Wednesday, March 25, 2009


One day in Poland we made the trek to Auschwitz, Poland to the Auschwitz I Concentration Camp and then 3 kms down the road to Birkenau (Auschwitz II). These were the camps of Eli Weisel and Anne Frank and more than a million more. It was, as you can expect, a somber experience. A rainy day was befitting of the place. Kirk and I took measures to learn and see individually at the camps while shielding Connor from the brutality still lingering in the place. We took turns going in the blocks (or barracks) and stayed away from the crematoriums altogether. Some things are just not meant for the young - even if they are too young to know the difference. Nonetheless the harsh history lesson came thundering through us. There are so many atrocities pictured at these camps, but I am going to try to keep this blog deep enough that I don't forget - yet shallow enough to not be too graphic.

Kirk and I visited the Dachau concentration camp near Munich six years ago. I remember it being huge and devastating, shabby and wooden all at first sight. What you would picture in your mind from the books and facts you know about the Nazi terror camps. But Auschwitz was different. Sure, it had that foreboding gate with the saying "Work makes one free" - prominently displayed in many Holocaust Hollywood films.
And yes it had horrors memorialized inside the "blocks." But honestly outside the rowed buildings were sturdy, red brick. They could have been buildings on a college campus. I was surprised at how solid they still stood. And at how small and compact the camp seemed to be.
As Kirk and I took turns strolling Connor up and down the row as the other toured inside the blocks, I couldn't help but to picture what it would have been like. To have our family torn apart for no reason. I hadn't realized that MOST trains shipped the entire load of prisoners directly to the gas chambers without even being inspected for survival. Probably 90% had this outcome. No chance at all and deceived in their final fate as they believed they were taking a cleansing shower. Maybe it seems obvious, but it was a shocker to me. I wonder if in those freight cars of folks was the person who could have cured cancer or made a dent in world peace. We will never know.
Inside the blocks we had to weave amongst many, many tour groups. Every single Polish student is required to come to Auschwitz during their schooling at the appropriate age. Quite a field trip; a far cry from the Zoo and the Art Museum of my childhood school outings. It made for a tight squeeze for us. Once I wedged around the clumps of groups I found myself alone in many of the rooms. Alone with the tons and tons of hair. Alone with the countless suitcases and eyeglasses. With the colorful pottery and the awful empty cans of poison used in the gas chambers. All found during the camp's liberation. It was haunting. Then we went to Birkenau (Auschwitz II). It was built as an expansion when the first was no longer big enough. Kirk and I took turns sitting with Connor in the car while we each went in. This camp was enormous and as far as the eye could see. Much of it was destroyed by the Nazis when they knew they were going to be found out. Evidence covered - but not really.
The most difficult symbol was the train track going right into the camp. Imagine the freight cars packed with innocent men, women, and children tumbling out. Unknowing. And the Nazi view from the tower above just watching, allowing, heck - condoning it all!

The revelation I have from my visit here was this. I hope it comes out right. I never for a second have doubted that this Holocaust really happened. I accept it and am sickened by it. Even though it is inconceivable to understand the EVIL. Here is the learning part. Do you ever wonder if miracles described really could have happened as they say, be they Biblical or modern day? Sometimes it is hard to wrap my brain around those too. But I have to conclude that if we could make something this unimaginable a reality - then of course the opposite, the good and miraculous can and must be true. Even though GOOD miracles are sometimes inconceivable to understand with logic and reason. The gruesome history of the Holocaust has to mean the opposite - the miraculous - can and did and will continue to happen. Ironic that a primarily Jewish terror camp could bring that out, don't you think?
Now how do I ever begin teaching this little one about the atrocities of man? Not for a long while, I know. But it breaks my heart to think she will have to learn these realities - ever. It's a shame we can't shelter our children forever from danger and evil.
PS - Stay tuned for a more uplifting blog conclusion to our Poland trip. It really is an incredible place. Just wouldn't be complete without deep thoughts about the Holocaust history.

1 comment:

Jen_runs said...

Brilliant post Reid. I have goosebumps reading it. Thank you for sharing your experience particularly for those who have not yet had the privilege (and yes, I think of it as a privilege) to visit.

My love to you all
Jen x