How wonderful; a non-party group of people in the hostel last night! Everyone went to bed before twelve and none of the people snored. I slept like a rose, which was needed, because a big trip was planned for this day. I took the train to Oswiecim, better known as Auschwitz. It took around two hours, even though it’s not even that far away. We just went very slow, which was great for some calm countryside sightseeing though. I actually expected to travel in an old fashioned train and to end up in a depressed looking venue. Well, that was not the case. The train was ultra modern and Oswiecim on first hand looked like a sweet little Polish city with some modern shopping facilities and even a Kaufland like the ones I know from Germany.
I started off at Birkenau II, where incredibly many barracks were once located. Most of them were burnt down after the liberation of Auschwitz, yet, all of their brick chimneys remained. It’s a huge territory, and knowing now how packed those barracks were, I cannot even imagine how crowded it must have been with weak, undernourished people over there. Interestingly, as soon as I entered the gates of Birkenau it started to thunder. What was that for a weird sign? It was way over twenty degrees, but a heavy rain shower brought some freshness. There were lots of tourists around and I was a bit confused by all of them. Especially youngsters only seemed to laugh and have fun. I somehow expected the atmosphere to be a lot more tensed. I also absolutely didn’t expect people to pose with their thumbs up next to one of the deportation train wagons still standing around. Weird behavior, isn’t it? In order to just feel the actual atmosphere I distanced myself from the tourists by walking away half a kilometer towards the end of the camp, where it was empty and silent. Still, the sight was impressive and immensely huge. Yet, with all the terrible footage I’ve seen in documentaries, I couldn’t fully project those terrible images onto the seemingly quiet place I was standing, listening to the songs of many birds.
Time for Auschwitz I, known for its ‘Arbeit macht Frei’ entrance sign. So many tourists… On forehand I read that guided tours are compulsory between 10.00 and 15.00, but that these are rather rushed. I therefore decided to plan my trip in that way that I’d be at Auschwitz I slightly after 15.00, which worked out. It was pleasant that I could take as much time as I wanted for all the various things to see; information, photo’s, articles of use, barracks, prison cells, etc. Again, I had my difficulties to visualize what really happened at those very places. The ovens in which people were burned were impressive though, especially when I had one minute all alone there. But, the emotions were quickly disturbed by yet another huge group of tourists and the sound of moving plastic. They were all wearing such a cheap plastic rain coat; that sound! I thought about the Nordic saying “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”. I was pleased I brought my beloved Swedish outdoor jacket, as usual.
What struck me the most during this day were firstly the ovens, and secondly an exhibition piece from a barrack that contained all sorts of information about the Netherlands and the prosecution of Jews. One wall was covered with names. The letters were so tiny that on firsthand the names weren’t even visible. If this is ‘only’ the list of Dutchmen that died, how terribly many more of those frames are needed to display ALL victims’ names?
All in all, both Auschwitz I and Birkenau II seemed both so calm and clean. I had my difficulties to realize what really happened. Maybe this is also because I’ve been watching quite some cruel documentaries about Auschwitz lately. They were for example about the medical experiments that were carried out, and about babies that passed away, but were – as if it was nothing – opened for some further medical exploratory purposes. With the hordes of tourists around it almost seemed more like a venue where an important movie was shot. Unfortunately it wasn’t a movie… I need some time to think it all over.