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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29 Comments on “Photo Friday: Auschwitz, Poland

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  1. Ouf! I went to Poland last year and visited Auschwitz. Maybe it’s me being emotional, but when I saw all the hairs I suddenly understood (tears in my eyes) something like if before it was only a story, but it’s more than that. Being in a class learning about it and seeing in real life it’s totally different. great post 😉

  2. Hi Liz,
    You have a great blog. This post, although sad, is my favorite. My grandfather survived Dachau and Auschwitz. I have not had the chance to visit.. yet (I’m only 23). This reminds me of how lucky I am to be sitting at my desk typing and just breathing. Thanks for writing about your incredible experience and spreading the word. In Hebrew, the term is ye’zkor: remember.

  3. Hi,
    I also visited Aushwitz around Easter in 2008! I went on a school history tour to various
    concentration camps in Eastern Europe but Aushwitz was definitely the most moving.
    I totally felt the same on how different it is being there in person and it really makes the Holocaust seem
    a lot more real and not just something you learn about at high school (which was one of the points of the trip).

  4. I’m working on planning my trip to Europe for next spring and plan to visit Amsterdam and then Krakow and Auschwitz. I’ve also had a fascination with the Holocaust for awhile now and I am so glad that I’m going to be able to visit, but I’m nervous about how I will react. I am an emotional person, so it’ll be a difficult day for me, but I’ve always wanted to go. Thanks for this informative post.

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