For me, Auschwitz has always been synonymous with genocide and pain. It’s a word that sends shivers down your spine. I knew coming into this day it would be hard. Betsy commented on the fact that everyday you think that tomorrow can’t be worse than this and yet it is. Walking into the camps was striking. It’s hard to picture the barbaric acts that occurred when birds are singing and green grass is growing all around. The unfathomable horrors that took place here are sometimes too much to comprehend in one lifetime let alone one day. As we sat on the tracks which brought train cars full of Jewish people to Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Berkenau before we actually went into the camps, I couldn’t help but notice the yard we were across from had a play set and a trampoline. I can’t get over how much Poland, as a country, has grown from what took place here over 70 years ago and yet is still a deeply scarred country and may never recover from the atrocities that happened within its boarders.
Today was very different from yesterday. The second we stepped into the camps, we knew it was more somber. There was no longer a sea of kids and adults holding hands and singing but instead a lingering emptiness and pain which hung over us as we walked throughout the camp. What we saw today was very hard to look at and process. Probably the most striking was the room full of hair in an exhibit labeled “Human Exploitation,” stolen from innocent women who died in gas chambers at Auschwitz. It immediately become so real in that moment because it wasn’t just a random inanimate object such as a bowl or a brush but actual hair that was from a living, breathing human before it was unrighteously stolen from them like their lives.
I can’t even describe what I felt and saw today, only that it has a deep impact on me. Primo Levi said, “If the Lagers had lasted longer, a new, harsh language would have been born; and only this language could express what it means to toil the whole day in the wind, with the temperature below freezing, wearing only a shirt, underpants, cloth jacket and trousers, and in one’s body nothing but weakness, hunger and knowledge of the end drawing nearer.” I can’t seem to process all my thoughts and emotions, I can’t even put it into words. No words or feelings can exactly describe the monstrosities that took place on these grounds. There is this sense of words taking on a new meaning in a place such as Auschwitz.
When I first walked into Birkenau this morning, I felt a distinct lack of humanity as I stared in disgust at barracks and gas chambers. However, at the end of our time in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Peppi told us a quote from a Shoah survivor Viktor Frankl who spoke that the one thing that couldn’t be taken was their humanity and in that moment, with our arms around each other, saying Kaddish and singing Hatikva, I felt the humanity. We are here, we are witnesses, and we will never forget.
-Clara Babcock, Walnut Hills High School