Travel Journal (Day 7)
As I type this, we are on a bus to Auschwitz. It is 10:46am on Saturday, July 20, 2013. Such strong emotions war within me. On the one hand, we are traveling through the beautiful Polish countryside. The small towns have the charm indicative of life in the country. There are forests in between, lush and green and full of life. Yet, we head to one place that holds the soul of evil and death. This duality weighs heavy on me. I cannot image how the people brought here to be murdered by the Nazis felt. Right now, I remember my first trip to the concentration and extermination camp and know that the next several hours will be devastating.
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Now, it is 4:19pm, and we have just finished our guided tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have been here before. The feeling of despair and emptiness that is left from what happened here beginning 74 years ago is life changing. To see the pictures is excruciating enough, but to be on the grounds walking where the victims walked is deeper. To see their stolen belongings–from cooking pots to shoes, hairbrushes, eyeglasses, luggage, and so much more–overwhelms me. And then there is the hair. In one display at Auschwitz exists tons of hair shaven, stolen, from the victims. In an effort to dehumanize them more, Nazis sold the hair to make carpet and other goods. Hair, remnants of human DNA, is all that is left from many of the people who suffered, were tortured, abused, murdered at the hands of other humans.
The hair got me both times I experienced Auschwitz-Birkenau. Both times as I stepped onto the grounds, I felt the pain, horror, and atrocities in my soul, but walking into a room full of people’s hair, their locks shaven forcefully from their heads, suddenly the emotions and leftover energy of the place breaks me. And it was even harder this second time. I still feel ill and hurt and will for several days. Hair is important. So many people create who they are with their hair. Beauty and hair are bound. Not to mention that hair represents so much personally, culturally, religiously, and physically. To callously shave the hair of the victims and then sell it to make other goods is disgusting. Today we can use hair to detect DNA, thus we can know a person to the core. How sad to know how little and how nonhuman the Nazis considered their victims. Devastating.
Yet this place, this tour, this proof, holds more importance than just as a memorial. True, remembering and honoring the victims holds the most importance, but the necessity of informing others and feeling this place also bears importance. We all–every human on Earth–must come here. It will change your life.
My tears may not cleanse that place of the evil, but I can bring hope. Through exposure we can avoid becoming passive participants. When we see evil, we must not sit idly by.
I dedicate this journal to the victims of the Holocaust: the lives stolen from them, the horror and pain inflicted on them, the experiences ripped from them. May they rest in peace, and may their sacrifices never be ignored.
Image Credit: Rayshell Clapper