Treblinka versus Auschwitz-Birkenau

As I reflect on the past couple of days, the first thing that comes to mind is Treblinka. Dr. Wright has reminded us time and time again to think about the narrative that is being shown to us at each place we visit throughout our journey. Thinking back to Auschwitz-Birkenau, before we went I remember reading that it is now the best-preserved and best-documented former Nazi concentration-extermination camps. A majority of the camps architecture remains relatively intact and include artifacts, such as original documents, hair that was shaved from their heads, and plundered victims property. Visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum bids an opportunity to see buildings, execution and imprisonment sites, and thousands of objects that had been preserved. The visual aids substantially assist the visitor to conceptualize and recreate a historical time when Auschwitz was active.

In contrast to this, I find myself standing in a field full of 17 thousand stones of varying sizes that symbolize Jewish headstones. There is a small exhibition with details on the activities of the camps as well as a model of how the death camp was set-up. But the real value comes from wandering around the site of the old camps. It was a beautiful, very warm, day when we visited and the peacefulness and quiet of a place where unspeakable horrors took place was disarming. You see where the mass graves were found and a very simple but tasteful area commemorating the railway and the platform pays homage to the hundreds of thousands who died at the death camp here. You are essentially left there to lead your own mind to imagine and conceptualize events by yourself. Rather than at Auschwitz as you are guided and given a multitude of visual aids to help you create a narrative that they feed into.

Finally, these commemorative sites do not only commemorate events. Rather they connect the past to the present, by giving history a physical place. They represent the strain between remembrance and conspiracy that arise as nations make effort to situate tragedies like the Holocaust within their national narratives. And, most importantly, they aid individuals to situate such events within their own narratives.

-Lillian F.

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