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My Visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. What To Expect And Why I Felt “Nothing”.

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IS IT POSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT AUSCHWITZ REALLY IS?

 

In three years of blogging, this has been by far the most difficult yet urgent post I had to write.

The 2nd of September 2015, after more than 8 hours walking non-stop the paths of that hell called Auschwitz, I found myself on a bus back to Krakow, my mind filled with a million  thoughts and questions that will never find a rational answer.

As I  mentioned in the title, during my visit to Auschwitz /Birkenau I felt mostly nothing. Where the word “nothing” was filled with so many meanings that as soon as I opened the door of my hotel room, I felt the urge to put them  into words. Immediately.

Unfortunately, my laptop battery failed me so here I am, days later, trying to express that heavy feeling on my chest. Trying to put into words what that experience meant to me and why I think everybody should visit Auschwitz.

I wrote these few introductory lines so many times, in an attempt to find the right words, but I had to surrender in front of the evidence: I’ll never find the “right” words to describe what Auschwitz is and what it represent.

Maybe the absolute lack of human spirit get close to its meaning, but it’s not even near to encapsulate it completely.


WHAT I SAW AND HOW I REACTED


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The morning of my visit to Auschwitz, after a rather agitated night, I was greeted by a gloomy dark sky, with temperatures that had dropped 10 degrees from the previous days.

I quickly grabbed an extra jumper, feeling relieved that at least it wasn’t going to be a sunny day.

I guess that when you’re about to see a place where millions of people were killed, alienated and tortured, a sunny day would have felt just wrong.

I had waited for ages to finally visit Auschwitz, watching as many documentaries as I could throughout the years and cried over Anne Frank’s diary and Primo Levi’s testimony.

Primo Levi was an Italian survivor who documented his year in hell in 2 books: “If this is a man” and “The truce”, putting together such a vivid and detailed narration of the horrors he had witnessed and suffered, that it’s impossible to close these books without feeling a heavy heart.

Given these premises, the idea of actually walking amongst the barracks that Primo Levi describes so vividly, I was sure that my emotions would have taken over my rationality.


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To my immense surprise, none of this happened. For a good 90% of the time I spent in the camps, not a hint of emotion run through my veins. At least, not at Birkenau, also named “Auschwitz II”, where the majority of the mass murders through the gas chambers and the crematoriums took place.

 

I was in shock for not being in shock.

 

Needless to say, I wasn’t happily strolling around the barracks like nothing had happened in there but, as soon as I saw the infamous sign “Arbeit Mach Frei”, my heart instantly froze and there I was: incapable of feeling compassion, horror or human pity.

I had just passed the gate where millions of people walked to their death, and I felt completely numb. This is how my visit to Auschwitz started.


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A LITTLE GEOGRAPHY AND ADVICE FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO KNOW MORE


Even if I thought that I had gained a “vast” knowledge about what was going on at Auschwitz, I have to admit that when it came to the geography of the camps, I was missing the most basic information.

 

I had always associated Auschwitz to a giant concentration camp, divided in “sections”. In reality, the Nazis built three main, separate, camps:

 

  • Auschwitz IThe first/main camp built by the Nazis, used as headquarter for the SS and for the first experiments and murders, now turned into a Museum. Held around 16.000 prisoners at a time-

 

  • Auschwitz II (Birkenau)The biggest camp, 3km away from Auschwitz one, where millions of people died in the  gas chambers and from inhuman living conditions- It held more than 90.000 prisoners at a time and more than 1.5 million people (90% Jewish) were killed in there.

 

  • Monowitz (Or Buna)The third camp, mainly a labor camp now completely destroyed. It held around 12.000 prisoners, including Italian survivor Primo Levi-



1| AUSCHWITZ I

Headquarter of the most calculated inhuman madness in modern history.


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Auschwitz I, located near the village of Oświęcim, was occupied by the SS in 1940, where the first prisoners, mostly polish and Soviet, were deported and killed and where the Nazis started the experiments with the Zyklon B gas to kill millions of people.

