Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Becoming a Witness: The Biggest Question

Gate entrance to Auschwitz I

The sign for the camp entrance is simpler than I expected. The sign is a copy, the original having bee stolen (and eventually recovered) years earlier. It reads, 'Arbeit macht frei' or 'Work will set you free'. Our tour guide takes us through the camp step by step, as we walk in the footsteps of those 1.3 million prisoners killed at Auschwitz. The buildings were built before the war, most in 1919 and once Poland was invaded, the area was turned into the concentration camp. In 1942, Auschwitz was the largest death camp in the world. Prisoners were selected upon arrival, with only those strong and healthy allowed to live and work in the camp, the rest were immediately sent to the gas chambers. Around 80% of the the transports were too old or too young, too weak or too sick to work, those were the ones that received an immediate death sentence.

Barracks and barbed wire fencing - Auschwitz I 

Being on these grounds feels as if I have stepped into a different time, and I feel as if I have in some way. A constant lump is in my throat as we walk through the grounds of the camp. My heart feels as if someone has it in a tight squeezing grip, and is not going to let go. As we walk through Barrack 27, a renovated living quarter turned memorial, the chills I have seem as if they will never go away. In one room, children's drawings cover the walls. In another, the names of the victims of the Holocaust fill the largest book in the world. There are 4 million names are printed, 2 million names are missing and are unlikely ever to be recorded. At the end of this exhibit there is a quote by Primo Levi, "It happened, therefore it can happen again; this is the core of what we have to say." 

Crematorium - Auschwitz I 

From there we went to the gas chamber and crematorium, located next to the gallows. Being inside this building made me feel sick to my stomach. The tour guide told us that 800 people were gassed at a time in this building. One of my classmates turned to the other and asked 'how many students did you have in your high school?' She answered '4000' he replies 'Mine had 600 my whole high school would have been wiped out in 20 minutes. This concept is terrifying to imagine, but this was the reality of life in the camps. 
Commander Rudolf Hoss house, grounds of Auschwitz (Photo by Chris Gillen)

Towards the end of the tour, we saw the house of Rudolph Hoss, commander of Auschwitz, who lived just beyond the fence of the camp with his wife and children. Then our tour guide told us a sickening fact, the commander's wife was quoted as saying that Auschwitz was a "paradise". That sentence seems ridiculous to even type due to how blatantly wrong it is. The Hoss house was located not a hundred yards beyond the gas chamber and crematorium. The smell of burning bodies without a doubt infiltrated the house, and yet this place was a paradise? A sick thought. A paradise is not a place where your children play and grow up on the grounds of a murder camp. A paradise is not where innocent lives are being taken by the millions steps from your own front door. 

After visiting the camp, and learning about the horrors that took place there, a terrifying question came to mind. Where was God in all of this? As someone heavily dependent on my faith, this question knocked me sideways. Never has something occurred that has caused me to question my faith in God. But stepping foot on the grounds of Auschwitz had be questioning more than ever. Upon reflection that evening I learned that I was not alone in my fear. Several of my peers and friends had the same concern. The question was just repeated over and over again, where was God? And for one of the first times in my life. I had no answer. 

Step Count: 7,742

Miles: 3.31


Post a Comment