Photo Friday: Auschwitz, Poland

“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again” George Santayana

Auschwitz

Does anyone else have a morbid fascination with World War II and the Holocaust, or is it just me?

Maybe I was exposed to Schindler’s List at too early an age. Maybe I was dragged to the Holocaust museum in DC on one too many field trips. Maybe it’s my Polish heritage and the fact that I grew up next door neighbors with one of the original Band of Brothers, Patty O’Keefe. Who knows? But for whatever reason, I developed a strong interest in WWII, and WWI for that matter.

This tumultuous period of European history has encouraged and inspired some of my more off the beaten track trips in Europe, like to bunkers in Belgium to Nazi secret police headquarters in Hungary. Owing to my odd obsession with history, one of my favorite things to do why traveling is to visit historic places, especially ones I have researched and read about.

And the one place that has been the notorious epicenter for the Holocaust and disturbingly at the top of WWII haunts I’ve wanted to visit: Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp in Poland.

I finally journeyed out to Krakow, land of my ancestors, and to Auschwitz during Easter week in 2008.

It was a gray, overcast day with intermittent snow flurries when I arrived at the camp in Oświęcim, Poland. The ground was soggy and the mud squished around my sneakers as I walked from barrack to barrack. I can still remember thinking that it was April, how on earth did anyone survive that hellhole in the dead of winter wearing those terrible striped pajamas? Most didn’t.

Without a doubt Auschwitz is the saddest, most depressing place I have ever been. The whole place smells like death. It’s truly horrible. Trodding amongst the ruins of the gas chamber and crematorium, I felt a deep disgust with humanity. How could something like this happen?

It is one thing to read about the Holocaust and see it in films, but to walk around the grounds of a place like Auschwitz, is a whole other matter entirely. To see a room filled with shoes of prisoners, then another room filled with suitcases, one filled with hairbrushes, another with eye glasses, and finally a room filled with hair, I mean, how do you even begin to digest that?

You can’t help but leave a place like Auschwitz in tears.

I hardly took any pictures that day, and I was angry at all the tourists that did. I just felt…wrong.

I took this shot as we entered the camp, following the footsteps of millions unlucky souls before me, I passed underneath the poignant wrought-iron sign Arbeit Macht Frei, “Work will set you free.” This photo is of the original sign. It was eventually stolen and replaced with a replica in 2009.

Why would I visit somewhere like this on vacation? Why write about something so deeply and utterly sad? Because we have to remember. Things like this need to be faced and not forgotten. Auschwitz was a good reality check, and I reminder of not only how precious life should be, but of my own fleeting humanity.

Ok, I have waxed poetic enough for the day. I’ll end on a lighter note, here are my six favorite, epic World War II films.

1. Saving Private Ryan

2. Casablanca

3. The Thin Red Line

4. Enemy at the Gates

5. The Pianist

6. Schindler’s List

Have you ever been to Auschwitz or another concentration camp? Would you go had you the opportunity? Are you interested in historical travels?  What’s your favorite WWII movie?

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27 Comments on “Photo Friday: Auschwitz, Poland

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  1. I will go one day. I dread it, and know it will be truly horrible, but I still want to do it. Thank you for sharing your experience there.
    Berlin shook me quite badly as well, it made such a deep impression on me with all the history.

  2. Great post!
    I went to Auschwitz about one year ago -yep, it was my 7th anniversary- and I felt more or less the same. There weren’t hardly any words to describe the horror and the pain that still remain in that place.
    I couldn’t say I liked Auschwitz. But anyone should go there at least one in his/her lifetime. And I’m sorry for your non-Spanish speaking readers, but I wasn’t sure about how to translate accurately what I wrote after being there:
    “Auschwitz es el horror más absoluto sobre la faz de la tierra. Pero Auschwitz es imprescindible para conocernos, para comprobar hasta dónde puede llegar el hombre para despojarse de su humanidad” (http://ferdiazgil.blogspot.com.es/2011/12/cracovia-diario-de-ruta.html).

    PS: I didn’t know your ancestors came from Krakow (such a lovely city). In fact your surname seems more Swedish than Polish.

    1. Thanks Fer, very well put. and why the hell would you go there on your anniversary?!?!?!

      My last name is Swedish because my dad was adopted, though on his side of the family is part Scandinavian, otherwise I’m mostly Polish!

      1. I explain it in the post I’ve linked: if my anniversary is on 1st November and Poland is SO catholic, the only place around Krakow open that day for visitors was Auschwitz. Truly romantic, I know.

      2. Oh my gosh! What a pleasant coincidence, I’m Polish as well (sorry I’m snooping through your older posts lol). My father and his family are from Krakow too. It’s nice to know there’s another Polish Liz out there trying to conquer the world!

        I’m hoping (fingers crossed) that I’ll be back in Krakow by next month drinking a beer in an outdoor patio in the main town square as the carriage horses roll by.

      1. If you like WWII movies then you should see Life Is Beautiful. It is such an amazing movie, it really shows the horrors of the holocaust but it is not quite as sad as the other movies on the list.

  3. I’ve never been to Auschwitz, but because I read the Diary of A Young girl at age eight, I’ve also been interested in the Holocaust. I just read both “In the Garden of Beasts” and “Defying Hitler” and watch all of the documentaries on TVE2. Going to Berlin and seeing all of the monuments was incredible, but seeing the camp outside of the city with my German friend was an experience I’ll never forget.

    1. It’s definitely an interesting time period, and so recent too. I want to go to some of the places around Germany, I haven’t been to Berlin still…

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