‘Auschwitz stands as a tragic reminder of the terrible potential man has
for violence and inhumanity’ – Billy Graham
An early start and a lonely walk to the bus station just seemed to reinforce the fact that today was the day I was visiting the Nazi Concentration Camp Auschwitz.
Auschwitz is made up from three camps, with the guided tour taking you through two; Auschwitz 1 and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The camps themselves are on the outskirts of Polish town Oswiecim, the Germanic translation of which was ‘Auschwitz’. The bus journey to get there from Krakow is around 90 minutes.
Each tour lasts roughly 3.5 hours, with my tour beginning at 13:15. When arriving at the museum, everyone is given a tour sticker with their start time on it. It also seemed that the colour of the sticker you were given was relative to the language that your tour was delivered in.
Putting into words my Auschwitz experience is really difficult. The whole thing was over-whelming, with so much to take in. However, one thing I know is that I will never forget what I saw, or what I learned.
As a whole, the tour was very structured, very organised, very informative, and very respectful, as I believe it should be considering that it was tackling a topic of such magnitude.
Auschwitz 1 struck me with how pristine it looked, although looking upon the gates of ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ in person for the first time was a daunting experience. As a result, I found myself walking around the complex in a state of confusion. On the one hand I was in awe of what was around me, whilst on the other hand I was almost driven to tears when I heard about and saw the extent of the horrors that took place. I also felt a pang of guilt. This was because I was documenting everything I saw on camera, even though this was something we were encouraged to do.
There is no amount of research or reading that can prepare you for what you see on the tour. I knew all about the number of people killed, that hair and personal items were collected, and that executions took place but, seeing it all in person, really makes it hit home. It was almost in disbelief when I realised that one of the rooms we were taken into was the first ever gas chamber, with the furnaces recreated in the room next door.
And yet, that wasn’t the end. In fact, we had barely scratched the surface because what was at Auschwitz-Birkenau was a lot worse, and for one key reason too; the sheer size of it.
Auschwitz-Birkenau really is the stuff of nightmares. With so much of it now destroyed it looks like some sort of abandoned wasteland. The fact that you cannot see where it ends in three of the four directions speaks for itself, and the tales of the horrors told by the tour guide that I hadn’t yet heard about I still struggle to compute.
In Auschwitz 1 we had seen a photo of the “sorting point”, where people sent to the camp were divided up between “life” and “death”. In Auschwitz-Birkenau I found myself stood at the point. On one side the “walk of life” and, on the other, the “walk of death”.
After visiting Auschwitz, I found myself left on the brink of both mental and physical exhaustion, my emotions pushed to their limit. I felt empty with an over-whelming sense of despair.
It may not be a place everyone wants to visit, but it really is a place that everyone should.