 

Our guide told us that the first version of the Zyklon (A) gas was mainly used as a pesticide. The Nazi’s calculated madness was spot on in modifying it to create the Zyclon B version to kill the Jewish, treating them at the same level as insects and parasites.

My reaction so far? Total numbness


Auschwitz was the first and smallest concentration camp built by the Nazis. The one where you can find the infamous sign “ ARBEIT MACH FREIT”Work will set you free– and it was used as headquarter for the SS.

The whole site looked, how could I describe it? Very “surreal” to say the least. I felt like someone slapped me in the face very hard. No matter how many documentaries I had watched, I wasn’t expecting what I actually saw.


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If it weren’t for the knowledge of the atrocities that happened in there, and the heavy presence of electric fences everywhere, the camp itself with its brick blocks and neat streets, could even been considered a “nice” small village.

Total Madness. I know.

The camp has been left almost untouched, just like it was when the Nazi left in January 1945, but trees and green areas have been placed at almost every street corner, where now most of the blocks have turned into a “Museum”.



AUSCHWITZ: THE MUSEUM


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The “museum” is a path where each building (or block with its number, to be more precise), has been given a particular name to show the visitors the horrors that took place during the Holocaust with pictures, signs and explanation panels.


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There are buildings dedicated to the Extermination plan, to the monstrous medical experiments conducted by Doctor Mengele, mostly on Jewish twins, and a few others where you can see mountains (literally, there are huge, infinite mountains) of shoes, personal belongings, suitcases with names and human hair of the victims.


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The rooms with the victim’s belongings were  certainly the hardest to visit.

I stared at them for so long that I lost track of time. I focused my attention on a small  worn out shoe, unpaired, once owned by a little kid.

I tried to imagine that kid, that life taken too early for no reason at all, but It was impossible.


In one of the many documentaries I watched, a survivor said that understanding the Nazi “logic” would also have meant “humanizing” their madness. Something that not even the victims were able to grasp, let alone the people who just visited the museum.

I withhold a tear from running down my cheek and I continued to the room filled with the suitcases. Each one with a name and a date on it. Each one telling a story of a family torn apart.

I recall the lies the Nazi told the prisoners who had just arrived into the camp, assuring them that they would get their belongings back after “the showers”.I tried once again to picture the scene, but understanding it? Nope.


At Auschwitz, there really is no human logic.



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Reading the books had quite a dramatic effect on me, it was much easier to picture and to a certain degree also to feel what the victims were going through, but looking at the real evidence left me without words or feelings.

I eventually gave up once and for all. I surrendered to my mixed emotions, shifting from total numbness to over emotional and continued my visit to the other rooms and blocks along the way.


NOTE /ADVICE: TAKING A GUIDED TOUR OR NOT?


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If this is your first visit to Auschwitz, even if you think you know everything about the Holocaust, I strongly suggest you to go with a guide, or “educator” (at the beginning I wanted to visit everything by myself but I’m glad I changed my mind).

I must say that at Auschwitz they choose their educators very well. Their sensitivity is really extraordinary.

My guide, an old and overly kind lady with pale skin and candid white hair, was absolutely amazing.

She walked slowly and took her time to show us the blocks, explaining with a moved, yet firm and soft voice what happened and what exactly we were looking at.

Her trembling emotional voice gave the whole experience a totally different meaning. At the end of the visit, before our transfer to the Birkenau camp, I saw her sitting on a bench, and I felt the urge to hug her, for no reason.

I could clearly see that she had just put her heart and soul in every word she said, even if she probably had given the same explanation to many other people before us.


I wanted to ask her if she had any direct connection with the camp, but seeing her tired eyes I decided to leave her alone with her thoughts.

When I said that I didn’t feel anything, I also mentioned that I was referring to Birkenau, where I decided to leave the guided tour and take the time to walk alone and stay in one site for as long as I needed to.

In Auschwitz I, after the initial numbness, my emotional reaction (also thanks to our guide) was pretty strong. I had to withhold the tears more than once and I couldn’t take my eyes from those mountains of belongings.

What shocked me the most were the giant pictures of the starving emaciated prisoners taken after the liberation. I was shivering with horror. Everyone was.


