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

Clelia Mattana BLOG, EUROPE, INSPIRATION, POLAND, USEFUL GUIDES 112 Comments



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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 represents.

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.

 

I’ve just published a new article with the most heartbreaking and touching books, movies and documentaries about the Holocaust you should read and watch, whether you want to visit or have already visited Auschwitz. The stories in those books and movies made me cry before, and even more after my visit to the concentration camps.

 

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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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 offense, 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 visiting any travel agency in Krakow, book directly online or plan the trip by yourself. I decided to go by myself because I didn’t have the time to organize it during my 3 days in Krakow.

 

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 wasn’t sure whether I wanted to create a pinnable image about this, but I decided to do it because I think it’s important to spread awareness on the importance of visiting Auschwitz and keep the memory alive. 







 

Why it's so important to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps? My experience and some advice on what to expect from this trying experience.

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Hannah

Thank you so much for your blog! It was beautifully written. The holocaust is something very close to my heart and your blog filled my eyes with tears. I haven’t managed to visit yet, but your blog has provided insight into what to expect when visiting. Again, thank you!

Hannah

Thank you so much for writing this post! The holocaust is something very close to my heart and your blog filled my eyes with tears! It is beautifully written. I haven’t managed to visit Auchwitz yet, but your blog has provided me with so much insight into what to expect when I one day do.

Siobhan

I visited last week and also felt nothing. A numb nothing. I just haven’t managed to process it all, I don’t have the words or the mental capacity to say how I feel. I thought that was just me and have been feeling guilty/ashamed that I had no way to express my emotions.

Celia Bellamy

Well my husband, daughter and myself came back from Krakow last week and during this time we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau and know exactly how you felt. I visited the Arc De Triomphe and Crazy Horse Memorial and couldn’t stop crying but visiting these two camps I just felt empty – devoid of any feelings whatsoever. I expected to be shocked and to be riven with sadness but it was just a numbness I have never encountered. We didn’t speak to each other but we had an excellent guide who reminded others around us to be respectful. The scale of… Read more »

Janet

I took my 14 year old son in August. I felt it was so important that he experienced this place and learnt about what happened here. Our educator was excellent, she explained everything factually and without emotion. Our group were very respectful. It is right about the numbness, I think for both of us thoughts about this experience will only come out with time. It is right that the site is described as a memorial, it is a place to contemplate humanity and to think about a better world for future generations. Everyone should visit, it is thought provoking and… Read more »

Katie

I envy your feeling of nothingness. In addition to the horror and emotions I felt just walking through the camp unguided I was overwhelmed by a sense of panic and nausea. I described it to my husband as the feeling you have as a child when you’ve done something you know you’ll be punished for, but are waiting for the punishment to be delivered… that feeling magnified a thousandfold. I had the same experience as you with the people laughing and smiling there. I was so overwhelmed by the emotions I was having to even breathe properly, but any sound… Read more »

Thanks for sharing information on how to get to my city. I come from Oswiecim (Auschwitz) so I appreciate that you help to make people traveling convenient.

ADMIN NOTE: I had to remove the links as per the website comment policy. Thanks for your understanding.

Paul

My wife and I went also in 2015, my wife sobbed the moment we walked under the “arbeit macht frei “ sign and didn’t stop for the whole of the Auschwitz 1 tour
For 3 years I haven’t been able to tell people how I felt there, until I read your article, now I realise what I was feeling, “nothing “, thank you for making me realise how it affected me
Truly horrific and shocking, and people still say it didn’t happen
And people still take selfies and photos in a gas chamber!! Truly horrific and shocking

Alexandra

I visited Auschwitz in early March 2018 when I was visiting Krakow. It was the coldest week in Europe in ten years, so that added on to how bleak the tour was. I actually felt so much and then nothing at all. And the experience sticks with me. I had a full-blown anxiety attack in the room full of hair. I didn’t stop crying until we made it to Birkenau where my crying stopped and I just felt empty. I saw people being disrespectful too, and it deeply bothered me. How can you be so disrespectful? It is a place… Read more »

Mr Robert Peter Loehrer

I felt exactly the same way you did.

nick goth

I am planning a trip to Auschwitz later this year. I feel apprehensive about it to say the least. I’ve read about it, seen docus and read blogs like this excellent one. Got the directions how to get there. I’ve been advised to go on a guided tour rather than alone. The place seems so big from photos and visitor accounts. I’ve visited several other historical sites of WW2. None will compare to this. I realise my understanding of all of this is so small. I’m not sure how I will feel, ths is why I want to go. I… Read more »

