Monday, September 06, 2010


I drove a long afternoon and evening into Poland yesterday, to the Auschwitz concentration camp. It was a cold and wet day, and as I arrived in the area there was a monster-movie fog, wispy and irregular, growing at times into a thick soup that made it hard to drive. I misread my GPS about campgrounds being nearby, so I started looking, unsuccessfully, for a forest. Note to self: that's tough to do at 10 p.m. when it's foggy. I ended up parking at the end of a little lane that led to some type of business. By the time I turned the van around and parked, I was totally disoriented and could barely make out the road I'd just drove in on. A little creepy, and a nice start to Auschwitz.

I came to Auschwitz hoping for a little understanding of what happened here. I can't say that I made any progress. At the end of a few hours tour, our tour guide summed up his version simply enough. He said it happened because one group of people thought they were better than everyone else. And he said it has happened since, in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and other places. And he added, ominously, "Humans will never learn. Never."

While that assessment might be true globally, it needn't be true for ourselves. Be vigilant. And while "Charity begins at home," you could probably also say that bigotry begins at home, and hardened hearts begin at home. Even concentration camps begin at home. 

Words fail me. I can't hold the scope and power of the brutality that happened here. It wasn't a wild-eyed fanatical murder. It was a cool, "level-headed" calculated murder that makes it that much more chilling and enigmatic. I give up. For now.

Much love,

It's a little too beautiful considering what happened here.
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A couple of Jewish boys happened to be looking out the window of one of the museum buildings. I can only imagine it's a different experience for them than for me.
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When the main crematoriums that could turn 15,000 people a day into ash weren't enough, they burned people in an open pit.
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Prosthetics. Anyone who couldn't work would be gassed immediately. That includes anyone with artificial limbs. Or old people, or children, or pregnant woman...
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Suitcases. They were told to mark them so they could pick them up after they "showered." 
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Shaving brushes.
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There were many hundreds of photos in one hallway, but this young man stood out. Wow. He survived for a year, which is twice the average for people who weren't gassed immediately.
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There were very few escapes. The most famous one, apparently, was four Poles who managed to steal Nazi uniforms, and the fastest car from the garage. They drove out the front gate, and were never caught. One of them is still alive. (Take that, ya Nazi bastards.)
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A cremation oven.
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A toilet house.
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Almost all of the wooden buildings were dismantled just after the war. 
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Living quarters for the men. There were typically 400 men in this building.
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The Nazis built a train track into the camp for efficiency.
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"For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews, from various countries of Europe." There is a plaque in maybe 15 languages, lined up at the monument.
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In this very building, according to our guide, probably 250,000 people were killed. They were lead down the steps, up to 2,000 at a ime, where they stripped off their clothes. In the next room they waited for showers as cyanide gas pellets were dropped among them. Those closest to the gas died immediately, and everyone was dead within 20 minutes. The Nazis blew up the building when they realized they were going to be overrun by the Soviets, to hide the evidence of their crimes.
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Just yards from there, the forest is beautiful. What a contrast.
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Some of the victims.
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Self-portrait. Go ahead and read the inscription, too, since it's there. (It's not obvious, but I am wearing pants.)
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Auschwitz-Birkenau was about one square mile in size and could hold 100,000 people. It would take more than an hour just to walked the perimeter. Shit.
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One of the brick buildings, where women who had been sentenced to death awaited their fate. They weren't given food or water, sometimes for days, and some died in this building before they could be gassed.
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Is it beautiful? Guard tower, barbed wire and all? I don't know.
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(The End)


Chris said...

it is said that Satan is beautiful to behold

Sonia said...

Thank you. Despite the lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, thank you.
Thank you for your pictures, for the facts, which somehow we can never hear enough - even if the guide was right, that there is Tibet, Burma, the Congo, that there has been Rwanda, Nigeria, Guatemala, South Africa, and countless others.
Thank God the French took to the streets recently to protest against Roms (Gypsys) currently being deported from France in their thousands by Sarkozy's 'Security Laws'.
Thank God we still keep awake. But yes, you are right - We must remain vigilant.

Laura McHugh said...

Very moving. Reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Life is Beautiful because it depicts him laughing and crying in the same moment in the concentration camp when he tries to entertain his son and distract him.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to imagine there are peoples that deny it happened and claim IT was made up . I was remembering the movie “ the boy with striped pajamas” a moving tail of the best and the worst of human beings.

Thank you David, LOVE Shell

Penny Gray said...

This posting and your last one are truly stunning Dave, thanks so much. Love, Penny

Dave Adair said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I had lots more that I could have said, but it would be rambling and incoherent. I think this place does that to you - or ought to.

Are there some things that shouldn't be understood??

Love, Dave

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave,
Glad you got a chance to see this. It is important to know; not pleasant, but important to know. Guernica, Spain 1937 - the Luftwaffe and its Blitzkrieg targeted civilians - the town of Guernica was used as an example of German strength to the people of Spain. Rotterdam in 1940. Officially, history reports the Luftwaffe used "terror bombing" starting in 1942; so I guess Guernica and Rotterdam were just "practice"?

Lynn said...

Thank you for this post. It's a place that once experienced, never leaves you. 10 years after visiting and sitting here now reading this and seeing the photos, I'm right back there, feeling those same feelings of overwhelmed speechlessness you express. Everyone should make time to see it. Then maybe there is a chance that humans could learn. Maybe.
xo, Lynn

Anonymous said...

Dave, I am haunted by the face of that man, Emil. In it I see an animal-like fear, of course, and humiliation, but also rage. I can almost hear the sound of vicious laughter, perhaps from the Nazi asshole who snapped that photo of him, as I look at his face. I can't imagine what he endured--and don't want to. But I will remember him as I go through my lucky, peaceful life.

Emil will not be forgotten.


Anonymous said...

Hi again Dave,

I just want you to know that I have two friends (alive) here in Sweden who survived Aushwitz. They are older ladies both of them by now. One of them Magda Eggens, writes childrenbooks about the war and talk at schools to inform them of her own witness. The other ladie is unable to speak about it and has a lot of anxeity. I belive very much in sharing as a healingdevice.
Much metta from Sweden

Dave Adair said...

It's great to hear from all of you. There's something about it being a shared experience that makes it more bearable somehow. Or maybe it just fires up the compassion. But I like it.

Ellyn, it still kills me to look at Emil's face. It's so startling.

Lynn, Kali, Maria - everyone - thank you.