Auschwitz – “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”
It is hard to put into the words the experience that we had at Auschwitz. We went with an organized tour group and the seriousness of the moment began immediately upon departure. During the 1.5 hour ride to the camp they showed a documentary film on Auschwitz and Birkenau. Halfway through the video, the lady sitting next to Haley vomited and I had to look away several times. Sorry to be so graphic but it was one of those experiences you don’t enjoy at the time, but you recognize as vitally important to your growth as a human being. It is a hard thing to blog about.
We had been to Dachau – a large concentration camp in Germany, before but this was much worse. Auschwitz was the main extermination camp for the Nazis and over 1.1 million people lost their lives there, 90% of them were Jews. It was a cold day, so it impressed upon us even more how horrible it would be in such poor living conditions. Prisoners were only allowed to use the bathroom twice a day and each time only for 30 seconds. The average life expectancy at the camp was 3 months. It was horrible to see the bunks they slept on – with up to 8 people in each wooden bunk with just a bit of hay. We walked into a gas chamber and the impressions we had of the fear and horror those people felt is mind boggling. The prisoners were told to strip and remember where they placed their cloths. This was done by the Nazis to deceive people and reduce the fears before they were led into the “showers” so as not to cause a riot. We were really cold and to I kept imagining what it would have been like to be barefoot.
It is hard to comprehend how people could do that to people. As thousands of people would arrive at the camps, doctors would decide with the flip of a hand which people were deemed fit to work and which were deemed “useless” and doomed to the gas chamber. Are you under 14 or over 60? Are you pregnant? Do you have any handicaps or disabilities? Do you have any children that are under 14? More than 75% of the people on each train immediately went to the gas chambers. How could the Nazis do this?
The stories of survival and even self-sacrifice were amazing. We learned about Father Maksymilan. Whenever a prisoner tried to escape, the Nazis would take 10 people on his cell block and put them in a room to starve to death. Father Maksymilan volunteered to take the place of a young man with a wife and 3 children. He died after 11 days, but the man he gave his life for went on to not only survive the camp, but live until he was 95 years old.