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I think that the strong reaction I had at Auschwitz I came because the guide’s delicate words were able to create a real connection with what we were seeing and the atrocities that happened in those places.

She would briefly explain the pictures of these women and children reduced to bare bones and then gently pause, giving us the time to read and think, in silence.

The sufferance and pain expressed in those images didn’t require many words if none at all.


THREE WORDS: RESPECT. THE. RULES.


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During the 4 hours spent in Auschwitz, our group was mostly silent, but unfortunately I had to witness to a few very disrespectful behaviors.

Some of the rooms contain human remaining like the hair of the victims (which I discovered with horror, were used by the Nazis to produce socks and carpets), and it’s strictly forbidden to take pictures of them, out of respect (as they even needed to specify it).

And then, there she was, the most stupid girl in the world waiting for the guide to leave the room to take a smiley selfie with a background full of human hair. I swear I had to refrain myself from punching her right in the face.

What kind of human being thinks that it is “OK” to share something so atrocious with their friends?

 

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Not to mention the adults (not teenagers, I’m talking about grown ups here) laughing and taking selfies in the only crematorium remained after the Nazi evacuated the camp.

A room where thousands of innocent souls, including kids, died… and these idiots were taking selfies with a stick.

People like these should be banned from going in there. I know it’s impossible, but my feeling of rage against these beasts was definitely the stronger reaction I had during my visit at Auschwitz I.

So please, even if there are no concrete traces and, instead of the mountains of bodies on the streets, the only things left are their belongings, ALWAYS REMEMBER WHERE YOU ARE. Pay respect to all the people who died in there.


A FINAL NOTE ON AUSCHWITZ I


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I still can’t describe the alienating mixed up feelings and the overall numbness I felt when passing the gates of Auschwitz.

I thought about it over and over and I think that no one can really be prepared or know for sure what their reaction will be. You need to experience it first hand to understand how difficult it is to even start explaining it.

 

Some people are completely numbed, some react with a mix of emotions, whilst others simply walk around being able to remain completely detached. No reaction is a bad one in my eyes.

Just the fact that you are there is enough to pay the due respect to the victims, and to be aware of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.

 

There is one sign at Auschwitz 1 that hit me more than the others, it’s very simple and it says:

“THOSE WHO DO NOT REMEMBER THE PAST, ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT”


2| BIRKENAU: AUSCHWITZ II

A huge black hole without a soul.


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If talking about Auschwitz I was difficult, mentioning my feelings, or I’d better say, my “non-feelings” during the visit at Birkenau it’s going to be a nearly impossible mission.

Therefore, I decided to start by quoting a passage from Primo Levi’s book “If This is a Man”. Even if he was sent to Monowiz (the third camp, which can not be visited as there is nothing left to see), he explains very well what people at Birkenau had to endure.

“It is man who kills, man who creates or suffers injustice; it is no longer man who, having lost all restraint, shares his bed with a corpse. Whoever waits for his neighbor to die in order to take his piece of bread is, albeit guiltless, further from the model of thinking man than the most primitive pigmy or the most vicious sadist”Primo Levi - If This is a Man

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With these words- and many others from his book- engraved in my mind, I found myself in front of the Birkenau gates. I got off the bus and instead of rushing inside the camp, I started walking on the opposite direction.

Randomly, I decided to follow the rails that from the outside “normal” world, years ago, let those trains full of desperate people inside the camp.

I went as farther as I could from the entrance of the camp and sat on the rail, looking at that gate from far away. For some inexplicable reason, the feeling of numbness here was devastating. I just stared at that gate for more than one hour. My mind was completely empty.

Birkenau, probably even more than Auschwitz 1, is the most infamous place where the worst bestialities took place. I knew that, and I took my time before I was ready to enter the camp.


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TRYING AND FAILING AT FEELING EMOTIONS IN BIRKENAU

 

In front of Birkenau, I finally started to feel the cold. Cold coming from the outside, but mostly from the inside. I covered my head with the hood and I slowly forced myself inside the camp.

