We slept at Auschwitz…in the parking lot. My sleep was interrupted with dreams of horror. As trains come through town, the metal wheels scream along the tracks conjuring a soundtrack of some cinematic depiction of the horrors faced by hundreds of Jews packed into each cattle car entering the dreaded gates of Birkenau. Once I awoke, lips parched, head pounding and pee pushing against my bladder, but I forced myself back to sleep thinking that I was in a cell unable to get up; unable to do anything about it. I would have to suffer – I would have to wait. I dreamt I was sleeping in filth able to smell the breath of my many bed mates, my clothing and bedding smelled of shit and pee and months of my body clinging to each fibre making it stiff and waxy and maybe even warmer. I awoke again realizing I was in the camper thirsty, dehydrated and desperately needing to pee. I silently cried realizing I was forcing myself to have some level of experience as those who suffered here, but knowing that my brain’s feeble attempt to bring me that experience was minute compared to the reality. In the bathroom, I heard the trains screaming through town and know that 70 years ago, that was the same sound heard by hundred of thousands of Jews who were murdered in Auschwitz and Birkenau.
I never in my life imagined that I would visit Auschwitz and Birkenau. I can’t even remember how it was that we came to decision to come here. It was so surreal for me to stand in these horrific places that I had only seen depicted in movies.
Tours through both sites are led by educators rather than individual self-tours which creates a bit of the sense of being herded and packed in like the prisoners might have felt – of course, without the hope that they would finally be able to resettle, then shortly, the fear, dread, terror, hunger.
Birkenau is HUGE. We saw the famous entry gate where trains would arrive and cattle car after cattle car filled with thousands of Jews who had been rounded up from all over Europe were directed by a flippant gesture by a doctor to either walk right or left. Left was directly to the gas chamber, right was to the work camps.
To walk down the same path, to hear the shuffle of the feet of those who walked with you, to see the sun blinding you as you walked into its rays to the west towards the gas chamber – unknowing – perhaps hopeful that this indeed would be the camp that led to your new life…to be told to undress to shower then walk naked into a room with 2000 other people…already hungry and beaten from the long train ride…unable to comprehend that this could really be the end. People cannot comprehend this reality…they couldn’t then and we still – even though it happened already – we can still not comprehend the horror.
Above are the ruins of one of the many crematoriums the Nazis destroyed right before the war ended. This was done to cover up what they had done.