Lest We Forget

Sunday, May 18, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 27:  Oświęcim, Poland
Since we realized we would be visiting Krakow, we have been planning a side trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum some 40 miles away.  But we realized today, we really had not prepared ourselves for this experience.

Over the years, both of us have read many accounts of concentration camps, including firsthand experiences.  We have known victims  We both thought we had a complete understanding of the inhumane horrors that went on at these nightmarish encampments.  But we were so very wrong.

With one mind-jarring glimpse after another into the experience called life in this desolate corner of hell, the scenes that took our breath away and left us devastated were the exhibits of personal effects of the victims. Out of respect to those who suffered mightily and died here, photos were prohibited of the intimate belongings on display—thousands upon thousands of items removed from victims as they were led into the gas chambers within hours after their arrival at this "work camp."

There were rooms dedicated to shoes, thousands upon thousands of shoes, including vast piles of children's footwear.  And brushes.  And suitcases.  The Nazis were very efficient in sorting the belongings of their victims.

And then there was the hair.  Nazi  exterminators carefully harvested human hair for sundry uses, ranging from wigs to upholstery and pillow stuffing to weaving of special fabrics. One room featured an exhibit of thousands of pounds of human hair—a braid that might have been wrenched from an innocent child, a curly white beard from a naive old rabbi.  At least 40,000 people were victimized to accumulate the amount of hair on display.  It was more than one could comprehend this evil perpetrated against another person.

Part of an exhibit of empty Zyklon B (cyanide) cans

In an effort to depict the brutality and atrocities that took place here, the museum offered up one after another exhibit that challenged one's ability to comprehend horror.  One exhibit encompassed a massive pile of empty cans of Zyklon B, the cyanide-based pesticide used to efficiently murder hundreds of thousands of people at Auschwitz and its "offspring" camp Birkenau.

Words cannot express the impact of a visit to these death factories.  We felt extremely thankful to be guided through this soul-numbing experience by Teresa, a guide with 16 years experience at the museum.  Her presence and presentation added just the proper gravitas.  She is quite passionate about the historical significance of her role and upbraided some insensitive young people our tour group encountered.
SUNDAY, 18 MAY 2014