Here the Vistula River snakes across Poland toward Kraków and then finally empties into the Baltic Sea near Gdańsk – A beautiful place made even lovelier by the neatness and industry of the Polish people. In the trees nearby we hear sweet birdsongs – ones I can’t identify. We enjoy mild June weather – a light breeze. All compound to belie the horror of this place. For centuries, German merchants had identified Oświęcim as Auschwitz, and that is what the Nazis named the nearby barracks that originated as a World War I facility. Instead of a barracks, however, the compound was immediately redirected to become a Russian POW camp and very soon the infamous extermination camp.
I ask myself, what shall I say of this place? It is too important to write without careful consideration.
Eight decades have somewhat scrubbed outward doom, but inside the barracks, preserved scenes compound horror upon horror. We see mounds of human hair, shorn from victims to use as fabric, a large pile of empty Zyklon B cyanide gas canisters, and then tens of thousands of shoes collected from the victims. They are stacked behind a glass display, and my senses are overpowered. Maybe days from now I can properly reflect on what I see.
In a recent survey, 63% of those under 40 do not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust – two out of every three European Jews. I read and hear of Holocaust deniers and Neo-Nazis. Evil still lives. I will post these thoughts and no doubt someone will eventually find them and attack even the little bit I say here. Since the visit, I had found occasion for repeated sighs – a small seed of evil within each of us, and any of us, is one that can grow into this same root of horrible evil, and I am constantly haunted by the remembrance of the children in the image above. It is a small irony that I just read Stephen Ambrose’s account of the Invasion of Normandy. The 37,000 Allied soldiers lost in this single campaign is so very terrible, but had it not been for their sacrifice …