Words fall short: Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps

Going to Auschwitz is like walking purposely towards a closed fist pointed to your gut. The heavy silence echoes the voices from a not very distant past. The green grass tops the mud and puts a carpet of hope in such a void place. It is incredibly difficult to be there, to walk around those red bricked buildings, or look towards the never ending immensity of the Birkenau compound. And still you are just a tourist, walking by the fear in the eyes framed in every wall. Knowing, but not knowing what it was like.

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud,
Who does not know peace,
Who fights for a scrap of bread,
Who dies because of a yes or a no.

Consider if this is a woman
Without hair and without name,
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.

Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

Primo Levi
If This is a Man

Auschwitz was a network of nazi concentration and extermination camps during World War II, composed of Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II–Birkenau (concentration/extermination camp), Auschwitz III–Monowitz (labor camp for the IG Farben factory) and 45 other satellite camps.

Close to 1,1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, the majority of them Jewish. Approximately one out of every six Jews that died in the Holocaust was killed in Auschwitz. The ones not killed in the gas chambers ended up dying of starvation, infectious diseases, forced labor, executions and medical experiments.

Around 7.000 SS members worked in the camp during the war. Of these, only 12% were later convicted of war crimes.

The camp was liberated on January 27, 1945, a day now celebrated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Auschwitz is currently an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Jules *

17 thoughts on “Words fall short: Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps

    1. It was indeed a difficult visit. Some months later we also visited the dead camps in Cambodia, and we felt the same kind of void and sadness. It is important to keep remembering these events and places, to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again…

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  1. What a beautiful post! I’ve been wanting to see Auschwitz – it’s still on my bucket list. My husband and I were in Israel this past July and visited Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center). It’s a very powerful and emotional experience. Our personal guide was the grandson of a German officer who was Jewish. When Jews were being forced into the ghettos, the SS allowed the grandfather to leave Germany, but only if he left immediately and only with what he could carry. He fled to England and later settled in Israel during the 1940s. He was a VERY lucky man and thankfully passed on his experiences to his children and grandchildren. He later managed to sneak back into Germany to collect family heirlooms and other religious/ritual objects left behind. The Israel Museum in Jerusalem now holds his belongings for safe keeping. His son just turned 90 and the family continues to live in Israel, now with great-grandchidren!

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    1. Thanks for this testimony mygumpride. It’s good to hear about some sparks of humanity in the midst of such heartbreaking and terrifying events. Visiting Auschwitz was a very challenging experience, but we would definitely recommend it.

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  2. This is quite haunting. I walked around the war remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh city two days ago. Even though I have no connection in any way with the Vietnam War, it was an incredibly powerful place. I spent two hours looking at the displaysame through blurring eyes. I agree that it is important to visit places like this. To learn from the past and tribute the victims. Thanks for a great post

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    1. Thank you so much for your words dogslegs. We totally understand what you mean: we’ve been to both Auschwitz and the Death Camps at Phnom Penh and despite not having any connection whatsoever with any of these places and events, they really affected us and made us think of the (limitless?) boundaries of human evil. Let’s hope for (and help build) a better future!

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  3. Are there really sufficient words in one’s heart or mind that can ever ease the pain of the reality of the slogan ‘Never Again’ is now happening throughout the Islamic world toward the Jews first, then Christians, Hindu’s, Buddhists, and anyone else deemed to be an infidel “non-believer’ or not of the correct branch of Islam or not faithful enough in another animals eyes? Human hate, the worst of Demonic fellowship is the root to this level of evil, it is truly sickening how humans treat each other sometimes.

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    1. We do live in challenging times, but I still believe that it is our duty to keep fighting so that things like this and those that still happen today become increasingly rare. If people seem to be forgetting, it is even more important to keep reminding them, never forgetting. We should be each others beacons of hope.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment Eddy. Unfortunately this is only another example of that cruelty you speak of. We’ve been in Cambodia, in the death camps, and it is equally devastating… (Jules)

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