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Visiting Auschwitz at the age of 17

When I visited Auschwitz I was barely 17 and a half years old and cannot explain the reason because of which I did not want to talk about it until recently.

Obsessed with the events of the Second World Was I knew a lot about the place at the time but even that didn’t stop me from shedding a tear when I stood in front of the entrance and read the sign “Arbeit macht frei”. I felt chills and was ready to reconsider my visit, when I realized that I probably won’t have this chance anytime soon. So I stepped in.

Auschwitz houses

I know that I was supposed to feel terrified and bad. What happened however as I first walked in was weird. The place did seem like a ghost town. But a ghost town of green trees and beautifully looking (on the outside) red houses. I remember thinking to myself that this is such an ugly joke. If Auschwitz did not have the history it does, it might have as well been beautiful… Just as most of Poland.

The feeling however immediately changes as you start walking in the different houses. Walls everywhere are covered with the pictures of people, whose pain is extremely obvious. Their eyes open a window in time and touch you. And if you are as emotional as I am, you’ll know how hard this feeling is.

While walking around guilt was killing me. I looked at the history there, read people’s stories, learned about families being separated and kids being murdered in front of their parents. I was absorbing all the information like a sponge, but all it did was add to the guilt I was already feeling. Because even at 17 I knew (and now I am even more confident) that similar events take place nowadays.

And if we are unable to change the past – I thought –  we can at least influence the future, can’t we?

Just as if this was not enough, the journey then takes you to the gas chamber. If your psyche is fragile, take my advice: DO NOT walk in. No picture or story ever told can possibly describe the feeling of horror and helplessness one experiences when he walks in there.

My reaction was to drop on my knees and cry. I know that this may seem stupid to some, but please understand this: I am a strong person and have been my entire life. By the time I went to Poland I already had about a year and a half working experience mainly because my financial support was needed in my family and I did not complain once. But the feeling that the gas chamber leaves in you is something you can’t fight and you can’t be stronger than. It simply crashes you with the ease of the pneumonia. Only worse.

Auschwitz gas chamber

I think I should have just left then. I remember being speechless and feeling numb. The ovens, which are the next stop in this wrong journey are so shocking, that I believe everyone should see and if you have made it as far as the gas chamber, you might as well continue. When you enter take a minute to see how small they are. You need to remember that human bodies were burnt in there. I know it’s a ridiculous comparison, but my kitchen oven today has a much larger door that they did, but when you know how many people were starved to death there, this doesn’t really surprise you much does it…

Auschwitz ovens

As I left the crematorium ovens heading to the exit, I noticed there was a rose on the ugly fence surrounding this altar of shame that Auschwitz is. This rose is one of the images that stuck in my head and will never leave me sleep as peaceful as I did before. I don’t really know if I am grateful that I had the chance to see Auschwitz with my own two eyes, or if my ignorance before this was a bliss. I guess I’ll never know…

P.S. I did not take any pictures when I visited. For some reason it seemed wrong so I do not claim any rights on the pictures in this blog post. But I definitely did manage to find the right ones – the pictures that perfectly describe what Auschwitz is.

Auschwitz rose

By Nina Alexander

Nina is the big sister. She's a marketing professional by day, traveler by heart, tech geek, bookworm, beer lover and an amateur photographer. Her motto is Friedrich Nietzsche's famous quote "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

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