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

In BLOG, EUROPE, INSPIRATION, POLAND, USEFUL GUIDES by Clelia Mattana184 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.

On 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 gets 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, as 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”


PRIMO LEVI’S BOOKS

Click to check them out. Worth every page.

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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

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. 







 

Read in: Italian German

Comments

  1. I did read this extremely touching post a few years ago, but now felt like returning here because my country is turning into hell and for me it’s impossible to stand it. I’m speaking from Krakow, Poland, that is located in the same region as Auschwitz. Since you wrote this, the country has enacted systemic discrimination against migrants, LGBT and women in the name of “preserving the Catholic values and culture”. Among other regions, the lesser Poland Voivodeship (where Auschwitz is located) has declared itself free from what it calls “LGBT ideology”, our top politicians and Catholic bishops have referred to “LGBT ideology” as “worse than communism and nazism”, and just some time ago, the country has enacted an almost total ban on abortions.
    To make problems worse, the more open-minded youth is leaving the country in droves, and those who remain in Poland are systematically encouraged to have openly fascist values. It’s so sad to see that while Germany after Nazism has become a model of tolerance and acceptance, in Poland suffering at the hands of Nazis and Communists have made us actually like their fascist and authoritarian values, instead of making us more empathetic.

    1. Author

      Hi Lidia, reading your comment made me very sad. I’m not sure why this is happening in Poland. I was following the anti-abortion law and the protests and apparently the government in that instance made a step back? (I hope the news are real), for the rest… not much to comment about, I truly do hope that the country will come to its senses. Sad, very very sad.

      1. The main reason all that is happening is religious (Catholic) extremism. The Catholic Church played a major role in fighting communism back in the 80’s, and the popularity of the Church skyrocketed after the fall of communism. However, at the same time, the Church has lost a lot of power and influence in many traditionally Catholic countries (Ireland and Spain come to mind, as these countries have rapidly liberated and literally kicked the Church out). Fearing that the same would happen in Poland, the Church (that still has a strong influence on Polish population) has launched an aggressive campaign to extend its influence (by blocking LGBT and abortion rights, limiting contraception and IVF, compulsory “Catholic religion” subject in schools etc) before it gets too late.
        Despite of what the Pope says, the migrants are largely seen as an outside threat to “Catholic values” instead of people to be welcomed. This is of course nothing except hypocrisy, as a Polish woman was arrested (with a two year sentence) for displaying the “rainbow Madonna”. This kind of stuff you’d imagine probably in the Middle East.
        You’re from Italy so I probably don’t need to explain the power the Church holds on the people, especially the politics. From what I see, the difference between Italy and Poland is that in Italy there is a significant section of population that rejects all this nonsense (that’s why despite not having a perfect record, Italy did welcome lots of refugees and immigrants, and has a much more secular state in practice).

  2. This post is really powerful and moving. Reading the other comments as an Italian myself, I’m saddened by the ignorance of too many fellow countrymen. But I can assure that the bigots sitting in parliament do not represent my generation, which has grown up in internet era and is well-travelled. You’ll be hard pressed to find teenagers and young adults in nationalist rallies. Unfortunately this country has always been controlled by old and middle-aged and we can only wait for our turn.
    Fortunately there are places out there that are more open-minded, and helping a lot of desperate people.
    My biggest long-lasting fear right now is the scenario in which we leave the EU. That will leave us poverty-stricken, as well as unable to emigrate for better opportunities.

    1. Author

      I totally agree with your last statement Alberto. As an Italian, I know exactly what your fears are. I hope we will be not stupid enough to leave Europe. People have short term memories these times!

  3. I travelled with my family from NZ to visit Auschwitz December 2019. I had been told by a great traveller that his visit to Auschwitz was the most profound experience of his year and miles of travel around the world. With two sons facinated by WW2 and my husband and two daughters, we spent Christmas Eve being shown the atrocities of drepraved mankind. It was depressing. It shocked us. It silenced us. It is very hard to explain. Our hearts and minds felt violated with the knowledge and images we heard and saw. We couldn’t speak. We had to take control of our minds by putting on our ear phones as soon as we were seated in our bus to drive back to Krakow. There was no conversation to be had. We had been consumed. We wished it was bad dream we would wake up from but instead it is a weight we will carry and remember our whole lives. We will never forget that Chrismas and hopefully never have one so emotionally impacting again. Least we forget, everyone should make the time to visit. Words will never adequately reveal the evil that ruled that place and destroyed and degraded all those men, woman and children.

