This has proved very difficult to write, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.
Whilst in Krakow I took a trip to Auschwitz. I had visited Dachau several years ago whilst in Germany and found the visit gut wrenchingly painful, and was expecting Auschwitz to be even worse.
On arrival “that” gate is visible as soon as you leave the reception centre, and it really does make one shudder. I cant think of any three words than engender more disgust or loathing than those engraved on the wrought ironwork that precedes the buildings of the camp.
I arrived after 10am and was thus obligated to be part of an organised tour, not really what I wanted but given the sufferance of those who were interned here, it felt churlish to complain, so the tour began.
I saw buildings, I saw a rebuilt wall, I saw the camp where the workers lived, as they were slowly worked and starved to death.
I saw a huge glass case containing real human hair, taken from the heads of inmates to make a material for the war effort.
Another glass case full of cooking utensils, making one wonder if people really did know what was awaiting them, as has often been suggested.
Glasses, an uncountable quantity of glasses, and suitcases, with names and addresses of people who clearly didn’t survive.
After Auschwitz I took the shuttle bus to Berkenau, to see the train platform, the buildings and what remained of the gas chambers.
My final thesis for my history degree was on the Final Solution, and had seen myriad photo’s and footage of the camp, thus was aware (who isn’t at least in some way cognisant) of the events in the camp. I would never say I understood the horror of the place, nobody who hadn’t passed through those gates during the German occupation could claim to understand, but I felt that I was as aware as I could be of the events.
i’m not saying I was left untouched by the two places, it leaves a mark on anyone with a grain of humanity in their soul, but I felt then, and still feel now several weeks on, that if an alien was taken to visit Dachau and Auschwitz, the extra terrestrial would assume that Dachau was the worse place.
Now, neither place was anything less than evil, but purely from a scale sense, Auschwitz was far worse.
But this is why I find this so difficult, I know that a minimum of 1.3 million people, men women and children, died at Auschwitz, but when you walk through the place, there is almost nothing to indicate this. Yes, you see the exhibits of the hair and the glasses and suitcases, and you can put two and two together, and it will make four, but from memory, there were only around a dozen different photographs in the entire place.
I’m not asking for re-enactments, and I’m not asking for blood and guts, but I really do feel, that in memory of those poor tortured souls who lost their lives here, more photo’s showing the horror of day to day living should be exhibited, lest we forget.
I think Simone Weill said it far better than me, when she went back on a visit with her family.
“This doesnt resemble what I endured at all. Now there is grass where there was none. Now there is silence where there was none and now there is peace, where there was none.”