After crossing the border we drove through ZamoÅ›Ä‡ and back towards Lublin. Very close to Lublin is a place called Majdanek which was a concentration and extermination camp from WW2. Iâ€™ve been here nearly two years now and never have seen one of these places but we were driving right by the area and so we decided to go in. I somehow felt that a visit to such a place should be on a cold, dark, gray winter day rather than a sunny August afternoon. I quickly realized that you donâ€™t need dismal weather to get the full impact of this place. Iâ€™m surprised at how close it is to the city, plenty of people living in tall apartment buildings in Lublin have a view of this place â€“ green fields and wooden buildings surrounded by barbed wire and watch towers. I expected a concentration camp to be hidden away somewhere, not so close to an important city.
Upon entering the area by car, you donâ€™t see much until you turn at one point and there in front of you is an enormous, somber monument to the victims.
Itâ€™s a huge concrete structure. You continue a little farther and then there is an area where you can park. From here you see that the whole perimeter is still surrounded by barbed wire and that there are watch towers every hundred yards or so. The structures are wooden, dark from years of weather I guess â€“ and the glass panes in many of the windows are the old-fashioned wavy sort of glass that you sometimes see in old homes.
The Nazis operated this concentration camp from 1941 through 1944 when it was captured by the Red Army (who later used the same installations for some of their prisoners). Over 79 thousand people died here. Only about 20% of what was planned was actually built. Itâ€™s a troubling place to visit. Somehow it got under my skin and the feeling is one of depression and a sort of sick hopelessness.
The first building we entered held showers (hundreds of shower heads pointing out of the ceiling) and gas chambers. Itâ€™s all still there, you can even see the little viewing window there the SS guards watched the agony as people were gassed. A disturbing visit. Seeing it somehow makes the whole thing hit home harder. It was a visit to be alone with your thoughts on. The whole place is enormous. There were black crows everywhere, an enormous flock of crows.
Thereâ€™s a lot of information there, plenty of exhibits.
What most disturbed me was a hangar full of shoes â€“ a whole building full of thousands and thousands of dusty decaying shoes. It even seems to smell of shoes in there. I continued through, looking at a little castle that the prisoners had built and then seeing the barracks that they had to sleep in, some beds that held up to 800 people are still in there. With such close living conditions, at one point typhus killed almost the entire population. After the barracks, I walked up to the crematorium and then to another monument / mausoleum which holds the ashes of victims found there.
I found Ana about 15 minutes later and we headed back to the car.