Auschwitz: Remembering and Understanding the Holocaust

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

When I told my friends that I was visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during my trip to Poland, some were confused – why would I want to visit a depressing place like that? Obviously a place like Auschwitz isn’t somewhere that you look forward to visiting; however, I think it’s critically important for those who visit Kraków to make time for a day trip to Auschwitz to experience it and learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust. Truly, remembering and understanding is the most effective way to prevent something of that horrible magnitude from ever happening again.

Visiting a concentration camp is a deeply emotional experience. There’s not much to say besides if you get the chance to visit, go. The visit is harrowing and certain parts will bring tears to your eyes, but visiting a place like Auschwitz where so many innocent individuals met torture or demise makes you appreciate life and never want to complain about anything ever again, because nothing you’re going through could possibly compare to the pain and suffering that the victims of the Holocaust were subjected to. It’s an experience that forever shifts your perspective and profoundly deepens your understanding of World War II, the Holocaust, and the absolutely evil and inhumane mentality of the Nazis. 

I booked the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour from Krakow with Cracow Local Tours and it included an intelligent guide who walked us through Auschwitz, explaining the significance of different areas and providing the historical background necessary to understand what had happened and how it had happened during the period of the Holocaust. 

Entrance gate mockingly reading “work sets you free”

I think the majority of the information and history of Auschwitz should stay at that site for visitors to experience themselves, since words on a website can really do it no justice. Here are just a few of the most poignant images from my visit:

Pots and pans confiscated from the Jews who sadly were mistaken in thinking they needed cooking supplies at the camps
Just a small portion of the shoes taken from the victims

 

The Death Wall, and flowers in memoriam

 

Train tracks leading into Auschwitz II

Referred to by our guide as the largest cemetery with no gravestones, Auschwitz is really a place that everyone should visit not only for personal understanding, but for the sake of humanity, to pay respects and lend understanding to an event that shook the world like no other.

**I’d also just like to add a note that I’ve been thinking about as a point of comparison: I recently read the book Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, and it featured accounts of his life growing up as a colored person in South Africa in the wake of Apartheid. I think he made a really interesting point when he pointed out that although the Holocaust is worldwide regarded as the worst atrocity in human history, it is bolstered in its importance by the fact that the Nazis kept meticulous records of their victims and thus we are able to quantify and understand the magnitude of the crimes against humanity. However, Trevor Noah brings up the point that crimes committed in Africa by countries like Portugal in the colonial period took place well before any documentation system existed or was even mandated by the oppressor, so for all we know, there could have been greater genocides in human history that we just don’t know the scale of due to lack of records and accurate counts. The lack of documentation means the scale of other wars and genocides is not as apparent or as shocking as when you can tangibly see and read about how many Jews died in the Holocaust. I’m not including this to diminish the significance or gravity of the Holocaust at all, but just as a thought-provoking comment since I myself had never thought about this perspective before reading this book.   

 

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