  4. I visited Auschwitz a few weeks ago as part of a school project and have been tasked with writing a newsletter article about the trip. One of the hardest elements of the visit for me was coming to terms with the numbness I felt and trying to answer the reoccurring question presented to me afterwards of “How was it?”. I struggle to word my thoughts at the best of times and this really was an impossible thing to articulate to those who haven’t been. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this blog post, many of the things you mentioned are just how I felt and reading your beautifully written piece has really helped me process it all. I feel more able now to express my feelings towards the trip and write an article that will hopefully reach and educate many more on the unimaginable horror.

    1. Author

      Than you so much for this message Ellie, the post is certainly one of my cheerful ones but it gives me tears to realize that I might have helped someone with it.
      And thanks for continuing to educate people about it.

  5. That was quite a thoughtful article. I’ve not been to that place as of now, and am planning to go there alone. Still I don’t find it very difficult to see the uncertainty in the atmosphere around me – when it comes to minorities. On one hand, you cannot ignore that many immigrant communities are not well-assimilated (at least here in Europe), and there is a section of society (usually containing old and less educated people) that has been left behind by globalization and mass immigration – and hence feels “invaded”. But on the other side – incidents like Christchurch and Hanau are mini holocausts and “sending them back” or hostility towards refugees is plain evil and inhuman.
    In such a situation, I believe that what is really needed is higher levels of education, skills and awareness – in both communities so that we could merge them into one. While the grown-ups with their conservative believes are (mostly) not going to change, we indeed have a chance to improve the future of youth. But it is pretty clear that things can’t stay the way they currently are, or else nothing can prevent a third world war.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your comment Jay, there is truly nothing more to add to what you’ve already said. So true. So sadly true.

  6. Celia,
    I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau about a year ago and I can honestly say I had a very similar experience. Prior to visiting, I was certain that I would be in a puddle of tears within seconds of arriving. Instead, the experience was profoundly surreal and I could not even begin to imagine or envision the atrocities that occurred at the site. I remember feeling numb and I felt hollow. I did feel a rush of emotions upon seeing the thousands of pairs of eyeglasses and shoes. I firmly believe that everyone should visit Auschwitz at some point throughout their lifetimes. Although non-survivors will never be able to even fathom the horrendous nature of Auschwitz, it is a wake up call to humanity. I believe it serves as a much-needed reminder to be accepting, respectful, and kind to all, despite any differences. I also saw disrespectful visitors taking selfies on the train track where cattle cars transported prisoners to the camp and was beyond disgusted.

    1. Author

      Hi Haley, thanks for sharing your experience… I’m more and more overwhelmed by people like you saying you felt very similar feelings when I wrote this I thought I was alone in it, and that it was weird to feel like this. Now I understand a lot more also thanks to you.

  7. I’m sat in my hotel room in Krakow after a day visiting Auschwitz and your blog has really helped make sense of my experience today. I left feeling entirely different to how I thought I would. But the numbness is real. That’s the exact word I used and felt guilty for not wanting to stand and cry at everything I saw. I think such atrocities are hard to comprehend even when your stood at the site where they occurred. How can you be a compassionate human and possibly begin to imagine such a life. We were On a guided tour for both sites and I found I was quickly moved from place to place. I want to revisit and just take time to stand still and take it all in again.
    What a beautifully written blog, I’m pleased I found it.

    1. Author

      Thank you for your kind and touching words, Claudia. As you describe the scene of you sitting in your hotel room, it immediately reminded of my reaction, and it’s now been more than 4 years since I’ve visited.It seems yesterday. I can’t still talk about it without the strange feeling of a knot in my throat.It’s impossible to forget visiting Auschwitz. I had no idea just like you said, of the impact it would have had on me. And still has to this day. That numbing feeling now I know it’s something quite powerful. We truly can’t comprehend what really happened in there. It’s too horrible for normal people to understand these atrocities. I think that if you can handle another visit, it would be good now to go on your own. ou already had the guided tour (I still recommend the one at Auschwitz I for the first timers) but you did it already so having the time to stay in a place rather than another will give your visit even more meaning.
      Thanks for sharing your experience here. Sometimes when I read all the comments the people left over the years I’m overwhelmed. I never expected other people to resonate so much to what I had experienced and I wrote this only to make sense of that “nothing” I felt. So thank you again for taking the time to comment.

