entrance to Auschwitz Birkenau
This is the story of a trip i had planned in my head for years, to visit one of the most infamous death camps of the second world war. July 18 2007 is forever etched in my mind as the day i came face to face with Auschwitz
death camp. Me and Louise had made a pilgrimage to Poland to see Auschwitz, both having had a big interest in the second world war. My grandfather's second wife was born in a small town in Lithuania in the late 1920's, one day they were rounded up and her whole family were murdered and she hid amongst their bodies in a mass grave for several days and managed to survive, the only survivor from her whole family. She was haunted that she had survives, she moved to England after the war and then to Spain with my grandfather where she later died of alcholism after never really getting over what she had been through and the guilt she felt that she was the only one to survive.
Many years after she died my grandparents were married and my grandma relayed this story to me last summer. She encouraged me to visit one of the death camps saying all young people should experience it so we must never forget what innocent people went through. I was lucky Louise wanted to experience it with me, we arrived at Krakow
bus station early on Wednesday 18th July and rode in silence on the bus to Oswiecim. Arriving there we saw Auschwitz in the distance, there was an eerie silence when we got off the bus. There was no noise whatsoever. We made our way inside. The most iconic picture in my head of Auschwitz is the watchtower, now as we entered right underneath it i felt absolutely terrified, despite it being an incredibly hot day i could feel myself shivering.
the entrance to Auschwitz I
I backed away and did a 360 scan of the sight, nothing can prepare you for the size. It is absolutely huge. We started walking alongst the train track and from there began going into the huts. There are eerily dark and have a damp musky atmosphere to them, etched all over the walls is grafitti by tourists which i think is incredibly disrespectful such as 'Marco was here' and stuff like that, i mean what kind of person would do that?!. Many of the huts had been destroyed. The small lookout stands are incrediblt fightening, the terror the inmates must have felt is incredible. The most shocking part of Auschwitz Birkenau was the one remaining gas chamber, the metal door wide open with a small peephole, you walk in incredible darkness, the silence is intense you could hear a pin drop.
one of the huts
I felt physically sick, we stood there for a few moments with our eyes closed. this was the most moving and important parts of the visit. We returned to Auschwitz I where its believed around 70,000 people were murdered. The entrance gate baring the sign 'Arbecht Macht Frei' or 'work makes one free' is haunting. The site is very big, one of the most disturbing areas of Auschwitz I is the execution yard between blocks 10 and 11 is very disturbing. From afar the wall where thousands of people were shot looks small but when you stand in front of it and look up you realise the scale, bullet holes are still there. Louise is very tall and she looked tiny against the wall. There are many flowers and candles and it is a very poignant and moving area of the camp. When Auschwitz was finally liberated on January 27th 1945, only 7,600 survivors remained.
Over 1.1million had been murdered - jews, gypsies, homosexuals, roma, from almost every country in Europe. Coming away from Auschwitz really helped reiterate the importance of these sites and indeed heigtened my respect and sympathy for people who for no other reason than their religion, ethnicity, sexuality and beliefs were systematically wiped out by a nation brainwashed into murder. The experience will stay with you forever, i know it will with me.