No matter how emotionally prepared you are, visiting the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau will be a horryfing and scarring experience.
As someone deeply interested in World War II history and having spent a fair amount of time studying Nazi Germany, I went on the tour of the concentration camp with full awareness of the brutality that took place there.
Over a million Jews, from all corners of occupied Europe, were brought to this infamous concentration camp right at centre of the Third Reich in Krakow and were systematically gassed. The inhumane practices that took place there such as the human experiments were so outrageously degrading that I don’t even know where to begin.
The point is, while I expected it to be a sobering experience, I didn’t expect to feel any more disturbed than I already was. The reality, however, was far from it. As soon as you enter the buildings in the compound, a vile and revolting feeling overtakes your body. It’s a repressive feeling that is almost suffocating. There is no rational explanation for it unless you believe in negative energies.
While at the exhibition area, we went to see the building where defiant prisoners were kept. There were rooms underground with plain concrete walls and no windows or ventilation where prisoners were left to, essentially, starve. It was shocking to say the least- five minutes in there was enough to make me gag. Imagine being in there just painfully waiting for life to slowly slip out of you. It’s worse than being killed. What could anyone have done to deserve this?
But then a scene from an American T.V show ‘Orange is the New Black’ flashed before my eyes. The main character, Piper Chapman, gets put into the SHU or solitary confinement. Although the show is fictional, the prison system or practices it exposes is unfortunately not.
From prisons and detention centres around the world to the more recent genocides that occurred Rwanda and Cambodia, it’s fair to say that the horrors such as those practiced at Auschwitz are not a thing of the past. It’s even sadder that many people aren’t even aware of these atrocities that are not so widely captured in the media.
The visit at Auschwitz is meant to be a sobering experience based on what occurred there in the past. But for me personally, it was more than that. My visit there further weakened my faith in humanity.
One of the things we were told by our guide while on the tour was that within the camp there was a prison known as ‘Canada’. Why Canada? Because Canada was known as ‘the land of milk and honey’. Those that could afford to bribe the guards with their valuables were provided with a more food and better conditions. Many of them, along with those that were fit to work, survived the war.
Even within a concentration camp, there was a class system. Even within the victims, there were divisions. Hard to accept, but unfortunately, a reality.
“Those that don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it”- George Santayana.
This quote was plastered on the wall in one of the exhibitions. Unfortunately, George Santayana, as history has shown, the horrors of the past has been repeated and, somewhere in the world, probably still continues to be as we speak.