I had thought of various titles for this post, but after being there I felt there is no room for any metaphor, or any subtlety.
Yes, we all know the story. Nazis killed ~6 million Jews and other nationalities in concentration camps during world war 2. Problem is, we cannot think in numbers. Or actually, we cannot feel in numbers. It’s one thing to read that people have had their goods confiscated, and another thing to see bags, piles of bags with their names on them, shoes, clothes, children’s toys, eyeglasses, a huge pile of round-shaped glasses, like the ones from old movies, and… hair, human hair, cut from victims, tons of human hair.
Pictures and movies cannot make you unerstand, “internalize” what has been. Museums, like the one in Berlin, give you an idea, but nothing, nothing compares to being there, on site.
I used to consider myself having a decent deal of imagination. This is the first place where my imagination was surpassed.
I recommend to everyone a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau (Birkenau is close by, part of the same complex). I especially recommend it to those people who have the tiniest bit of racial superiority feeling. Who thought, at least once, that maybe “it would be better to move all those gypsies somewhere to the desert”.
I invite all to Auschwitz and Birkenau (Oświęcim and Brzezinka in Polish), to see what that actually means. What it means to “normal people”, like you and me. The individual dimension, the destiny of persons with name and picture, something you can visualize and relate to – that makes an infinitely greater impression than any number, any statistic.
Just for the context, a number: the guide told us that, o average, people resisted 2-3 months in Auschwitz. “How long does a guide resist?” I asked, wanting to be clever. No reaction. “Doesn’t it get depressing?” i insisted. “It does”, she said, “but for us it’s important. Most of the guides here had families in concentration camps. My great-grandma died in Ravensburg, my grandma survived Bergen-Belsen. She still lives with us, has 90+ years.”
My question wasn’t a joke, I really think I could not resist doing this job at length. I felt bad for asking, though.
In Auschwitz people don’t joke. Don’t laugh. And not because it is forbidden, but you simply don’t feel like it.
I asked her if anyone survived from the beginning to the end, she said yes, the father of one of the guides.
I won’t describe here what I saw, with numbers and statistics. For those interested, there are plenty of sources for that, for example here or here.
Today, Europe is small (still, while low-cost airlines are still holding on), Krakow has a low-cost airport, Katowice as well. I recommend visiting the city, it is special, and don’t miss a trip to Auschwitz. They say “vedi Napoli, e puoi muori” (see Napoli, then you can die). I’d say ““vedi Auschwitz, e poi vivi.” See Auschwitz, then live.
P.S. In my opinion, a huge problem with Auschwitz is not only that it happened, but that it is still happening today in the world.
P.S.2. We can talk about racism vs. prejudice. For example, now as I am writing I am sitting at a terrace in the big square in Krakow. A group of (probably) gypsies showed up, playing the accordeon and violin. One of them is walking among tables to collect change. Instinctively, I pulled my backpack closer.
Is this racism? Prejudice it is for sure. Where is the difference then?
I think the difference is that I want a person to be convicted for breaking the law and only if he/she breaks the law, and NOT because his skin color is darker and he plays the violin in some square.