I hadn’t uttered a word since the moment I enter Auschwitz I. I decided to visit the camps by myself and when I finally saw Birkenau from the inside, I’m sure that even if I were in the company of a friend, I would have reacted exactly like I did: I was speechless.

First of all I wasn’t expecting the camp to be so MASSIVE. Wherever I laid my eyes, all I saw were countless identical barracks on my left, extending for kilometers, and just a few barracks and countless destroyed buildings on my right.


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In front of me only empty spaces and the rails that finally stopped at a dead end, where the main crematoriums and gas chambers were built and then destroyed by the Nazis in an attempt to cover their atrocities.


I tried to remember the details so precisely described by Primo Levi in his book: people screaming when separated from the loved ones. The pile of corpses spread everywhere when the Nazis evacuated the camp in January 1945. The stink, the people reduced to skeletons trying to survive yet another day in the snow with only thin striped uniforms on.


I saw nothing, there was no trace of the ghosts I was expecting to see. No feelings, just emptiness, matched perfectly by the physical emptiness of that immense camp.


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I was shivering for the cold and  I couldn’t relate to anything I’ve read on the books. My mind was filled with only two questions.

Why I can’t even feel the evil of this place? Why I can’t feel ANYTHING at all?

These were the only thoughts that went through my mind for more than 5 hours when I started walking around all by myself, getting lost amongst those barracks, looking inside the dormitories, the lavatories, and the common latrines.

Nothing else. Just that “nothing”, two questions without an answer and the cold, so much cold, inside and out.

In Birkenau, without a guide, NOTHING really made sense. I was walking on a ground where millions of people died horribly and I couldn’t feel a single thing.

Once back at the hotel I had a long conversation with a friend on why I felt this empty. Was I a heartless person? Was I protecting myself from feeling too emotional?


The most rational explanation I could give to myself was that looking at that desolated, silent land, nothing made sense. I knew what happened, but looking at it 70 years later, somehow I couldn’t believe it really did.

No trace of the atrocities was left intact in there. Thinking about the unthinkable is simply impossible. The barracks and the latrines were spot clean. I can’t say they were nice places to see, but I couldn’t connect the horrible stories told by the survivors to…THAT.

I am usually very skilled when it comes to “feeling a place”. Every time I enter a new country or I visit a new city I have a strong gut feeling about it. Not in Birkenau. My gut was empty and silent.


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I couldn’t sense the evil nor the pain and the suffering. Probably because the people who lived and died in here didn’t leave any trace of human feelings. They were de-humanized, both the victims and the oppressors.

This is what I told my friend:

“Birkenau completely lacks a “soul” not even an evil one, and what’s even more incredible, this place is still able to suck out your own soul, exactly like the black holes do with light”.


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Image Courtesy: yougotthepoint.online.fr

Primo Levi, as a survivor, is certainly one of the best persons to explain what it means to be de-humanized. Below are his words:


“Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so.

Nothing belongs to us anymore; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we ill have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.” 

― Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz


People who know me very well are aware on how easily I get tremendously tired when I walk, due to a minor genetic deficiency of my blood cells.

That day I didn’t eat (it’s not allowed inside the camps and I wasn’t even hungry), I was cold as hell and I walked for hours at end but I wasn’t tired at all.


Birkenau stole my soul in every possible way. It left me speechless and without any emotion or even physical feelings or pain, except for an unsettling heaviness on my chest.


I went from barrack to barrack like a robot, sometimes joining an English speaking group hoping that their explanations would bring me back to my usual self. But nothing could shake me from that numbness.

I probably won’t ever be able to express in words the “nothing” I felt at Birkenau.

It’s humanly impossible to even start imagining the pain, the suffering, the hunger and the emptiness of the people who died in there. This is something that not a sane human being would ever understand completely.


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WHAT I WILL REMEMBER OF MY VISIT AT BIRKENAU


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Despite the numbness I felt, Birkenau still haunts my thoughts every single day. I  remember every detail of the desolated road that lead the women and children to the gas chambers.

At the beginning of that road, surrounded by thick electric fences, there are a few pictures of old women and kids unknowingly walking their death path.