  8. I’m going to visit Auschwitz in a few days and honestly, I’m a little bit scared of the experience. Don’t get me wrong I’m very excited to visit it, but I’m scared of the experience to actually stand on the ground where thousands and thousands of people died in a short time period. Also, I’m scared of what I’ll feel standing there. I will come back and tell you about my experience after I visited Auschwitz.

    1. Author

      Thanks Becca, and honestly? Let it go and feel free to feel whatever it comes to you. Don’t be afraid of being scared. It’s a lesson, believe me. I was scared too, a lot. I couldn’t sleep the night before visiting Auschwitz but in the end, it was worth it. Please come back and tell me how it went. Best of luck…

  9. Just went to Auschwitz a month ago and it was heartbreaking. But what hurts me even more is that it seems like many people in Europe have forgotten the past and are blatantly supporting far-right bigots who sound identical in tone and style to what Hitler said about Jews. At the same time, people are trying to deny real, serious issues like climate change. Just look at what is happening in UK, Hungary, Switzerland (my country), Italy and Poland (ironically, the same place where that all happened).

    1. Author

      Sadly, I couldn’t agree more with you on this Oliver. The situation is really worrisome and people seem to have completely forgotten the past. I hope I’m wrong but I’m not very optimistic. I am in Italy right now and Salvini’s “people” are completely going insane for the immigration issues, so much so that people are happy for those who died at sea even if they are newborns, kids or their mothers. It’s chilling.

      1. I know all about that. And if you have the Lega in Italy, in Switzerland we have the UDC/SVP, that has been popular for the last ten years by spreading out hate and anger. They use posters that usually refer to EU, Immigrants and Muslims in very derogatory terms. They have successfully managed to ban construction of “Minerats” and in 2014, managed to get the majority of Swiss population in voting for an incredibly restrictive immigration policy, so much that it would have destroyed the Swiss economy had it been enacted. Thankfully, the bill didn’t get passed after some negotiations with Brussels.
        I really, really hope that we go through these dark years smoothly.

        1. Author

          Yes, I am aware of all this, unfortunately. On top of it, my boyfriend is German (from Dresden, where they are having issues with neo-Nazis movements more than in any other part of the country). It’s bad, very bad. And what worries me the most is that Auschwitz didn’t happen in 2 days, it took a lot of propaganda to get to this point and I see way too many similitudes. Just like you, I hope we go through these very dark years.

          1. Overall, once we pass this dark phase, I’m optimistic about the future. 70 years ago, who would have thought that Germany, UK, France, Italy and Austria will stop being at war ong themselves. Since Europeans decided to shake hands with each other, the same bigots that were responsible for world wars and holocaust have now shifted their hatred compass to Africa and Asia instead. If we keep progressing at the same rate as the past sixty fears, these imbeciles will have nowhere to go.

          2. Author

            I like this optimistic approach and I hope you’re right, only time will tell but I’m certainly not sitting in a corner doing nothing. I’m one of those who likes to speak her mind and try to raise awareness on the issues we are facing now.

  10. Please edit the link for Mengele so it doesn’t read “doctor”!!!! M should not be celebrated! Doesn’t deserve to have any title.

    Glad you’ve taken the time to visit, and I completely understand the numbness. Please take more time to explore and understand why this is important to continue.

    Kindness!

    1. Author

      Hi Anna, I understand your point of view about Mengele, but he was unfortunately for everyone involved, and sadly, a doctor. Removing that vital information would be in my opinion removing also the meaning of what he did. Leaving the appellative of doctor doesn’t mean we are celebrating him IN ANY WAY. On the opposite, how a doctor could do such things, expresses, even more, the evil of the Nazis. Definitely not celebrating anything in here. Thanks for commenting!

