It’s incredibly difficult talking about Auschwitz in an uplifting way, but maybe that’s the point. Between April 1940 until the liberation of the camp in January 1945, it is estimated that somewhere between one and a half million to two million people were tortured and murdered at the three Auschwitz camps. Between 85-90 percent of these were Jews – a staggering number of lives to have been needlessly taken in aid of Hitler’s Final Solution.
The gates to Auschwitz display the mocking slogan “work shall set you free”, but only death would free the inmates who were brought there. The mood around the camp is that of pity, shock and horror for the suffering that these men and women endured, but there are scattered stories of more positive achievements as well. St. Maximilian, who offered his own life so that another could live. The man he sacrificed himself for went on to live a full life after being among those liberated by the Soviet forces. The inmates who smuggled in explosives from a nearby town and destroyed one of the furnace rooms is great testament to the human struggle for survival, as well as the very few but successful escapes from the camp. Also, the liberation from Soviet forces in January of 1945 preventing Hitler and his SS from torturing their captives any further. Yet their final act in their legacy of pain was to take any prisoner that could walk on a final death march from Auschwitz. Endlessly marching prisoners away from oncoming liberation forces so that the maximum possible would perish.
In the words of the German philosopher Theodor Adorno, “No more poetry after Auschwitz”. The gas chambers, the hangings, standing cells, furnaces, the huge mountains of shoes, hairbrushes and briefcases which represent only a tiny fraction of those collected from prisoners, all add up the memory of a terrible time of Polish and European history. All of the brave men and women who were killed in World War II, whether fighting or struggling to survive the tortures thrust upon them all add up to the world we live in today. There is no sense in exploring endless “what-ifs”, but whilst imagining the terrors inflicted at Auschwitz you cannot help but feel incredibly grateful for the life you now have and how lucky most of us really are – all of which is due to in part, to everybody who took part in this and all other wars throughout history – no matter what role they had. It is impossible to find the good in the needless death of millions – but the world that leaves behind is still something that should be cherished and celebrated.
So there we have it – that was essentially my trip to Auschwitz which, whilst wasn’t exactly jolly, I can recommend as a must-see to anybody. Now I sense it’s time for something a little lighter for the next post… 🙂