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)