Saturday, October 2, 2010

Oświęcim (Auschwitz) - Dreadfully Inexplicable

I have known about, read about, and seen pictures of Auschwitz, but I never thought I would have a chance to visit there until I moved to the Czech Republic. Auschwitz became so near to us all of a sudden. And, this trip was a perfect chance for us to visit. We planned the visit so that we would have to worry about gG staying alone in the car, but the idea of making it a quick half-day visit was wrong.

I never thought that I could actually walk through the camp area and go into each individual building including one of the gas chambers.  I thought somehow there would be a museum exhibiting the evidence of horrible disaster and that the actual camp would be only to be seen from outside.  So, if you ever plan to go there, plan a whole day visit.  And, you are not allowed to walk by yourselves without a guide, so you may want to also check the tour schedule in advance as well.  We managed to take a tour of Auschwitz I, but I had to give up on the tour for Auschwitz II-Birkenau unfortunately.

We arrived at the site a little bit before 10 o'clock. The place was full of tourists from all over the world including young students. The earliest English tour was starting at 10:30, so we got ourselves a set of headsets and waited.  The guide showed up. There were about 40 or so people waiting for the English tour.  We got divided into two groups, and we went along with a female guide.  The headsets were very useful.  You can select the channel so that you only hear your guide's voice.  She doesn't have to speak loudly and bother other tour groups either.

The weather was rainy and very gloomy, which made everything in Auschwitz look as grey, sad, and cold as it is.  However, I was looking foward to the tour to learn and see the reality with my eyes.  We passed through the iron gate with a sign of Arbeit macht frei ("work makes you free") with the "B" looking upside down, which some says it was a hidden protest by one of the prisoners who was making the sign.

There are rows of squarish and plain brick buildings neatly aligned in the camp; almost infinitely. I was surprised by the size of the camp.  It looked too big to me until I learned that more than 1 million people were said to be killed there and in the neaby camps.  We went into several buildings with the guide. Each building had a theme for its exhibition, and by the time I was out of the third building, I noticed myself sighing a lot. My feet were heavy. I was no longer looking forward to learning more. I felt something heavy around my throat which was dry but I couldn't even swallow my own saliva.

Execution wall
  But the tour continued. And, I needed to see and learn despite the heaviness that I felt in myself. I saw hundreds of pictures of prisoners (males on the right hand side and females on the left) filling both sides of the corridor walls. Almost all the women had their heads shaved. Everyone on the wall had such a helpless look on their faces. It was just plain painful to walk along the pictures...

Gas chamber
The tour ended with a visit to one of the gas chambers. I went in and out very quickly, as I felt rather saffocated inside. Some were directly sent to this chamber after arriving to the camp. They thought they were just taking a shower. What went through the mind of soldiers who were pouring the poison gas through the ceiling holes?  Is it the war or fear of bloody insane authority that even made men capable of such acts?  I know Japanese soldiers did a lot of terribly wrong and equally unbelievable brutal things in the neighboring Asian countries, too. What went through the soldier's mind? Just so wrong, and... utterly inconceivable.

We could not stop remembering and talking about our experience in Auschwitz throughout our trip. At the end of the day, my question still remained the same..."WHY??"

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