Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Encountering Evil Day 2: Birkenau

“Stand tall. Smile. Breathe.” These four words of my professor, Dr. Procario-Foley I kept in mind as I embarked on Auschwitz II-Birkenau on Tuesday. To be honest, I had enough; I did not think anything could get worse than Auschwitz from Monday. But, I was wrong. Things only did get worse at Birkenau. But, it was a different kind of worse. It was that kind of worse where your body is completely numb and you cannot feel anything. You are hurting so much and your body is so stunned by human pain, it is not even possible to feel.

You know those pictures we see of train tracks running through a wide brick building? It you google the Holocaust, it would probably come up. Well, that wide brick building with the train tracks running through it is Birkenau; never did I think I would actually see those train tracks. 


View from the SS Tower
Birkenau is a lot different from Auschwitz. It is simply land that is filled with pure terror that goes on for several miles. The place even has a distinct smell to it. Our tour guide, Aggie from Auschwitz took us up to the SS guard tower. From here, I could see how far Birkenau stretched too. I looked left, I looked right and all I saw was brick and wooden buildings prisoners were tortured in. We first entered Block 16a. Block 16a was incredibly hard to walk through, as it was a place strictly sick women were placed. Block 16a had three shelves for where the women slept. Each shelf was to hold three to four women. Emancipated women were just pile on top of each other just to keep themselves

In Block 16a, I was particularly disturbed by the giraffe past visitors had written on the brick walls. These people never even received a proper burial and barely even a chance to survive. I was not only disturbed by Birkenau, but by the disrespect from other visitors.
Block 16a Sign

Bunk Beds in Block 16a
Aggie continued to walk us through Birkenau and just like Auschwitz, things only got worse. We confronted the cattle car, which “resettled” the Hungarian Jews. For the Nazis, resettled merely meant deportation to a death camp. Aggie was telling us the story at the cattle car at how families would be separated forever. The Jews would be separated into lines of either forced labor or immediate death in the gas chamber. I tried my best to put myself in those people’s shoes, but it was just impossible. Anytime I try to put myself in a victim’s shoe, I simply cannot. It is impossible; something happens inside me that I understand what is going on, but I cannot get past that step. I’ve learned however that it is something I should never have to understand. What happens to those Hungarian Jews is simply incomparable to anything else. 

Birkenau stretched on and so did my pain. The death camp does not have anymore standing gas chambers and crematoriums, but the remains are still there. What hit me the host when looking at the ruins of the gas chambers were the steps. I starred at the steps and could only think about people did not even know those were the last steps they would ever take.  I started to cry again and just like in Auschwitz, all I could do is pray. It’s interesting how the darkest of places has shown me where God is.

I continued on through Auschwitz and like I said, only felt empty. I almost felt bad at one point cause I thought I was not feeling anything. But, I realized that one of the most inhuman feelings is to not feel anything at all.

Aggie took us to the place where I could finally feel something. In Birkenau, there is a pond where the ashes of the victims have been placed. It was finally a place I could feel something; I felt peace. I felt peace for the victims that they could rest in the beauty of God’s creation. There were roses and all sorts of flowers floating in the water; birds were chirping; and the wind was singing. I closed my eyes and felt God’s presence holding me as I prayed for all the victims and peace in our world. 

Pond of Ashes at Birkenau
It’s hard to even imagine thinking positive when it comes to the Holocaust. But, it does not seem as possible as soon as you come face to face with it. Auschwitz and Birkenau helped me realize that God did not cause any of this. God is human too and simply was crying with me that day. God was just as disappointed with humanity as I was. We think God is this almightily, powerful, and perfect being, in which He is; however, we forget he is also human and can feel horrified, ashamed at other humans, and immensely distraught on a situation that he may not even know what to do. During the Holocaust, God may have not known what to do except simply cry.

We ended our day at Birkenau with a prayer service. We bought six roses, gold and maroon, to represent the six million Jews and Iona. Professor Nadel prayed the Kaddish, a Hebrew prayer and we remembered all the victims we may have personally known that were affected by the Holocaust. I may not have known anyone personally, but I did understand that even though different religions, we all are brothers and sisters that believed in something that ultimately led to the same God.

Ultimately, is that not something to remember in our present day? We may all have different faith beliefs, but don’t they lead to a God that is all loving and peaceful. Maybe if we recognized this, our world maybe different.


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