In November 2015 we visited Krakow, Poland and whilst we were there we couldn’t miss out on visiting Auschwitz concentration camp.
I am a big history geek, especially when it comes to studying WW1 & WW2 and I’m really interested in civilian perspectives rather than military.
First, we visited the museum in Auschwitz 1 which had originally been used as a military base. This was more about how the Nazis convinced the Jews to leave their homes voluntarily.
In Auschwitz 2 I got chills and goosebumps. Everyone told me that I would cry (I tend to cry at everything from adverts to the news to cartoons) but I didn’t.
Walking down the train tracks felt surreal. I have spent a lifetime seeing films, documentaries & history textbooks filled with images of these tracks and now I was here it was eerie.
There was a silence about the place. Everyone was respectful and I was blown away with seeing it in real life.
We visited the huts where they lived (no pictures out of respect) and their beds were just wooden, hard planks.
We saw where the Nazis had demolished part of their gas chambers and other buildings to get rid of as much evidence as possible before the camps were liberated.
We saw the place where Rudolph Hoss, commandant of the Auschwitz camp, was hanged for his war crimes in 1947. Symbolically, he was hanged in the gallows next to the Auschwitz 1 crematorium.
I had goosebumps hearing stories from the guide. We saw a glass room full of shoes, human hair, eye glasses & personal belongings, not to mention a room filled with Zyklon B used gas canisters piled up.
It’s easy to hear a number of how many were killed and think ‘that’s a lot’ but until you see it in a mountain of hair or in thousands of pairs of children’s shoes, you can never grasp the scale.
Though there were no tears, the emotion & compassion was overwhelming. Personally, I felt like there was a pressure pushing down on my chest & it felt hard to breathe.
When you have seen and heard so much about somewhere of mass tragedy and evil for so much of your life, to then see it in real life knocked me for six. It wasn’t like a movie set, it was real, and that terrified me. To have the reality of millions of people murdered and oppressed right in front of me made my heart really heavy.
It is somewhere I think should be compulsory to visit in your lifetime. It is an experience I know will stay with me forever.