“To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
― Elie Wiesel,
Even up until the day we were leaving, Hubs and I were going back in forth if we wanted to go see Auschwitz. We’ve been to Dachau and weren’t sure if we wanted to put ourselves in that emotional state again. We are so glad we decided to make a go for it. It was sort of on the way back to Vienna and we both said we would have regretted if we had not gone. It was very emotional going to both sites. Did you know Auschwitz was made of three main camps and 40 sub camps? I knew it was the largest, but didn’t realize just how big it was until we were there. Hubs and I managed to visit Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II. Auschwitz I has the famous gate with “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work sets you free). It was really something to see first hand and really know that the psychological torture for the victims was utterly relentless. We only walked the grounds there briefly and decided not to take pictures of each other there, out of respect. We don’t believe it’s a place to come and get your “happy face” pictures. We toured a gas chamber and crematorium for only a few seconds. The emotions were too much.
Auschwitz II: Birkenau is probably the most infamous of the Auschwitz cluster of concentration camps. The old rail line that leads in through the center gate is still there for the world to see. Hubs and I always knew Auschwitz II was big, but, really, it’s humongous. We learned about this place in history classes, but to see it in first person was overwhelming, humbling, atrocious, sad, etc…There are not enough words to describe the feelings and sensations standing on the same platform where Jewish people from several European countries, transported like cattle, disembarked packed rail cars in a unfamiliar, hostile, land. Separated into two lines – one to live, and one to die – only hours after arrival. How could evil this horrid be permitted to exist in modern times? One preserved railcar still remains on the tracks, displaying how people arrived and the deplorable travel conditions. On one side of the camp 15 prisoner barracks remain, restored, so the world cannot forget. Behind that row of 15 around 105 more existed, only the chimneys are left behind. Near the end of the war, when Germany was near defeat, the German soldiers tried to destroy and cover-up their atrocities. Like children who knew they were doing something wrong, but wanted to cover it up to avoid punishment.
Like I said before, I’m glad we did it. As we were leaving, we had to stand on the tracks leading into the camp one last time to ‘take it all in’. If you’re ever in that part of the world it really is worth the trip. Both sites are free to enter, and guided tours in several languages are available.
The pictures below are ordered by Auschwitz II, and then Auschwitz I: