I promised my next blog would talk about Vienna, but I will get back to that. We are have moved on to Krakow now and I need to write about our day yesterday. It was one of the most difficult days I have spent in a long, long time and I am very much processing all the things I saw and felt. We went to Auschwitz and Berchenau and my goodness how those places weigh on the soul.
We first visited Auschwitz and were told we needed to be part of an English speaking tour group. We found the place to buy the tickets and were told the next tour would start in 45 minutes and that we needed to collect our audio sets and then go to the movie theatre to watch a video which was starting in 15 minutes. After the video our guide would then collect us. We were told to put a little orange sticker on our jacket and they would then be able to recognise that we were part of the English speaking group.
After getting our tickets, dutifully putting our stickers on we then went from stall to stall trying to find the right place to collect our audio equipment. They all said 'English speaking, over there.' and waved vaguely in a direction to our left. After about four or five attempts we then found the right place. Next to find the theatre. We moved to towards the signs and were ushered in to a theatre. For the first ten minutes or so it was just us sitting there. We assumed the movie would be about the events of WWII, but had no idea exactly what the video would be about or why precisely it was being shown. At about 11:55 (the movie was to start at 12:00) more people started to arrive. Did we need the audio sets for the the movie? All around me people were fiddling with the sets to see if they could hear anything on it. Trying to work out what was going on.
At 12:00 the movie started and was in English. It was about the people who were found in these two places ar the time of liberation, both the living and the dead. It was incredibly moving. After the end the doors on the side of the theatre were opened, not a word was said and we all moved out to the sunshine in a paved area. We all stood there, not knowing where to look, what to do or how to feel. Big groups started to move off. The rest of us were playing with our audio equipment. I know I was wondering 'Am I in the right place? Did they make an annoucement over this thing that I missed? ' We looked at others in the group and they seemed equally confused.
At 12:30 a lady and a man appeared with a sign saying 'English'. A crowd of us moved towards them, expecting some more information. They spoke quietly to each other in another language, probably Polish, and said not a word to us for 2 or 3 minutes. We all looked on expectantly, feeling totally and utterly confused. Did they even speak English? No one dared to question them. After this time the woman spoke and said we would be broken into three smaller groups and assigned to a guide and that we should stand near those we were with so as not to be separated. This then happened, we had been sorted, as they were in the days these camps were being used for their horrific purposes. The big difference was we were still with those we love. Our guide then gave us a channel number for our audio unit and we were finally in the land of communication.
This first 45 minutes was a huge lesson for me. It was not hard to imagine how the people arriving at these camps felt. They too didn't speak the language, could get no information about what was next and were left standing and waiting expectantly relying on others to help them. The big, big difference was that it ended very quickly for us, but not always for them. For most (70 to 80%) this confusion would be their last life experience, for the rest there was worse yet to come.
We moved into the camp with our guide. She was excellent and provided us with very clear and concise explanations along the way. We saw the property stolen from the people when they arrived. Suitcases with names and birthdates on them, including those of little children and babies. We saw the piles of spectacles and an enormous pile of human hair, all grey now as any pigment has faded with time. For me, one of the hardest things was the enormous pile of shoes and knowing that for every two shoes in that pile it was one person's life represented. We saw the torture barracks where four or five people had to spend the night standing in a place one metre square and were then sent to work the next day and punished for not functioning. We saw the wall where they were shot, the gallows they were hung from and the square they stood for hours in. We saw the places where the horrible experiments were done in the name of science. We had little twin boys from Japan I suspect, in the group and I couldn't help looking at them and feeling my heart sink for all the twins abused by these sadists. We saw, and stood in, the chamber where thousands were murdered and then taken nextdoor to be burnt... I won't say cremated because for me that sounds too respectful for what happened to these people.
We heard how the camp started out for Polish political dissidents. It was a place where doctors, artists, scientists and academics were taken to be silenced (there is us both gone) and moved on to be part of the 'final solution' for the Jewish people. Being Jewish wasn't the only reason you were sent there: if you were a Gypsie, Jehovah's Witness, homosexual, had a disabilty or any number of other things you may have found yourself in one of these hell holes. The tears ran down my face as the horror of it all hit home.
At Berchenau we saw and walked on the platform where the people were brought into this god forsaken place. We took the left path and walked in the footsteps that millions walked their final steps to the gas chambers. The big difference was that I had Richard's hand to hold and all was safe now.
The gas chambers are no longer there as the nazis tried to destroy the evidence before the liberation day. The ruins are, and a memorial, and the feeling that there are the souls of people saying 'don't let this happen again'. The worst part is that you see it all and know that as so called intelligent beings we still haven't learnt. Atrocities too much like this still continue to this day.