This isn’t a day trip you look forward to in Poland, but I think it’s one people need to see, if they have the chance. The Nazi death camps are the best example of man’s inhumanity towards man, and as the memorial plaque states, serve as a ‘warning to humanity’.
The tour of the camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau, was done in a very somber and respectful fashion. Our tour guide was a middle-aged Polish woman who spoke in a very matter-of-fact manner, almost stoic at times which I think was appropriate…allowing the visitors to react on their own to the atrocities laid out before us. When she spoke of building 10, the site of Mengele’s human experiments on men, women and children, she remarked on his personal role in human suffering, while he ended up with the privilege of dying an old man after his escape to South America.
When she spoke of the camp’s first commandant, Rudolf Hoss, she mentioned how he, his wife and child lived in a five-bedroom villa next to the prison. His wife was even quoted as saying living at Auschwitz was ‘paradise’. She then relayed the story of how after the war, his wife, under interrogation, gave up her husband’s location where he was captured, tried and eventually hung on the gallows overlooking the crematorium.
Much of the camps were destroyed by the Nazis near the end of the war, in an attempt to eliminate any evidence of what went on there. The gas chambers were in rubble, and most of Birkenau was basically burned to ground.
Some of the warehouses remained, where they kept the prisoners’ personal belongings, of which some were on exhibit. Each prisoner was told to bring one suitcase of personal items to Auschwitz, which was quickly confiscated upon arrival. Most of the belongings were picked through by the Nazis and what was usable was sent back to Germany. As if being mass murderers wasn’t enough, they were thieves as well.
I wanted to keep this blog entry to a minimum, as I’m not sure what I can write that hasn’t already been said. I had the obvious emotional reactions that I’m sure many do, but I was also struck by how it appears most of the German military went along with such a nightmare. I understand the concept of ‘groupthink’, and I’ve heard the excuses about ‘just following orders’, and maybe those who voiced opposition were quickly executed…however I’m still disappointed that not enough spoke up to prevent this from happening. In this day and age where whistle-blowers expose the crimes and misdemeanors of governments, and where social media is so prevalent and far-reaching, I would like to think something like this could never happen again. I think that’s why it’s important these sites remain, for people to see and remember.
“There is only one way in which one can endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man.”