No words can describe it. Walking the same path as hundreds of thousands of Jews who were sent to their deaths, I felt an eerie calm. Auschwitz is the most notorious concentration camp from World War II, with over a million people systematically eliminated within its electrified fences. I’ve seen people break down in tears just hearing about the atrocities that occurred in this place, but to stand where thousands had before me waiting for death, is a completely different experience. Of the three camps that were in Auschwitz, I had the opportunity to visit two of them: Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau II.
Standing before the gates of Auschwitz I, I see the infamous words “Arbeit macht frei,” Work makes you free. The irony of the phrase is sickening. As I went through the brick buildings
that lined the paths, I realized that I couldn’t even begin to imagine what went on here. Looking at thousands of shoes and realizing each shoe belonged to someone who has long since perished would get to any sensible human, but seeing a room with literally several tons of hair, that was practically ripped out of the heads of innocent people, left me speechless. Belongings that were taken from people are piled up in rooms in building after building. If that wasn’t heart-wrenching enough, walking through Block 11, where they tortured Jews, will be. Claustrophobic spaces, where dozens of Jews suffocated and starved to death, and even the incinerator has been preserved so visitors can get an idea just how inhumane the Nazis’ methods were. Sad as it was, this camp was the smallest of the three and focused mostly on experimentation instead of extermination.
After a short drive from Auschwitz I, lies the largest camp within the complex: Auschwitz II Birkenau. Driving in, I saw the very arches where trains went into the camp. Looking around, there were countless chimneys and remains of
what was once the wooden structures that housed thousands of prisoners. As I looked around, I was informed that I was standing in the very place where people saw their families for the last time. I crossed the tracks that brought the trains right into the camp and walked the very path of those who had been sentenced to death straight towards the ruins of Incinerators II and III. Despite their efforts, the Nazis were unsuccessful in destroying all the evidence and the incinerators’ remains give a glimpse of what occurred. Some might consider those sent to the gas chambers lucky, they faced a quick death. Those who were selected to survive faced something even worse than death.
It’s hard to grasp just what transpired within the camp. The bitterness and hatred can still be felt within the camp after all these years. But the most tragic thing to me is the fact that it’s unknown exactly how many have died in the camps. The majority of the records were destroyed, and many Jews weren’t even accounted for before they perished. With keeping this in mind and after all I was exposed to at the camps, I was going into sensory overload. I found it fitting that at the end of my time at Auschwitz, it began to rain. It seemed as if even the skies above were shedding tears for the victims of the monstrosities that occurred at Auschwitz.