Trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau by Sarah

When I was asked about my expectations for the Auschwitz visit, the first words that came to mind, like many others on the trip, were “bleak”, “harrowing” and “dark”.  Yet we stepped out of the coach to much the opposite; crowds of people casually conversing and joking in front of a bright sky.  This difference from my anticipation, immediately made me feel disconnected, but I tried to focus on the goal of rehumanisation that we discussed at the orientation seminar.  This is seeing the victims of the holocaust as more than just statistics like the 6 million, or 1.2 million at Auschwitz alone, which is incredibly difficult to actually comprehend.

Our time at Auschwitz was narrated by our tour guide providing information and commentary about the rooms, artefacts and photos, as well as asking thought provoking questions alongside our group educator Alex.   Many things we had heard of, but seeing them brought a whole new wave of emotion, such as the room containing the shaven hair of 33,000 Jewish women who lost their lives at Auschwitz.   Displayed in the room was also a carpet composed of this hair, an example of how the Nazis completely dehumanised Jews and saw them as their property to use.

Later we visited a much quieter and less crowded Birkenau, and saw the well-known railway track that ran under the arch and through the camp.  This is where my expectations of “bleak, dark and harrowing” were truly met.  Standing at the entrance, you cannot see to the other end of the camp, and the size really makes you face the horrors that took place here in a completely different way.  There we saw destroyed gas chambers (blown up by the Nazis in an attempt to eradicate all evidence of their crimes) barracks and store rooms.  I could describe them to you, but there is no real way to convey how you feel when you’re there, seeing them and standing in the place where so much happened.   In Canada 2, a former store room situated at the end of the camp in the forest, we saw photographs that the Jewish people had brought with them to the camp (amongst their other belongings expecting to be resettled).  Besides the thousands of photographs of lovers, families, children and friends were some of the stories of the people in them.   Most of those stories ended at Auschwitz.  It’s in this room, that you realise, if you haven’t already, the importance of rehumanising those who lost their lives at the place you’re stood - the victims are not just numbers and statistics, they’re 1.2 million individual people with dreams and lives and stories that were cut so wrongly short, and who need to be remembered as such.

To end our visit, we held a short memorial service, reading poetry and diaries written by victims who both died in and survived the holocaust.  The memorial was led by Rabbi Garson, who gave insights and shared more stories that will always remain with all of us there.  Finally, we each lit a candle and placed it on the railway tracks as a symbol of our remembrance, feeling overwhelmed by emotion but also driven to share our experiences and the importance of rehumanisation.