Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chelsea: Auschwitz - The Ultimate Haunted House

Self Portrait of Holocaust Survivor and Artist Marian Kolodziej (left is his prisoner identity, right is him after the war)

The Layout of the Exhibit

"Sometimes I can't help but feel helpless
I'm havin' daymares in daytime
Wide awake try to relate
This can't be happenin' like I'm in a dream while I'm walkin'

Cause what I'm seein' is haunting
Human beings like ghost and zombies.."

 -From "Road to Zion" by Damian Marley and Nas

Today I saw many ghosts. They were in the rooms, the walkways, the walls, and on paper. We can see them before us - wandering and lost. Shadows of a time long past, but still living in the minds of the survivors. Can you imagine? Each day continues to shock me. The quote I have mentioned above reminds me of this morning's experience. We visited an unique art exhibition displayed in the basement of a church in the nearby town of Harmeze. There are simply no words to speak that will do justice to the art produced here. The pictures (shown above) were created by Holocaust survivor Marian Kolodziej. The pictures of his memories that he created are amazing in and of themselves, but there is an even more shocking element to his work. He created all of the work in the exhibit - which is enormous - while recuperating from a stroke. It was incomprehensible. It was said that he would not speak of his experiences in the camp. It took 50 years for him to release his emotions and memories and he did so through these detailed and grotesque drawings. Virtually all of the drawings show the distorted faces and bodies of those in the camp, looking more like aliens from a sci-fi comic than representations of human beings. The art was admirable in its talent and a clear expression of the pain the artist must have felt from his experiences. It was his way to make sense of the illogical and to escape, if only momentarily, the ghosts of his haunting past.

The ghosts followed us throughout the day as the memories and testimonies stuck with us. In the afternoon we returned to Auschwitz I to walk through more of the exhibits. The first block we returned to displayed an exhibition of the genocide against the Roma and Sinti people (the "gypsies"). We did not have to much time to go through the exhibit and while we were inside, the lights were shut off. It was a truly scary experience, yet you could call it "authentic." It gave us an idea - if only in the slightest - of what it may have been like to be in the camp during its operation. Another particularly chilling exhibition was that of the French victims of the Holocaust. The exhibit was set up to simulate shadows of the victims on the walls of the dimly lit room. The sight literally gave me chills. It was a very blunt and sober reminder of the lives lost at the hands of the Nazis. Every corner you turned you would feel as if you were being watched or followed by these painted on shadow simulations. It was a very powerful display. Though these experiences pale in comparison to the reality of Auschwitz, it is these small reminders that keep the Holocaust with us in our memories. It brings to mind the grim reality and history of the place: the fact that millions suffered and died here, though you can see that no more. For me this is the true definition of a haunted house.

 "Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?" 
- John Keats

But as I mentioned in yesterday's post, there may be positive aspects to all of this senseless suffering. From the ruins of Auschwitz and other locations in which the Nazi's perpetrated their evils there can come many beautiful things. As I have shown you today, art is one of these results. Drawings, memoirs, poetry - all ways of coping with the past that will last eternally as ink on paper to bear witness to the extremes of human cruelty. Perhaps it is these methods of coping, these responses to suffering that help to make us more human in the end. Counteract inhumanity and depravity with the utmost examples of humanity. After spending three days in the Auschwitz camps my mind is reeling with information, images, thoughts, questions. Three days and there is still so much more to learn - we have only brushed the surface. Three days and I still have not been able to sort through the overwhelming influx of history that was thrown at me in the camps. I am still digesting. But if there is anything I have learned so far from my experiences in the past few days it is that we must bear witness to the Holocaust. I have heard this lesson time and time again, but it becomes even more important the more time I spend here on this tainted land. As the young generation, as students, as visitors to the camp we must carry on the testimony as the survivors pass on. I truly hope that this era in history will never be forgotten, because there is so much to learn from the atrocities that happened here.


  1. Enjoyed this very much, I love the song in the beginning it has a lot of reality to it. And this was very well written, a lot of imagery.