But Also Dark Nightmares.
For a number of years I would choose a family holiday around where my young daughter wanted to visit. Usually they would revolve around some school project she was involved with. When studying the Romans, we ended up in Rome, during an art project, Barcelona to visit Anton Gaudi’s work.
It rolled around to them doing a project about the holocaust, during which she learnt about Anne Franks. That year we took her to Amsterdam, one of my favourite cities, to visit the Anne Franks house. I remember calling there on honeymoon, at the time it was basically the original house. When we called this time it had been built into a museum. As we were exiting, we noticed a display on the wall concerning the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. She turned to me and asked if I would take her there.
As soon as we had some time spare, I arranged a few days in Krakow, and booked a days excursion to Auschwitz. Krakow was lovely, and the people really friendly. On the morning we were due to visit the camp, I had arranged a private taxi and driver so that we could follow our own itinerary, and not be rushed about.
Into Auschwitz – Birkenau
The camp itself was a brooding intense place. The one stand out memory was the quiet. Not from the visitors who were being properly respectful. But from the lack of any of natures usual chorus. We didn’t hear any birdsong, not a tweet or chirp of an insect. It was as if nature itself sensed the enormity of what had transpired at that terrible place and either avoided it, or refused to give song within its boundaries.
Some of the rooms had been made into exhibits. These alone were heartbreaking. A room filled to the ceiling of children’s shoes. Another filled with false legs. When you think what proportion of the general population had false legs, you realised how many people they had to kill to fill a large room with them.
We took many pictures there, and couldn’t look at a lot of them until much later. The picture below was to my mind the most poignant. It was placed at the end of the railway tracks leading onto the camp. Only small, about perhaps 10 inches high, with nothing to say who had placed it there or what it represented. I didn’t really understand what it was until much later. Looking at it one day, I suddenly realised it was a mother and father holding a child’s hands between them. The camp guide had told us that the railway siding had been where the inmates would have been together as a family for the last time. Before they were segregated and some sent to the gas chambers, others to be worked to death.
I think that visiting Auschwitz is something everyone should try and undertake at least once during their lifetime. To see just what horrors mankind is capable of inflicting upon itself.
The plaque below sums up the unimaginable numbers involved in the whole process. Evidently the small stones placed on it are a Jewish tradition. An explanation of this can be found here.