Saturday, April 29, 2017

Walking Their Path

When we went to Aushwitz-Birkenau, it was a very different experience than it had been at Auschwitz. I was prepared for it only so much; I had imagined it would be easier after the initial shock of the first camp.

Registration Building at Auschwitz-Birkenau
This was not true, in part because of the major difference between these two sites. One had been transformed into a museum, something modern despite our moving through buildings that had been used during the Shoah. The latter was left as it was, with only bunkers rebuilt to show what it would have looked like. It was complete emptiness and huge expanse that I hadn’t been prepared for. It’s impossible to imagine the real size of the camp before you are there.

What struck me hard during this day was our walk through the registration building. We walked on elevated glass platforms that prevented our feet from touching the true ground of the building; I am grateful as it felt like it might have been too much to have our feet on that same ground. Walking outside was different; inside became a specific place, a specific event. We followed through their fearful progress.

Furnaces for burning clothing and belongings

First, women would enter this building and be stripped of their clothes. The day we walked through felt cold to me and it was higher than the typical temperature in Poland. I had a coat on. We followed down the hallway, and along the way you could see the different rooms. At a certain point in the war, the women would have known one of their possible fates and been terrified as they believed they were walking to the gas chambers. At the end of the hall they would be shaved, and then they would get into a real shower and discover that this was not their fate.

While this was happening, all of their belongings would be being burned. This was in part sanitation, but it had the effect of eliminating even more of them off the world. The women would be cold and wet now, and stand in another hall being registered and awaiting clothes, potentially for hours.

Walking through the building made each of these moments more vivid than they ever could have been otherwise. We walked their path, quite literally, in those moments, and cold myself and somewhat on edge, I did not get shaved or stand frozen and wet. It made the image of that experience much more vivid.


Post a Comment