I stood there, in the middle of that very long street surrounded by destroyed barracks -where only the chimneys remained- for hours.



The camp is so huge that it’s very easy to find yourself completely isolated, even if there are hundreds of people walking around.

Everything was unbelievably surreal to say the least and yet again, there are no words for it. Silence. Cold. Emptiness.

All I know is that, even if there was not much to see (the barracks looked all the same to me after a while), I only left the camp because I was about to miss my last bus.


WHY IS SO IMPORTANT TO VISIT AUSCHWITZ ?


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The only “normal” (or might I say “human”?) thing I did in Birkenau was lighting a candle I found on the ground and placing it outside the barrack n.25 : The “death” Barrack (shown on the picture above)

I wanted to visit the camps to feel a connection, to understand better. Since I “failed” my mission, all I could do was to pay a tribute to the people who fought for their life every single day, to those who froze to death in their “beds”.

 

Will I ever understand what this really means? NO. NEVER. All I know is the importance of talking about it.


WHAT I THINK AUSCHWITZ CAN TEACH US


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As a traveler, but most importantly as a human being, I felt the responsibility to see things for myself and talk about these places.

Auschwitz/Birkenau is a tough place to visit, but it’s important to keep the memory alive, to learn from the past and to stay alert as similar things are still happening today.

It’s probably easier to commemorate the millions of victims of the Holocaust after 70 years. It’s a lot less easy to look around and realize that we are surrounded by refugees treated like animals, desperate people with no help nor hope.


Isn’t that the same thing in the end? Don’t these people have the same right to justice and happiness as the Jewish had? I think we are all guilty if we choose to ignore these things.

The last passage I want to share in here is from the first page of Primo Levi’s book and its main message can be easily projected to many tragic situations happening in the world right now.

 

This is the main reason why I think everyone should visit Auschwitz: To learn from the past and keep the memory alive.


“You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find warm food
And friendly faces when you return home.
Consider if this is a man
Who works in mud,
Who knows no peace,
Who fights for a crust of bread,
Who dies by a yes or no.


Consider if this is a woman
Without hair, without name,
Without the strength to remember,
Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Like a frog in winter. 


Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when getting up.
Repeat them to your children”

 

Primo Levi- If this is a man”


USEFUL INFO AND LINKS TO VISIT AUSCHWITZ/BIRKENAU


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Getting to Auschwitz/Birkenau is fairly easy from Krakow.

You can book a daily visit in any travel agency in Krakow or plan the trip by yourself.

 

Here is a very detailed article where you can find all the information you need to plan your trip:

Tips for Visiting The Auschwitz Concentration Camps

For my Italian Audience, you can read this: OurGenocides

This is another article written by a Polish couple and how they reacted to their visit: Auschwitz Concentration Camp – an Awful place you should visit.

If you want to know more about the Concentration Camps, make reservations and read more about the Museum and the camps, you can check out the official website:

Auschwitz/Birkenau Official Website


Have  you ever visited Auschwitz/Birkenau? Leave a comment if you feel like sharing your experience or if you have the desire to go.

Thanks for reading.

I put all my effort to write this for you, like it and make me happy!
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Comments 66

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I visited Auschwitz three times between 2012 and 2017 and my feelings were similar to yours. Most of visitors ‘know’ what took place here, but it is nearly impossible to understand. We have to realize the social and political conditions which legalized the most horrible crime in mankinds history.

    Photographs of my Auschwitz visits:
    http://stelofoto.de/auschwitz-oswiecim/?lang=en

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  2. I went to Auschwitz and Birkenau when I was 15 and completely understand what you mean by the place having no soul, and taking your own. They made me feel numb and the sheer silence of the location is something that sticks with me today – 7 years later.
    My boyfriend wants to go in the future and I intend to go with him. Seems strange to plan a second trip there but its something that I want to go through with him. It’s an emotion like no other

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      Thanks for sharing your experience Kerry, I would also go back as you want to with your boyfriend. It’s an experience that has to be done once in a lifetime. It is also somehow comforting to read that many people can relate with that emptiness I felt back then. I thought it wasn’t normal to feel that way but I discovered that it’s actually pretty common. Sadly.

