The photo above, cropped from a much larger original, was taken at 10 A.M. on May 8, 2015. Our group was taken through Auschwitz, the largest WW II death camp. We went through the camp mostly in silence, listening to our local guide and looking at the sad, respectful, horrifying portrayal of what one German doctor, who observed two “special actions” there, called, in accurate, appropriate Latin, the anus mundi. Auschwitz is a place that stays in my system. Recording what I saw on camera and keeping to the schedule of movement set by the site officials kept me, mercifully, preoccupied.
We were on a fast-paced tour, headed for two nights in Warsaw following two in Kraków. We were to visit the Jasna Góra Monastery that afternoon on our way to Poland’s modern capital. I took a photo similar to this of a large display table piled with brushes important to the victims: hair brushes, tooth brushes, a shaving brush… In Warsaw I opened a large wardrobe cabinet in our hotel room. On a shelf just below eye level was a hair brush, pale bristles upturned, and the impact of what I’d witnessed came back instantly and un-beckoned. I knew then that the time spent there would remain with me.
Going through the photos now, almost 3 months later, has been a deeper and more reflective, very personal experience. I debated whether to add any more images to this post, but this blog will preserve my own memories and my reflections of the past few days on that, now weirdly peaceful, place.
Auschwitz is not a place I would have sought out. It was part of our tour. Different people are affected differently:
-One tour member said she could still smell death.
-Another of our group of 39 went on this 15 day tour only because Auschwitz was a stop. She wished to honour a person she worked with that she admired, and Auschwitz was the only place she wanted to see.
– A friend, before we went to Europe, said, “Be prepared to lose some sleep for a few days.”
From page 19 of The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flannagan:
Horror can be contained within a book, given form and meaning. But in life horror has no more form than it does meaning. Horror just is. And while it reigns, it is as if there is nothing in the universe that it is not.
It is so, so sad that the world is still capable of wholesale violence and extermination today. I suspect that not one nation on this earth is incapable of such hate-filled acts. The proof of this is widespread.