This is the hardest post I have had to write, and I hope you bear with me. This isn't a historical post, but one about our personal experience at Auschwitz. Words could never do this experience justice.
A little background on what I know about the Holocaust.....We have all learned about the Holocaust at certain times in school. I think I was lucky enough to attend a school where we studied the Holocaust in depth. I believe our teachers really wanted to impress upon us how atrocious this part of our history was. As a high school student, I read a book on a survivors account of his time at Auschwitz called Survival in Auschwitz, by Primo Levi. I read this on my own and it lead me to several other books about survivors of the Holocaust. I just could not believe that humanity could allow this thing to happen. And I was completely intrigued by the survivors' stories. I had so many questions and no answers. I knew that one day I would have to go and see for myself where this took place. I knew that I would have to go and send love and prayers to the many souls that were murdered in this place.
I thought I would be able to handle it, although it would be a terribly sad experience. I thought that I would feel more at peace knowing that I had paid my respects.
But I was wrong. Visiting Auschwitz made things much harder to comprehend, more unrest in my heart. It was all a surreal experience. It was a completely overwhelming experience. And it's hard to put into words.
We started off on our tour from our hotel, and headed towards Auschwitz I first. Upon arrival, we met up with our English speaking guide and group and headed towards the camp gates.
Auschwitz I contains the main museum for the camps. It also houses the belongings that were stolen from the murdered inmates. Shoes, luggage, glasses and most disturbingly, hair. The Nazis stripped the inmates of everything that they brought with them. Even their hair. The hair was sold to make rugs and things, another way for the Nazis to pay for their cause.
Photos were not allowed in the room containing the mounds of hair. But I'm not sure I could have taken a picture anyway. It was completely horrifying. Braids, different colors, pieces of the murdered inmates.
Walking from building to building at Auschwitz I, my heart grew heavier and heavier. Words escaped me and my mind filled with questions and sadness.
And then we entered the gas chamber. Another area that I couldn't bring myself to photograph. It was a terrible feeling being in the chamber. Just thinking of all of the lost souls who met their deaths upon entering the chamber.
|Zyklon B cans, used to gas the inmates|
After we finished up our Auschwitz I tour, we caught up with our driver and headed towards Auschwitz Birkenau. Words can't describe the feeling when you arrive and see the tower and gate to Auschwitz Birkenau. And what's more, when you walk up to it and lay your eyes on the camp. It was much bigger than I could ever had imagined. Completely surreal and completely overwhelming.
I'm not sure I uttered a word the entire time at the camp. We walked to the exact spot where train passengers arrived and were given the thumbs up or down - where they were immediately sent to the gas chamber at the end of the path or if they were sent to the barracks for forced labor and starvation.
We then proceeded to the gas chambers themselves. Although the Nazis tried to destroy the chambers, you can still see the outline of the structure and see where each part was located. Over 1 million souls were murdered in this very spot.
We were able to go into the barracks and see how the prisoners lived. It was harsh, cold and bare.
We walked back to our van after our tour was over and it was hard to even find words to say to each other. Words couldn't relay what we were feeling inside. It was a strange moment for me. The car ride back was silent.
It's been a few weeks since our visit to Auschwitz and I still have the awful feeling inside of me that I felt while I was there. I am so thankful that we were able to visit but it definitely was a different experience from what I imagined it would be like. Van and I have found ourselves watching more documentaries on the War and the Holocaust as we definitely feel more connected to it now.
It is easy to say that we are forever changed by experience at Auschwitz. And I encourage everyone to experience it for yourself. It is so important. I wish my words could do it justice, but none ever could.
If you have any questions about our trip, please feel free to email me at jamieleighgunter at yahoo.com. I also highly recommend a trip to the Schindler Factory in conjunction with Auschwitz.