As we drove out of Poland today we stopped at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Words can’t really express what it was like to stand where so many others stood in horrible conditions. To walk through the barracks they lived in. To see the conditions, breathe the air, and hear the stories of those who had gone before.
Auschwitz is an eerie place, but being there today in the cold, still, foggy conditions made the realities of its use during WWII so much more confronting. As I stood there rugged up with thermals, 3 jumpers, scarf, gloves and thermal woollen socks in my sturdy shoes, still shivering, I couldn’t help but think of those forced to work in similar weather conditions with nothing more than prison pyjamas and bare feet. As we walked though a remaining barrack at Birkenau that had housed hundreds of women in cramped and uncomfortable bunks, it made our race each morning for a good seat on the tour bus seems ridiculous, when all 50 of us would have been housed in just over 6 bunks. And as I looked at what little remained I was reminded that we as humans know when we are doing something wrong… we cover our tracks, we blow things up so they can’t be identified, burn things down and remove the evidence… we know… they knew.
I think the thing I have been finding most confronting particularly about WWII is lies the Jewish people were told constantly and despite the fact that so many never returned, so many still came with hope. Hope that they were in fact going to a better place, hope that work would set them free, hope that they would live, despite what they had heard and could see. They came under the lies of resettlement, bringing their best belongings. They were told they would live in rooms complete with twin chimneys – stoves for heat and cooking, stoves that were never used. The were told they could stay with their children as they were washed, only to have their dignity stolen as they stripped down and then held the hands of their loved ones as they died together. Only to have their belongings sorted, donated or sold. Only to be exploited even in death.
It’s hard to believe that it isn’t just some horrible story. That this actually happened… and that despite it’s warning not to let it happen again that mass killings and genocide seem to continue with uncomfortable frequency.
There was a quote in the doorway that said:
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
And I think we forget too often… I hope that I never forget the things that I have seen today… that I never gloss over a past this horrific. But more than anything I really do hope it stops repeating.