A Jew Visiting Auschwitz

            Even before I set foot in Poland I felt wary. While on the flight to Krakow, I knew the very next day we’d be going to Auschwitz. As a Jew and as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors I knew it was important to visit that cruel place, but I was faced with this overwhelming feeling that I did not want to go. I wanted to have already gone, to have already visited. I did not want to visit the place where my great-grandparents were murdered and my grandparents subjected to extreme suffering. I told my grandmother that I was visiting, and she said when she visited she went to the place she and her sister separated from their parents and grandparents. She told them would come back, that she did not forget them. I did not want to visit, but I wanted to tell my great-grandparents that I had not forgotten them, and I wanted to visit the only semblance of their gravesite that I have.

            One aspect of Auschwitz that struck me was that very notion of a gravesite. We had come to Krakow after our visit to Paris, which was right after our stop in Bayeux. I was honored to pay my respects to the soldiers who so bravely fought for our freedom and was happy to see the cemeteries being so well kept to honor the fallen. These well-kept cemeteries, however, provided a stark contrast for me when compared with Auschwitz. There is no cemetery for my great-grandparents or their parents, no graves with their names on it that I can place a stone upon. Auschwitz is the closest thing I have to their graves, and it felt odd to have to be allowedto enter. Why would I need to request entry to a place my family had tried so desperately to escape for so long? Why would I want to? These thoughts ran through my mind as I entered the concentration camp, and as I walked around I could not help but cry. My grandmother told me before I went that she was sorry I had to visit the cruelest place on earth. To stare up at buildings and barbed wire and to see the very sites of such cruelty took the breath out of me.

            It also felt odd to be visiting with a group of mostly non-Jews. While it is important for all people to learn as much as they can of the genocide of European Jews, the tour guide seemed to word her tour for those who have less of a direct connection to the victims. As we passed the many shoes in glass cases, for example, our guide told us to imagine a person’s feet in those shoes, to humanize them and allow one to picture the humanity destroyed in Auschwitz. I, however, did not need to be reminded that the shoes belonged to people. I did not need to be reminded that we were visiting the camp to commemorate the destruction of humanity, of life. When I saw those shoes I thought of my grandmother and great-aunt, I thought of my great-grandparents. I did not need to be told to think of them. It felt as though the guide was used to talking to groups of schoolchildren who did not know why they were there, so she had to guide them into sympathy. I did not need that. Rather, I needed silence and the chance to walk around, instead of being herded along each section.

            In any case, visiting Auschwitz was an important opportunity that I am so grateful for and that I will never forget.


My great-grandfather, Sándor/Zangvil Szász


My great-grandmother, Mariska/Margit Szász

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