Today, in a snowstorm, some 300 Auschwitz survivors and other guests gathered at the entrance to Auschwitz II Birkenau to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. I was reminded of my visit in April of 2000.
In all of my travels, a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp has been the most awful place that I have experienced.
The rail track in Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.
The horror of the place is seared into my soul.
Although my visit was nearly 15 years ago, just a fleeting thought of the place makes me break out in chills.
The crematorium of Auschwitz.
To be reminded that mankind could even dream of that level of depravity shocks me to the core.
Before our visit in 2000, my group had lunch with the last living survivor of Schindler’s List in Poland at the time. He is pictured above second from the left.
Auschwitz was first constructed to hold Polish political prisoners in May 1940, with the first extermination of prisoners in September 1941. From 1942 through 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the Auschwitz II–Birkenau gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe. At least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, around 90 percent of them Jewish. Others deported to Auschwitz included 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Romani and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and tens of thousands of people of other nationalities. Many of those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious diseases, individual executions, and medical experiments.
As Soviet troops approached Auschwitz in January 1945, most of its population was sent on a death march. The prisoners remaining at the camp were liberated on January 27, 1945. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
The most important lesson that I took away from my visit to Auschwitz is summed in the quote above. “The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”
If you have the opportunity to visit Auschwitz in Poland –as painful and shocking as it is –please go and have that experience.
Read more about today’s events in this NPR story: A Holocaust Survivor, Spared From Gas Chamber By Twist Of Fate.
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