      Thanks again for stopping by
      Clelia

  3. Hi! The ones that are 15 years old in my school always go to Poland and Germany and visit auschwitz and birkenau (and one more that I can’t remember the name of). I will go this autumn and I can’t say that I look forward to it but I think it’s so important to go if you get the chance. Thank you for this post!

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      Sophie, it is certainly not a place you look forward to see but as you said.. it is very important that people go in there, to learn from the horrible mistakes of the past. I am sure you will have a meaningful experience.

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  4. Hi, there.
    I just want to recommend that you should read book “Medalions” Zofia Nałkowska. It is a obligatory book in polish school. The book gives voice to the experience of victims and witnesses of the Nazi genocide. Just read….

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  5. Such an educational, emotional and heartwrenching article Clelia. The title of the article caught my attention as it had me wondering why an experience would leave you feeling nothing. In a way I understood what that nothing was but came to me differs being overcome with grief of having seen and gone through that very place. Thanks for writing this wonderful article and for conveying your emotions into words.

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  6. Still in Cracow. just visited Auschwitz Birkenaw, a few hours ago, Im at the hotel tryng to understand what happened to me today, and I found this post I never saw before, couldnt agree more, I even felt guilty for not became as much emotional as I expected, and my majo reaction was against a couple to decidd start playing with snow, by the selection Platform in Birkenaw . Thanks for helping to understand

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      Marcelo, I just saw your comment… I’m sure that by now your emotions have come to the surface. It is always like that. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  7. I just visited Auschwitz today. I felt nothing walking round, and could not even finish looking round Birkenau because I just felt so…crushingly empty. It wasn’t until we got back to the flat and talked about what we saw that it all started to sink in. Now, much like the shoes for you, I can’t stop thinking about all those pots and pans. The things that they brought with them, with no idea what they’d be reduced to. Being inside that gas chamber was the hardest part for me – but I still could not comprehend the magnitude of it all. Fortunately, I did not see anyone being disrespectful or taking selfies, I’m not sure I could have handled that. I will return one day, and hopefully it will sink in a little more, but until then, I have no doubt those pots and pans will be burned into the back of my brain when I try to sleep at night.

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      Thanks for your thoughtful comment Ro. As you know, I can totally relate to what you said. This is one of the most intense posts I’ve ever written and sometimes it is even difficult for me to read it again.

  8. This was an amazing article… My partner and I recently went to the Imperial War Museum in London where they have a Holocaust exhibition, detailing the entire history of the terrible crimes that were committed in the camps. I must admit I cried throughout the exhibition as it was so shocking and eye opening. My partner and I are thinking about going to Auschwitz, but reading your article makes me want to go all the more – not to gawk at the horrors that happened but to pay my respects to those that lost their lives in such a horrific and tragic way. It’s also a part of my history as my great uncle was a prisoner of war in Bergen-Belsen. He was lucky to survive the camp but came home in a terrible state… Thank you again for writing such a wonderful piece of text.

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      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience Catherine. You should definitely visit Auschwitz, if the museum already had that effect on you, going there will change your life, and as I said I think it’s truly important for everyone to see what happened and hopefully avoid making similar horrific mistakes in the future. Having your great uncle as a survivor will certainly give you an even more powerful impact on the whole experience. Thanks again for stopping by and take the time to comment, I truly appreciated it.

  9. I visited last summer both camps I too was empty of feelings it was just hard to imagine everything that went on there during the war ,but this place is peaceful place now people walking round in groups or alone each with their own thoughts as to what happened . In Auschwitz 1 in the gas chamber you can still see the scratch marks on the walls from people’s fingernails but it’s still hard to comprehend what actually happened , what the poor souls murdered here must have endured .If you have never visited this awful place please try to do so the world can never forget or should never be allowed to forget what happened such a short time ago . Yes a short time ago there are still survivors on both sides victims and persecutors

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      Yes, it is definitely super hard to imagine what really happened in there now even with the sign of it everywhere… an experience that’s so difficult to explain.