Stephanie

I first visited Auschwitz in 1965 when I was 17. After that visit I didn’t think I would be able to sleep again. There was even a smell different to the smell outside the camp. Also there were no birds singing. At the end of 2016 I went to Poland again. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to visit Auschwitz again as I had found my first visit traumatic. I decided I should go again but this time I felt nothing near as bad as I did the first time. This time there was grass and it seemed ‘ sanitized’… Read more »

This was so informative and well written. I have been to Dachau when travelling with a Grad trip several years ago and the experience was haunting and is forever with me. Thanks for sharing. It is so important – Never Forget

MVD

I just visited Auschwitz today and I understand exactly what you mean..The place I felt the most emotional was in the building full of photos of the men, women and children who were killed. Seeing the faces of those who had to endure such horrors did bring out a deep feeling of despair. For all of them we must remember what happened and honour their lives. Unfortunately, like yourself I had a tour member who showed a severe lack of respect. Posing for photos in a belly top inbetween the living quarters5 at Birkenau, with a guard tower as her… Read more »

MVD

I just visited Aushwitz today and I understand exactly what you mean..the place I felt the most emotional was in the building full of photos of the men, women and children who were killed. Seeing the faces of those who had to endure such horrors did bring out a deep feeling of despair. For all of them we must remember what happened and honour their lives. Unfortunately, like yourself I had a tour member who showed a severe lack of respect. Posing for photos in a belly top inbetween the living quarters at Birkenau, with a guard tower as her… Read more »

Marco A. B.

I’ve never been, but the Holocaust has always fascinated me, and I want to go some day. I think your description of the experience is not heartless, it’s extremely human. I felt a simliar way after reading “Night” by Elie Weisel. The human’s moral compass is such a deep and complicated thing, sometimes in place so horrific as Auschwitz, it’s difficult to feel anything just because your brain is trying to process the sadness and utter confusion to how a human could do this. That’s how I felt after visiting the Ann Frank house in Amsterdam, the entire time I… Read more »

Jorge E Alonso

My wife and I left the camp about 3 hours ago. Right now I’m in bed at one of the hotels across the street from the main gate. We visited Birkenau first and then Auschwitz since we weren’t booked in one of the tours and thus we were only allowed in Auschwitz after 3:30pm. You’ve summed up my feelings very well. I know a ton about the Holocaust and its context. We came here in the middle of a WWII-themed vacation that took us to Paris, Munich, Nuremberg and Prague so far, and from here we go to Berlin and… Read more »

El Hopkinson

Hi, thank you for this blog. I visited today, less that 5 hours ago and felt exactly the same way you did. You’ve captured it in writing perfectly.

All we can really do is remember with respect.

X

Sue

I am at this moment in Krakow. I visited Auschwitz/Birkenau yesterday. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Reading your ‘blog’ instantly captured the feelings and emotions I am feeling. You described perfectly the numbness, the lack of comprehension or not understanding how one man could be capable of instigating the whole thing. I’ve always been interested in the Holocaust, Auscwhitz, Birkenau etc ever since I was a child. This was a lifelong ‘dream’ of mine to actually come here to see the reality of it all. I didn’t know how I’d feel. I felt EXACTLY… Read more »

Nadeea

This is a beautifully written post. I got tears in my eyes reading about the little shoe…. We’re planning a trip in that area in the next few months and I’ve always wanted to go to Auschwitz. Like you I’ve watched countless documentaries and read tons of books on the Holocaust and it’s really important to me to see the camp first hand. Having said that, I have an 18 month old ….. I didn’t really consider the ramifications of taking a toddler with me but having read your post I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to take a… Read more »

[…] quiet Polish town called Oświęcim was witness to more horrors than it may be willing to recount or remember. It is one thing to learn […]

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

Kerry

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

Sophie

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!

Charlotte

Wow. A very emotional read! Our experience was very similar. Etched in my mind forever. Those poor souls.

Aneta from Poland

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….

Deke

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.

Marcelo

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

Ro

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… Read more »

Catherine

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… Read more »

Brendan

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… Read more »

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

Stephanie

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.

Chris

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.

Chris

Thank you very much for sharing all of this. I have no other words, but that it is appreciated.

Bob

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.

[…] is my tale of a fabulous stay in Warsaw and a touching piece from my Auschwitz concentration camps […]

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

Eve

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!