Auschwitz & Birkenau

I’m not entirely sure how to start this. Mostly because I’m still processing the events of today and all that we saw. Today we went to Auschwitz and Birkenau. To say that this was an emotional day would be a gross understatement.

We started our day with a tour of Auschwitz. Our tour guide at one point described Auschwitz as deceitful and that is true. It was a gorgeous day outside and it was almost like a mask to the atrocities that occurred there. I can’t speak for any of my other classmates for which exhibits were the most powerful, but for me personally I was the most moved by the hair exhibit, gas chamber, and crematorium in Auschwitz. Even as I type this it brings tears to my eyes. Building 11 in Auschwitz had a sickly sweet smell that was absolutely horrific and I’m still working to process the gravity of that. As soon as I stepped into the building the air was instantly heavier and before reaching the steps to go into the basement, I became nauseous. The building had been used for cells, punishments, and executions. The sights of the building were honestly unspeakable.

There was an exhibit of drawings from the children that were in these camps and the images are utterly heart wrenching. The drawings depict many different scenes. Some I found particularly powerful were a drawing of Birkenau, another of gallows, and one of armed guards separating the Jews from their families. I cannot begin fathom what it was like to be a prisoner in these camps, with the unnecessary cruelty that was happening. One example of this would be that there was  a water reserve on the grounds that was used as a swimming pool by guards in the camp, while those that were  imprisoned didn’t even have food.

Next we went to Birkenau. It was vast and fundamentally different from Auschwitz, because it was built specifically as a death camp. The crematorium and gas chambers were destroyed, along with other buildings on the grounds. However, there were adult living quarters and a childen’s living quarter that were intact and was honestly horrifying to wittness, because the conditions in these spaces were horrible. In the children’s block, the kids were not made to work or sent to the gas chambers, but many died because of the poor conditions. However, what is truly moving about Birkenau is the amount of walking one has to do on these grounds. Knowing that many of the victims that arrived here were already so weak and then were either directly sent to the gas chambers or made to work is incomprehensible. To put it in perspective a woman today was in the bathroom (we had done a lot of walking by this point) asked someone else if they thought the water in the bathroom sink would be safe to drink. Instantly I was hit with a wave of sorrow for the people that had been here and forced to work with no food or water. We are healthy individuals and the walking was hard on us, I can’t imagine what it was like for the prisoners.

While this experience was emotionally harrowing, it extremely important to have in general. I would argue an even more important experience to have, because of the current global political climate. A quote that has stuck with me is by Primo Levi and he says, “It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.” Today has raised many questions for me specifically regarding ideology, political structures, and the issue of framing. I look forward to more classes with Dr. Wright and Dr. Anes to get more answers about these different issues.

~Rachel

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