  10. Hi Clelia,

    thanks for sharing this. I absolutely agree with you: it’s important to visit these places. Is not a vacation, an holiday or whatever, but each human on this planet should pay a visit there.

    Enrico

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  11. I visited in 1965 only 20 years after liberation. I was 17 years old.I thought I would not be able to sleep again but also thought everyone should see it and the site should be preserved and not forgotten.

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  12. I was there recently and felt nothing too. Maybe a little incredulity as now I am trying to get more information regarding what happened there but I am also learning that there is a lot of controrversy going on.

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      Information is always a good thing when it comes to such sensitive topics, the more the better, so that we can understand and avoid repeating history…

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  14. Thanks Clelia, excellent piece. I thought that I read a lot about holocaust before but realized being there in reality at Birkenau only how detailed and with what precision and inhumanity this “Factory” for killing was constructed and “operated”. Unbelievable, shocking … and depressing, even after 1 week thinking about it. Let’s be cautious that something like that can’t happen again.

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      Thanks Bob, you are absolutely right.. we are so focused on understanding what happened in the past, commiserating those poor souls that we are losing track of what’s happening in the present. That is why I always recommend people to visit these places. Being there has a totally different impact on the individuals and make us more sensitive to the cause, not only about the Holocaust but in regards of all the other unjust things that are under our eyes every single day.

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  17. Clelia, excellent piece of work. I just visited Auschwitz-Birkenau last month too on a gloomy day. Like you, I was overcome with emotions. I really can’t imagine the sufferings of the prisoners there. Even after coming back, it still hits me very hard!

    Yes, shame on those who took selfies at the place or worse, the crematorium. Please show some respect!! Millions have died here for nothing they have done!

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      Thank you Eve
      It’s so difficult to explain what happens in there when you visit. Impossible to fully understand all the horrors that happened in there…

  18. Thank you for caring. And for having courage to share. I read history books and memoirs to keep the memories alive. It is the very least we can do. Blessings.

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      Thanks for your comment Risa. You are right. Talking about it it’s the least we can do.. everything else, well it’s in the words I wrote on my article I guess.

  19. I visited Auschwitz in 1992. I was also so overwhelmed that I didn’t know what to do. History books do a very poor job of describing the horror of this place. After having visited, I’m sickened by people who try to deny that the Holocaust ever existed. I think this is a must-visit place for anyone concerned about making sure that genocide is stopped.

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      I really can’t believe when I hear that there are people out there denying that all of this has even happened. I mean, seriously? I think that this is possibly even more sickening than the rest. Enough said.

  20. Wow this was an amazing read, you really took me there with your words. I had similar feelings at S21 and the Killing Fields in Cambodia, and I remember thinking that even though it was a horrific and emotional day, I felt that it needed to be done, and that all travellers should make an effort to ensure they’re seeing both the good and bad in the world. I haven’t read If this is a man, but I would like to pick it up one day. Cannot believe people were taking selfies, that makes me so mad!

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      Thanks for your comment Stacey. I didn’t have a chance to visit the Killing Fields in Cambodia but after my experience at Auschwitz I’ll make sure to go there as well. It’s not easy, I know but it’s so important for people to not forget history and to keep the memories alive. Not to mention that this is something I think we should do for ourselves. To grow as individuals and be more sensitive on what’s going on nowadays. Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself if we don’t pay attention.

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      Thanks Nick, Aushwitz was definitely hard, but as you said, it’s important to visit these places and share our experiences…

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  22. Mi è piaciuto il tuo racconto Clelia, veramente bello.
    Onestamente io ho letto sofferenza e empatia nelle tue parole, io credo che questa esperienza abbia smosso qualcosa dentro di te, nel profondo.
    Probabilmente il numb di cui tu parli è una sorta di autodifesa o una forma di trauma, proprio come quando ci si fa male fisicamente e si sviene. Questo succede per limitare il dolore e la sofferenza.
    Io mi sono commossa leggendo il tuo post, sarà suggestione? Non lo so, preferisco credere che in qualche modo tu sia stata capace di comunicare in questo post ciò che non sei riuscita a “sentire” durante la tua visita ad Auschwitz.

