my eyes.
I make my way to the crematorium. It’s a small building with a brick chimney sticking out the top. I enter into a large room with a blacken ceiling, it’s the gas chamber. It is completely quiet in the room, almost peaceful. Yet the horror that took place in this room make you question everything you think you know about humanity.
I came to Auschwitz early in the morning before the tour buses arrived so that I could wander around by myself without having to share my experience with hundreds of other people. For the first couple of hours the camp is open people can wander around on their own. After 10am you have to be part of a tour.
While I knew the history of the camp I did more extensive research about it before I went. I watched a few of documentaries and movies about the camp. I read survivor’s stories. While I was at the camp I thought of the people I had read about. It connected me on a more personal level with the history of the camp. I didn’t want to just tour the camp I wanted to experience it. That’s the mindset people should have when going to Auschwitz. It’s ok to be emotional, cry, or get angry. By remembering the people who suffered here and connecting with them on an emotional level is how we honor them.
While my visit was filled with emotional turmoil it was also the highlight of my trip to Poland. If you are planning to visit Auschwitz I highly recommend doing a little homework first. Do some in-depth research about the camp. Read some survivor’s stories about their experiences to get a better feel of what the camp was like at that time. And remember, when you visit the camp experience it don’t just tour it.
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