01 May 2009
The Residence of Death
There are few places that invoke such horror as the mention of the name Auschwitz, which is where SWIMBO and I spent some time the other day. It's actually quite difficult to describe what it's like...it's certainly somehow different to the images that you normally associate with the place, it seemed to be almost like a surreal film set. It was a beautiful, hot, late Spring day, with hundreds of other tourists jostling around, eager to see the sights, so in some ways no different to any other popular haunt on the tourist trail.
It's only when you wonder why the guide speaks in a whisper and then you go inside the blocks to see the empty Zyklon B canisters, mounds of human hair, shaving brushes, shoes and pathetically labelled suitcases (all with their owners dates of birth, some as late as 1942) does the casual visitor realize that this is no ordinary place...this is the place where the Nazis in cold blood, ruthlessly planned the systematic extermination of 1,500,000 people.
Seventy years on it's hard to realize the awful events that unfolded here...there are no blue striped emaciated human beings or grey uniformed, jack booted SS, no deep snow on the ground, it's not -20degC. In the black and white picture, where the column of people can be seen crossing the railway lines and turning right, groups of modern teenagers were joshing around, not really understanding or paying any attention, little knowing that on the same ground where they're skylarking, an endless procession of Jews trudged down the gravel road to a certain death in the gas chambers...you can clearly see that I took my photograph from almost the same spot as the original.
There are no souvenirs to take home, no tangible reminders of your visit, no gaudy concentration camp keyrings or cheap pottery mugs with 'Auschwitz' emblazoned on the side, but with a little imagination you can take home something far more valuable...
...they're the terrible images that get burnt onto your soul in this residence of death.