Inside the Horrors of Auschwitz: My Visit
I first learned about the Holocaust during my freshman year of high school. I’ve seen countless films such as La vita è Bella and Schindler’s List, yet none of them could fully portray the emotions of being in the place where such horrors occurred. I recall always wanting to visit Auschwitz, primarily because there was a point in my life when I was fully invested in learning about the Holocaust in great depth.
It was merely a coincidence that my travel companions suggested we spend a few days in Kraków, which happens to be about an hour away from the camp. I was lucky they were as eager as I was to embark on a learning opportunity, despite knowing the detriment it would cause.
My significant other who is half Polish was hesitant about visiting the camp. He knew it was an uneasy experience to go through, but I reminded him of the importance of acknowledging the past; which is a form of paying respect for the millions of people who lost their lives during the war.
Arriving at the Camp
It was pleasant scenery, almost comforting at first sight. But in the context of horror and darkness, it was a vile place. A poignant reminder of the terrors it hosted. I remember in those first moments I stepped into the camp, I felt a sudden rush of despair. I had extensive background knowledge of the Holocaust, so most of the tour guide’s explanations seemed redundant. I felt uneasy being in a place where so much history was stored, and so much information was around me, yet I couldn’t fully fathom how humans could be capable of such utmost horrors.
I’ve read about these atrocities on the web, I’ve seen them portrayed in films, yet I can’t ever seem to get a full grasp of the concept.
The Confined Spaces
We arrived at the gas chambers. This was perhaps the most haunting and heinous segment of the camp. I dare to say this because not only was it difficult to walk by those confined spaces, but guilt kept crawling up on me, claiming how fortunate I was to breathe inside, while in retrospect, millions of individuals were unable to.
All of their cries bounced back and didn’t see the light of day ever again.
The most petrifying fact I learned about the Germans’ wrongdoings was their ruse. They gathered the prisoners and informed them about taking ‘showers’ and were told they should remember their stationed belongings for when they come back, unaware that they never would.
I then began to ponder how, indeed, condescending humans tend to exercise their power through acts that profess their entitlement, yet why does it involve such vile acts? Was Hitler’s empowerment so formidable it managed to dictate every man’s beliefs?
We often rely on religion when despicable events occur when not even science can provide any answers. How can humanity be capable of such horrors? We turn our heads to external forces in the attempt to seek answers to the unfathomable.
The blueish-grey skies paired with wintry weather painted a somber portrait of the landscape ahead of me. It was late September and I was dressed for such weather, although the cold wasn’t anything severe I couldn’t handle. I couldn’t stop thinking about the victims of the Holocaust that had to wear pajamas whilst being barefoot during much more worse conditions.
We walked across the vast space until we reached the barracks. The Birkenau Barracks were designed to house around 700 prisoners, containing 600 three-tier bunks. Various establishments were destroyed as means to eradicate the evidence, yet some of them remained and were even restored. By this period of the tour, I had digested vast amounts of horrific information that I had forgotten that I was paying a visit inside the living quarters of the prisoners. Before I managed to take a step in, I took a slight minute to mentally prepare myself for what I was about to see. I’m not a tough-blooded person who faces humanity’s darkness and remains collected, so facing that quarter was detrimental in its purest form. As I stepped in, I walked and looked around until my eyes caught something on the wall.
I immediately read the name ‘Nikola’, but the other words seemed indistinguishable. Anguish crawled up on me as I believed ‘Nikola’ was the name of a victim who had carved her name on the wall during her stay. My partner caught me reading the wall and sensed my perturbation. It all occurred in the span of ten seconds. He then claimed that the names on the wall were simply carved by other visitors — it made sense after all. Could’ve the names still be imprinted on the wall after decades and decades and remain intact?
I walked out of the living quarter with a new piece of information. Although it was known that prisoners resided in unbearable conditions, I wasn’t truly aware to what extent. They had blankets to cover themselves and a heating system, but that’s about it. The three-tier sleeping platforms were designated for 15 prisoners, which hindered the environment. Sanitary conditions worsen due to the overcrowding and led to a plague of lice and rats. The tour guide claimed that new prisoners even had to sleep on the lower tier of the beds, which was virtually the ground. They were exposed to cold mud, insects, and a higher risk of infection.
The End of The Road
At the end of Auschwitz-Birkenau II, a monument was laid as different countries have paid their respects regarding the World War II events. The place was truly immense, but it doesn’t remotely compare to the magnitude of the Holocaust. So much history is stored, and so many stories are concealed. There’s much to say about this place, but not even the best filmmakers or storytellers could portray Auschwitz the same as being in the exact place. No piece of art could ever convey the set of emotions that this place offers.
I’m certain this experience is one that most individuals should go through, but most importantly, it’s a lesson to humanity. These are events that society or religion may forbid from ever occurring again.
My visit to Auschwitz has profusely affected, terrified me, and it still lingers up to this day. Yet, I still believe the importance of educating younger generations about historic events that marked humankind forever.
All of the photographs utilized for this article were taken by me.