An impromptu visit to...Auschwitz
We live about an hour's drive from Auschwitz. Visiting the site of one of the most horrific atrocities of the 20th centuries is not exactly a pleasure. Most Americans will never have the opportunity to do so anyway. However, most of the people who come to visit us or our colleagues here in Poland feel a duty to visit Auschwitz and witness the evidence that mocks the modern assertion (lie) that the Holocaust never happened.
Naturally, such visitors have to be accompanied. My husband long ago lost count of the number of times he has been to Auschwitz, but I know how many time I have been there. Once. And that was about seven years ago, but I've never had a desire to go back. I always figured I'd go again when my children were old enough to visit, and since J. will be studying 20th century history next year, I've had a vague idea in the back of my mind that we'd go then.
However, one of those visitors was here this week, and he was going today with our colleague. At the last minute, Krakovian decided to join them, and he took J. along. Because I wasn't with them, I spent some time this evening discussing the visit with J. He knows what the Holocaust was, but he has not yet read any first-hand accounts by survivors, nor has he viewed any films with accurate representations. As we talked about some of the things he had seen, I shared what I had experienced while I was there.
I have ready many survivors' accounts, as well as historically accurate literature about concentration camps, and Auschwitz in particular. One or two books remain vividly in my memory, especially this one, and the voices and stories echoed through my mind as I looked at the very bunks and barracks and barbed wire that had been their prison.
J. did not have that experience, but he told me that when he saw the room containing mountains of personal belongings--shoes, eyeglasses, hair and toothbrushes, and the shorn hair of thousands of victims--he just thought, "This couldn't have happened."
Which is precisely why anyone who has the opportunity to do so should visit a concentration camp, or perhaps the Holocaust Museum in the United States.
It happened. We don't want to remember. But we have to.
Not many Holocaust survivors are still living, and even their children are now growing old--children who often never heard the details of their parents' experience in the first place because they didn't want to talk about it. My children are three generations removed from those who lived during World War II. It's no use saying that we have to remember because we must never allow such things to happen again. Such things are happening in the world today, and we don't have the power to stop the evil that men do to other men.
But we still have to remember, because to forget is to join the Nazis in believing that those people didn't matter--that they were a blot on the earth that needed to be exterminated and forgotten. If we forget...if we allow history to be rewritten so that the Holocaust is viewed as a myth...then Hitler won something after all.
Millions of people visit Auschwitz every year and so I think it should be...in memory of the millions who "visited" against their wills and never went home again.