I chose not to include a photo of Auschwitz because I did not feel the need to take pictures of the sites. I didn’t need a visual reminder of the pain and suffering, and felt that omitting a photo was the best thing to do, out of respect.
Picture a void. In that void, picture an apple. Now picture two, five, ten. Fifty. Is it starting to get a little difficult visualizing that many in a given space? Now try and visualize one hundred. Two hundred. Five hundred. One,.. two,… ten thousand. One million. Eleven million. Now imagine a fire wipes out each and every apple. Bummer, right? Now replace the image of those apples with the faces of eleven million humans.
Eleven million. That’s how many people were murdered during the Holocaust. Thinking about the death of one person is tragic. Thinking about the death of eleven million humans is beyond comprehension. Each person murdered as a result of the Final Solution had a story, and one that was cut short. And I visited a place where more than one million people were murdered during this dark time; Auschwitz. As I attempt to put this experience into words, it’s hard finding the correct verbiage to encompass the atrocity of the Holocaust. “Dark” seems like an affront to what the people forced into these camps faced.
As I wandered around Auschwitz, it was an out-of-body experience. And while I expected to feel intense pangs of sadness, it was as if I felt nothing. I existed in a vacuous void, as if blocking out my emotions would help me come to terms with the nightmare of the situation. No, this can’t be real. Humanity could not have possibly stooped so low. People in power could not truly have felt that this many people deserved to die, let alone in such a systematic, calculated, cold-blooded way. But it was real, and walking the grounds of a massive graveyard was proof that the crimes against humanity were, indeed, real.
I stared at holes in the buildings, wondering if children had hidden within the cracks to escape, if only for a moment. I noticed scratch marks on the walls of the gas chambers, and envisioned trapped individuals clambering to get out. I walked the paths of the men, women, and children as they were led to various gas chambers throughout the camps. I stood next to the wall that prisoners were ordered to face while they lined up in an orderly fashion, and were then subsequently shot.
No chapter in a history book can prepare you for this. No in-class discussion can encompass the horror I felt while standing in a place where more than a million people were murdered. Not even visiting the site and hearing the narratives could truly capture the devastation and injustice these innocent souls faced. And for what? Not being a member of what a few high-up officials dubiously established as “The Master Race.”
One photograph in particular shook my foundation. A boy, barely over the age of five, clung to his mother’s side while exiting a train from Hungary. Little did he know he would soon be judged, sorted, and selected for death because of his inability to contribute to the tedious labor that needed to be performed within the walls of the concentration camp. Around him, several others grabbed their belongings and bustled about the still image. Yet the boy stared straight into the lens of the camera with a look of desperation I couldn’t begin to fathom. His face haunts me as I type this, for I know his destiny. And thanks to the cruelty, xenophobia, and sheer evil of others, this boy went on to become a statistic. He never was able to fall in love. He never had the opportunity to make a mistake and learn and grow from it. He was denied the opportunity to learn and expand his mind. And this child was just one. One of millions murdered in the Holocaust. No just ending to his story, no history, nothing. Just another death tally.
No good came out of Auschwitz, I can tell you that. The resilience of the oppressed was merely a side effect of the situation, because resilience was all they had. Searching for meaning from the Holocaust seems daunting, to say the least. But what the Holocaust has provided humanity is an opportunity to teach. For others to learn. To warn. This can never happen again. But shockingly enough, small-scale versions of the nightmare occur across the globe today. As humans, it is our job and inherent duty to love and support one another. To accept and celebrate the differences. To intervene when we witness injustice and oppression. Only we can prevent this from happening again. But the scary thing is, as humans, we have the power to let it happen again.
“Forever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity.”