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      Grazie Veronica, credo tu abbia proprio centrato il punto. In realta’ al mio rientro a casa ho avuto modo di riflettere e la mia reazione e’ avvenuta a “scoppio ritardato”. Non credo sia un’esperienza che dimentichero’ facilmente. Se non sei ancora stata, ti suggerisco di andarci, e magari spendi qualche altro giorno per scoprire la polonia e la sua gente. Ti rallegreranno il cuore dopo una giornata cosi’ pesante! Un abbraccio.

  23. Numb can be a very strong feeling. I haven’t been to Auschwitz or any of the other “camps” and am not sure I could stand to do it. It took me days to get over the horror of going to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. If I do ever go to Auschwitz though and see someone taking a selfie I will do my best to shame them which, in all likelihood, is impossible.

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      Kay, you are right, numbness can be a very strong feeling.. I am usually over emotional so I wasn’t familiar with the feeling and it took me by surprise. As for the disrespect i witnessed, I wanted to shame them but I refrained to do so as, knowing me, I would have yelled and it wasn’t very appropriate given the place we were visiting. I should have gone to the guide at tell her but honestly I was too focused on my experience to think about it.

  24. Hi Clelia. I started reading this post with interest but I gave up halfway through. It was too much. if I may, I think you felt numb as a way of protecting yourself. Unconsciously, I mean. All your emotions hit afterwards. I don’t think I’m brave enough to visit these camps. Kudos to you for doing it.

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  25. After I had visited Auschwitz-Birkenau nothing was the same for me for a very long time. Unlike you, I had little knowledge about the place and history before going there. Hearing the stories left me numb as well and with just as many questions, and even with a bit of anger.

    We also had a great, great guide that we dared to ask if he had any connection with the camp; the answer was “yes”. He had relatives that died there. He also joined us to Birkenau and the stories from there were just as horrible.

    You did a great job talking about it!

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      Glad to hear about an experience from someone who didn’t know much before visiting the camps. Apparently numbness is a quite common reaction. Numbness mixed with some other emotions, depending on the individual, I guess. but as I said… there is no right or wrong reaction in Auschwitz. I’m still not sure about my decision of going to Birkenau without a guide. In the end I think it might have been the right decision for me, only because I was able to join a few groups from time to time and listen to them.

  26. You did a really good job writing that post, I felt like I was there with you, feeling numb even though I haven’t visited Ausschwitz or Birkenau yet. I think you’re right, everyone should visit those place to learn from the past.
    Last year I felt so embarrassed when people in Germany (I’m German) started demonstrating against the Muslims in Germany. It seems like those people haven’t learned anything. Luckily those demonstrations stopped after a couple of months and apart from some people demonstrating against the refugees now, I’m proud of so many helpful souls in consideration of the refugee crisis now. Of course there is always more that can be done but I’m happy for every refugee accepted to be in Germany. “We” created so much pain in the past, you cannot put it into words. I hope that people learn from the past and that something like this will never happen again.

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      Hey Stef, I think that today’s problem is not the Germans at all.. as you said, many of them still feel the heaviness of the past on them and they are trying to make up for it somehow. The problem is a generalized one. It’s mainly ignorance and selfishness I guess.

      I remember when I was in high school we hosted, together with many other families, some kids from the now ex Jugoslavia, as they had lost their families in the war. I don’t know what in hell is wrong with people now.

      My theory is that (at least in Italy) the economic situation is so bad that people don’t want to let anyone in the country for the fear that they will “steal their jobs”. I’m horrified by this behaviour and kudos to Germany for being so helpful in this case!

  27. Wow! Just wow. I have been to Auschuwitz and I have seen the horror, but I could not write about it. You are a brave soul to write about such atrocities. You tell a powerful story and you are right, everyone in the world should visit here just once.

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      Cacinda, I don’t even know how the words came to me. They just did. Everything that happened at Auschwitz in the past and now to me, was unbelievable in every possible way.

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      Thanks Anon, it’s weird.. so many people told me (privately) that this piece left them…speechless. Just like i was in there.

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