Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Lessons from the Holocaust: Visiting Auschwitz

Auschwitz is one of two concentration camps I was able to visit on my trip to Poland.
It allowed me to take a glimpse into what life was like in such torturous conditions. It did not only make the Holocaust feel raw and real, but it also taught me things that I had never known about the Holocaust. 
Once we had parked outside the camp, I was able to see rows of identical, red bricked buildings encompassed within tangled metal fences and barbed wire. There was an intense eeriness once we had entered the camp and a disbelief that I was about to enter a place where people wished they could escape.

We entered one of the red buildings to see a variety of documents and belongings that were left behind after the war. There were files of prisoners who had been sent to Auschwitz and extracts from the 'Daily Report Book' with lists of prisoners who were situated in Auschwitz. Observing such documents truly gave a sense of reality to this torture camp. The SS soldiers were documenting the list of prisoners that they were going to torture or kill. The actions of the SS soldiers were truly shocking to me because I cannot ever imagine why someone would think in such a cruel, inhumane manner, leading them to killing innocent human beings. I always envisaged such callous soldiers to look 'evil', almost monster-like because you can never imagine someone who commits such a terrible act to be human.

Whilst walking through Auschwitz, we saw a large house in the distance and I eventually discovered that this was home to a SS soldier and his family. His view from his window was Auschwitz. His wife was most definitely aware of the immense torture that occurred in Auschwitz but continued to live in the house with her children and husband. Once again, this moment made me question such unforgivable beings as they accepted and allowed for the torture of Jews, political prisoners, homosexuals and disabled people. Whilst we all pondered over what kind of human could commit such an extensively brutal crime, our group leader began to read out a poem:

Heinrich Himmler (Head of SS) with Gudrun
(daughter) and Gerhard (son)
All There is to Know About Adolph Eichmann
Leonard Cohen
What did you expect?
Oversize incisors?
Green saliva?

This poem clearly highlights how the SS Soldiers were not visibly terrifying or monster-like. They were humans that somehow believed it was acceptable to commit a horrific crime. They had wives and children who they returned to after destroying the lives of those captured.

We continued to walk around the camp and eventually reached the building that contained the possessions of those captured. I walked into a room where, behind the glass, lay two-tonnes of hair. The image of the hair will be imprinted in my memory forever as it was horrific. Any individual who was sent to the camp was forced to remove all of their hair, both men and women, as it was used for textiles during the war. In a separate area lay plaits/braids that belonged to women and girls symbolising the range of victims who were enslaved or killed. We also saw an enormous pile of suitcases that the victims brought with them - they did not know they were going to be stripped of their clothes, hair and possessions. We saw rusted house keys that were brought and this truly shocked me as the people entering the camp thought they would return home. Locking up our houses and taking our keys with us is an action we do not even think about and the Jews were also doing the same, mundane action. Yet, they would never return home. Most homes were ransacked and all possessions were stolen from the prisoners so the money could contribute to the war effort. We also saw a vast amount of colourful pans and cooking equipment; the colours symbolised the Kosher way of preparing a meal and it was for believing in such values that was to be the reason for their deaths. 

We also entered a corridor with pictures of those who were captured. Pictures were taken of the first prisoners who entered the camps but when the number of prisoners continued to increase, this was deemed ineffective and therefore this idea was abandoned. Looking at the individuals instilled the reality of the Holocaust to me - it gave a face to the those who had died. Prisoners did not just work tirelessly or were murdered, they were also used as human guinea pigs. This was another fact that is not often highlighted when the Holocaust discussed.

These were just a few of the most important lessons and horrific facts I learnt from the tour around Auschwitz. It was an unforgettable experience and I want to highlight the lessons that textbooks and articles do not tend to emphasise.
Comment below with your reactions to this blogpost. I would love to know your opinions.
Thank you
Memorial for the 71st Anniversary of the Holocaust


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