Saturday, March 10, 2007


Oswiecim is the Polish name of the town (pronounced, roughly, "os vee chem"). It was very confusing and frustrating trying to get the bus there. Ended up taking the train. Just getting the ticket took a long time, as I went back and forth between ticket windows, information windows, down corridors and back through them, up and down stairs and across platforms. Seeing and hearing the confusion of other English-speaking tourists made me feel better.

There were many people and tour groups at Auschwitz. Although I'm sure the guides give valuable information, it is still an intellectual experience, not that different from reading a history book. And people have the urge to talk amongst themselves, which also detracts from the experience. I think these things end up being distractions from really thinking about what happened--the most important part of actually visiting Auschwitz--and more, engaging our imaginations and emotions--the real triggers of empathy, and not just pity. To cruise through chatting about how bad it was is to miss the point.

Mostly, I tried to avoid the large tour groups and not be distracted by the talking of others. But it made me angry when a group a four people were talking loudly in the crematorium. I actually shushed them. One woman rolled her eyes. There was even a sign in three languages asking people to maintain silence and remember that thousands of people were murdered in this very place. Outside, another member of the party got more photos for her photo album.

I wasn't able to really grasp that thousands of people were gassed and burned right where I was standing. Where I did grasp the horror of the Holocaust in a way never before was at the exhibits of articles stolen from the prisoners--glasses, artificial limbs and crutches, shoes, pots and pans. I first saw the mound of glasses out of the corner of my eye, and I had to go to the window and take a few deep breaths before I could look at them--mound of mangled wire, glass lenses and gaps where lenses used to be--these once belonged to people who breathed, who ate and loved and lived their lives before their lives were stolen from them. The room of pots and pans made my throat close.

Everyone wants to know, "how could this have happened?" Can we all assume that we would never contribute, even passively, to this kind of thing? As I wandered on the grounds I wondered: why did it take three years to save the people of Auschwitz? why was it allowed to go on for three years?


TC said...

I remember this sensation well. For me it was walking through the Anne Frank house in Hampsterdamn. And a bit once on top of a pyramid in Mexico. I guess I'm superstitious, the "shining" thing and all.

But I love that you can connect emotionally with another time that was only an idea (at best) when read from a book, or seen on screen.

Stay porous. It's good to soak up the universe.


gupgod said...

I admire your meditative response & desire for silence in this place; most Westerners have a hard time facing the idea of death, let alone the notion of how many "regular" people were complicit in this mass murder.