The moment that our bus pulled into Auschwitz, there was a change in the atmosphere. Suddenly we were no longer a rowdy bunch of young adults on a Top Deck tour. Stepping out onto the snow-covered ground, we could just feel the fact that very bad things had happened in Auschwitz.
It is the most confronting place that I have ever been to.
Auschwitz was the largest of many German Nazi concentration camps. Over 1.1 million men, women, and children lost their lives in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. About 90% of the victims were Jewish, but the Nazis also targeted Poles, the Roma, gay people, disabled people, and other ethnic groups.
We passed through the front gates and were guided between the buildings that were used to house the victims. Not that you can really call it ‘housing’ because the conditions were so awful. To give you an idea: when the barracks were first built, they were intended to hold just 40 prisoners each. But during the Holocaust the number of people locked inside each house was closer to 700.
We were taken inside some of the barracks, and led up uneven staircases into rooms filled with suitcases, glasses, and other items that had belonged to the victims. One room contained 80,000 pairs of shoes – a huge number that only represents 5% of the victims.
I found myself choking up at this point; once you see the items that belonged to the people – the real, live, actual people – who died at Auschwitz, you can’t just shake it off.
The room that really got to me, though, didn’t contain any belongings… it contained hair. When the prisoners arrived at Auschwitz, their hair was shaved off.
And there was so much damn hair.
We walked outside and passed by a brick wall. This wall was known as the ‘death wall’, where people were sent to be executed. The youngest known victim was only 3 months old.
We went inside the main gas chamber. Prisoners were led into the gas chambers, believing that it was a place to shower and to get clean. Considering their unsanitary living conditions, they may have even been excited for a shower. They stripped down naked and were all crammed in to a tight, dark place. None of them knew what was happening until it was too late.
There are scratches in the brick from the fingernails of those who tried to escape.
When I was at school, I thought I learned quite a lot about the Holocaust – but nothing could have prepared me for the reality of it. The atmosphere at Auschwitz is just so bleak, and it’s terrifying. It’s hard to believe that people could treat other human beings in this way, but the evidence was right there in front of me. I guess the Nazis just didn’t believe that their prisoners were human.
I think that the Holocaust is something which needs to be talked about – particularly now more than ever. With politicians like Trump (in America) and Hanson (in Australia) spreading fear and hatred towards certain groups of people, I get really worried that this kind of thing might happen again. Events like the Holocaust happen when fear and hatred spread, and when good people don’t do anything to stop it.
We should never forget the past, we should never forget the horrors which took place in Auschwitz. And we should never let anything like this happen ever again.