Photo by Naomi Friedman

Photo by Naomi Friedman

By Naomi Friedman, Staff Writer

There is nothing more to say about Auschwitz-Birkenau. It looks just like it has been described to me in the past. The barbed wire; the rail road; the platform; the towers; the barracks; the showers; the crematoriums; the forest. Seeing it all from my own eyes produced something in me, which I am not sure I can describe yet. I must go again to understand it better. 

    It was true. It felt real. Horror remains alive. 

    Suitcases upon suitcases were displayed for foreign eyes to imagine the numbers.

    There were mountains and mountains of shoes of all size.

    There was tons of hair still preserved to this day behind a glass wall as witness. Hair that used to be colored but is now dull and grey.  

    I sometimes wonder on which side I would have been directed to once the chaotic mass was unloaded from the train. I wonder how soothing or sickening the tunes of the camp’s band on the platform would have been. A welcome? A farewell? Would the smell of burning flesh have given it away?

    I wonder how long I would have lasted. I wonder how sick I would have become. How hungry I would have been. How fast my bones would have shown. I wonder what would have kept me alive. I wonder, would I have given up or if I would have fought? Fought for my humanity. Fought for my dignity. Fought for my memory. 

    I wonder how long I would have stood in the harsh winter cold every morning when they barked one number after another. Would I have stood? Would I have fallen? 

    I wonder how I would have felt passing by a swastika-uniform with my head shaved. Would I have swallowed my spit? Would I have been afraid? 

    At the sight of the swastika mild repulsion enters my heart with a hint of fear and disgust. Strangely I also feel respect – not towards the perpetrators of that symbol but rather towards those who suffered such consequences. I do not want to look at it. I do not want to let it enter my mind. Too much is attached; too much is implied. Power and supremacy? How foolish. 

    I hear boots stomping the pavement; I see helmets lined in order; I see train tracks and traveling convoys; I see brown and grey; I see a right arm lifted straight to the sky as those two words shouted in the innocent night sting my ears. 

    Faces. Millions of faces. Too many faces. 

    Eyes. Empty eyes. Phantom eyes. Eyes of glass. 

    Bones. Sticks under a tight sheet of skin

    Mud. Filthy dresses covering the canvas of a number.

 

    Primo Levi, a Survivor of the largest extermination camp, wrote, “It happened, therefore it can happen again… It can happen anywhere.” Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, states in an interview that, “without internalizing and understanding the reality of this atrocity, we will be unable to recognize today’s challenges for what they really are. We will not be even able to understand the post-war efforts to create emergency mechanisms, to build a common Europe or to teach attitudes of empathy, mutuality and respect.” 

    I have seen and experienced the current Europe that has been built on these ancient principles shaped by memory.  

    History should not be ignored.