A Terrifying Trip Back in Time: Visiting Auschwitz

A Terrifying Trip Back in Time: Visiting Auschwitz
“Work Makes You Free”: Entering the gate at the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp
Traveling is almost always seen wholly as enjoyable and relaxing.  The traveling that people generally associate with holidays or summer vacations is lighthearted, open minded, and frivolous.  The truth is that the history, both past and recent, of certain regions of the world can be much less comforting than this “holiday” ideal, and in some regions it is quite difficult to escape without facing these unfortunate and uncomfortable truths.  Learning about the history of the regions and countries I visit is one of my favorite parts of traveling, although on days like today it can be quite a heavy load to handle.
Barracks with beyond inhumane conditions
Today Jennifer and I spent the day touring two of the three main Auschwitz concentration camps compounds (there are about 40 individual camps that are included under the Auschwitz name in the region), made famous by the horrendous and unthinkable acts that happened here during the time of Nazi occupation of Poland.  Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau were two of the largest and most notorious concentration and extermination camps during this time.
One of the execution walls between barracks
As we began our tour in the early afternoon, we were silenced by the seemingly endless expanse of barbed wire surrounding the compound and similarly unending row of “blocks” or barracks set up for the prisoners.  Many of the prisoners initially brought to the infamous Auschwitz camp were Poles from around the region, followed by Gypsies, Russian POWs, and then most famously hundreds of thousands of European Jews. 
Barbed wire surrounding Block 23
Although both Jennifer and I studied the history of the Holocaust in an incredible class during our time at Marist, the expositions we witnessed and the information we received were nothing less than harrowing.  The truth of situations such as the events of this genocide never lose their ability to shock and terrify individuals walking through the sites as a student of history.  The ceaseless question whispered by each of our group mates: who could ever be capable of such atrocities?
The tour of the barracks and sleeping arrangements, the solitary confinement and punishment wards, viewing the firing squad wall, touring the endless personal possessions stolen from the victims, and walking through the inhumane sanitary conditions were all individually upsetting, but the moment that shook me most was walking into the Auschwitz gas chamber and crematorium with my youngest sister next to me.
While we walked we were asked to keep silent, but I don’t think I could have spoken if it were necessary.
 
The idea of all of the innocent, dehumanized, tormented, and horrified pairs of sisters (or pairs of brothers, mothers and their children, and sometimes entire families) forced to walk through these same doors exactly as we were, and not entirely too long ago, and knowing that they would never live to see the light of day was a heavy burden to consider while simultaneously reflecting on the catastrophic loss of these victims, their families, and their nations.
Horrific amounts of barbed wired surrounding the compounds
What on earth could they have possibly said to comfort one another in these last moments as their impending doom lay in wait?  Separated by sex, and then age, there would have been a high chance that if we were brought here as prisoners that this would have been exactly how we would have met our own fate.  The endless rows of pictures of the sibling victims from the barracks were flooding my mind during the moments of walking through those horrifying walls.
Entering the gas chamber and crematorium
The happenstance of our freedom and rights as women is something we have constantly reflected upon during our travels, but during days when such grievous atrocities are not only brought to light, but put in front of your face, it is hard to move on without being put into a rather severe state of deep, arguably depressing contemplation.
“We are alive. We are human, with good and bad in us. That’s all we know for sure. We can’t create a new species or a new world. That’s been done. Now we have to live within those boundaries . What are our choices? We can despair and curse, and change nothing. We can choose evil like our enemies have done and create a world based on hate. Or we can try to make things better.”