Feelings on Auschwitz

Since returning from my trip to Krakow, I find my mind often wanders to my time at the Auschwitz camp. It moved me in a way that I was not expecting, and stayed with me more vividly than I could have imagined.

The weather was cold and bleak as the taxi pulled up to the gates of Auschwitz – the sky a steely bullet grey. As we waited in line to go through the barriers, it struck me as strange that we were queuing to get into a place that so many people lost their lives trying to escape.

Walking into the camp, we were greeted by the infamous “Arbeit macht frei” gate – it was curious seeing it person, being so acquainted with it in photos. The gate was actually much smaller than I imagined. The atmosphere was quiet and heavy – there were trees all around, but not a single bird singing.

Wandering into the first building with no particular plan or agenda, we started to read an exhibit on Gusen which was a granite-mining labour camp in Austria. The boards laid out in front of us displayed the back-breaking labour in excruciating detail – photos of emaciated men struggling to carry giant blocks of stone up a flight of 186 steps (dubbed the staircase of death as many perished attempting them). The next room told us about the disgusting punishments meted out to the prisoners – sick people given experimental injections to the heart to euthanise them – men and women being strung up with their arms behind them like slabs of meat for hours at a time before being made to return to work… It went on and on. It horrified me that so much suffering and violence had been inflicted on these people at a camp that I hadn’t even heard of. I didn’t and still don’t understand how one human could look another in the eyes and decide to carry out such terrible things.

Birkenau

We then walked out of the building and over a gravel path in-between harsh barbed wire fences. A small grassy hill lay in front of us with an unassuming entrance. As we walked into the first dark, damp room, I looked for a display card detailing where we were but found nothing. Walking through to the next room, I realised with a sinking feeling in my stomach where we were. I recognised the scratch marks on the wall where desperate people tried to climb higher, searching for air. I saw the hatch in the ceiling where masked men poured toxic chemicals into the heaving lungs of innocent people. The very next room was filled with human-shaped furnaces – the sight of which turned my stomach, and I ran through the next room desperate for fresh air with tears streaming down my face. It was stupid, but I felt so sorry that the people who perished in that room saw such an ugly place with their final glances.

The next few buildings passed by in a blur – I remember the room filled with human hair, a room filled with kitchen utensils and a display of thousands of children’s shoes. I felt such sadness that no-one had bothered to pair them up – masses of shoes lying anonymously and alone; each one holding only half of its owner’s story.

Next was the notorious “death wall” between Blocks 10 and 11. This is where countless people were taken to be executed at gunpoint. The windows of the neighbouring buildings were boarded up so the prisoners could not see the atrocities carried out below, although they no-doubt heard everything. Inside Block 11 were custom-built torture cells – pitch black with only room to stand, along with the basement where the Nazis experimented their first use of Zykklon B.

As the winter light slowly faded, we took a bus to the nearby camp Birkenau. While an icy-cold wind whipped around my face, this is where the scale of the operation really hit me – the fields stretched out as far as the horizon, mounds of rubble every few hundred meters signifying the brick huts that the Nazis tried to destroy in efforts to erase their heinous crimes.

Eventually the time came to travel back to Krakow, and I was brought swiftly back to modern life with a cramped and noisy bus – left only with the knowledge that we must make sure that what I had witnessed can never be allowed to happen again.

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Despite this trip being such a harrowing experience, I felt that it was a really important one to make. Of course, I had always been aware of the atrocities committed in these camps, but I had no real emotional connection to what happened until I saw it for myself. Would I go back? Absolutely not – but, am I glad I went? Yes. Auschwitz will forever stay in my mind as the reason to ensure we never lose sight of our humanity again.

Have you been to Auschwitz? What did you feel when you were there? I would love to hear about your experiences! Let me know in the comments section 🙂 

19 thoughts on “Feelings on Auschwitz

  1. What a sad and emotional experience. I haven’t been, to be honest I’m not sure that I could. My dad would always talk to me about the evil things that happened there (we never knew anyone who was there but my dad was big on history and passing down information like this so we’re aware of what people are capable of) and I’ve contemplated going but I think it’s a hard decision to make. Thank you for this post, emotional and I’m sure hard as it was to write, because of the memory of these poor souls lives on through your experience and story telling.

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, I will certainly never forget what I saw there. I think you’re absolutely right – it is a hard decision to make to visit, and it certainly isn’t a nice experience. All we can do is make sure nothing like this gets repeated ever again!

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  2. auschwitz is on the top list of places that i want to go if i ever get a chance to get to europe. i could only imagine how terrible you felt when you were there.

    i was in war remnants museum in vietnam and i had to calm myself down as i read and saw a lot of pictures during the war, i ended crying alone in the toilet. and in that case, there was no hair, human-shaped furnaces, or scratch mark on the wall as the silent proof of what has happened back in the days.

    i’m planning out to go to the killing fields in cambodia. not sure if i could make it alone being a constant solo traveler, but i would get there to get the experience. i think you’re right in the part that this kind of place is important to make, so many life lessons you could take from there. 🙂

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    1. Oh wow, that must have been a very sad experience too – I went to the bomb museum in Nagasaki which was also quite a distressing place to visit – That was about 10 years ago, and what I saw there has still stayed with me.

      I’d really like to see the killing fields in Cambodia as well, I know several people who have been and said it was a really important place to visit. Yes, we definitely learn so much from every place we visit! 🙂

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  3. What a beautifully sad and well written piece. It’s so important that we ensure the atrocities that happened during the holocaust don’t get forgotten. I definitely had tears coming down my face as I read this. This was quite moving. I felt like I could imagine myself there as I was reading.

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  4. Yes Lizzie-we must remember.
    Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam was also a sad and interesting place to visit.Some students were giggling & messing about-I was shocked & offended.Then I realised that they were German.How awful to see what your countrymen(countrypeople?)have done.
    The deaths continued after the camps were liberated because starving people can’t digest normal food & of course disease.Then we come to the effect of the experience would have on people returning to the outside world.

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    1. Yes, we saw a couple of people taking selfies at Auschwitz, which felt really wrong. I just had to put it down to people coping with the distressing images in their own different ways, otherwise I would have got really annoyed with them. I saw Anne Frank’s house too, it was a really interesting place to see, you’re right! Such a sad time in history.

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  5. I’ve never been, but I’ve always wanted to visit as it is such a huge part of history. Just through your descriptions, I can’t imagine how much of an emotional and eye-opening experience it must have been. Thank you for sharing!

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  6. This is such a great description of your time visiting Auschwitz. I visited the camps last June, in fact I posted a blog post on my time there. I still can’t really describe what I felt. But what I do know is that I knew I was going to leave that place and continue living my life, others weren’t so fortunate and that really affected me. I do want to go again, it was a sad yet eye-opening experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I’m glad it resonated with you! I completely agree, it’s such an indescribable feeling – “sadness” doesn’t really cut it. I’ve just read your blog about Auschwitz – it’s great! I love the history you have included!

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  7. Lots of skeletons and ghosts there. I wrote about Anne Frank being a hero. Then went and read up extensively on Hitler’s life.
    So sad, what a harrowing path to visit but essential for the soul.
    Makes us embrace and appreciate far more.
    Thank you for sharing this very interesting post.
    So glad I stumbled across your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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