  11. Thank you for your article, very interesting. I visited Auschwitz along with my teenage daughter in October. I too was puzzled about my emotions and struggled to know how I felt, it’s such an awful thing to comprehend. Like many others I had read and watched many documentaries and on arrival I felt quite nervous about entering. The personal belongings were hard to see and I was drawn to the suitcases with names, I didn’t want to move from that spot. When we arrived at Birkenau I think I was more shocked at the scale and the long walk those poor souls took to their deaths. After arriving back at our hotel after a long day both my daughter and I couldn’t sleep. I think that’s when the emotions hit us both and we had time to reflect and talk about our experience. I urge people to visit. I’m so pleased my daughter came with me. It’s important for her generation to know what happened.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience Kay, and kudos to you for bringing your daughter to visit Auschwitz. It’s not easy, granted, but a life lesson for sure. It’s so weird that our emotions can only “explode” after we are back to the hotel. I read the same story for so many people. I guess dealing with the emotions at Auschwitz (Birkenau) is a challenging task. We need to visit, we need to remember, especially now that the last survivors are unfortunately dying and all we have left is the memory. To avoid such horrible things to happen again.

  12. I visited Auschwitz in october 2014 and sinds that day i have nightmeres sometimes i feel there pain i dont know if its normal my boyfriend says he want to visit Auschwitz some day but i dont know if it a good thing for me to go a second time has annybody had the same feeling there

    1. Author

      Hey Kim, thanks for your comment, sorry to hear that you are still having nightmares over your visit to Auschwitz, but it’s totally understandable in my opinion. You’re sensitive and this reflects on how you process such horrors. As for your question, it’s quite a dilemma, to be honest. Did you visit Auschwitz by yourself the first time? If so, maybe going back with your boyfriend could help. But if you truly don’t feel like going back, you could always explain this to your boyfriend and let him go by himself while you wait for him in Krakow. Being a one day trip you won’t be apart for long and you could talk after he comes back, helping each other to understand and live this experience in the least traumatic way possible.

      Best of luck and thanks again for stopping by!

  13. I visited Auschwitz last weekend. I felt empty until I left and I’ve not been able to sleep properly since and I’m extremely emotional.
    I nearly lost my son to an illness when he was one so I’m extremely close to him. The strangest thing was on one of the pictures a young 6-7 year old boy looked exactly like my son. I wanted to turn back the clock, jump in the picture and save that darling boy.
    I have an extremely close bond with both my children and I just keep feeling how those mums would have felt either being killed with their children or being separated from them to never be seen again. It’s just absolutely impossible to understand how people could be so cruel.
    I’m only talking from a mums point of view as it’s what affected me the most. I saw pictures of dead babies starved and heard a story from the guide of a girl who died of a broken heart as she missed her mum so much. Needless to say I cuddle and kiss my children a little more after Auschwitz. God bless everyone who’s innocent life was taken.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your comment Rebecca, even if I’m not a mother, your reaction brought me to tears. So many innocent lives killed… heartbreaking.

  14. Thank you so much for this article. I visited this place just a week ago, and although I have also read many books and watched countless documentaries on this subject. Almost immediately after my visit I start seeking answers on WHY I experienced similar feelings you did. Indeed, no matter how prepared one is, it is impossible to the common human mind and heart to comprehend what happened there. Words seem so small to even touch the reality.
    It is not a matter of lack of feelings. It is the need to reject that humans can treat other humans in such horrible ways.
    As the days pass, what I have seen, what I have experienced in this place start hitting me. I am sure I will never find an answer to the big “why” those people did what the did to other human beings. All I can continue doing is pray that humanity will never have to experience such horror ever again.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience Petros, I know exactly what you mean with your comment and you are right for sure, it’s impossible to truly understand what happened in there. Let’s hope it will never happen again.

  15. I to stumbled upon this blog and completely related to it. I couldn’t understand at all why I felt nothing whilst there, yet when I came back to my hotel I was violently Ill for no reason, No temperature, no food poisoning. Just one episode that passed quickly. I honestly believe what my mind couldn’t process in the atrocities that happened my body compensated. This is certainly an experience I will never forget, the trip is so personal to every single person what they take away from it and I feel there is no “right” way to feel.

    1. Author

      Hi Julie, thanks for sharing your experience. Everyone reacts in a different way and surely your body took a lot in to react in such a strong way, trying to avoid dealing with the feelings your mind and heart were experiencing.
      As you said, there is no right way to feel. It’s not a social experiment, we simply go there to pay a tribute and try to understand if we can.
      Thanks again for stopping by.

  16. Thankyou for this blog which I stumbled upon by chance while trying to find out how to approach a visit to Auschwitz – even to use the word “visit” seems wrong. Thankyou for your honesty in describing your feelings or lack of them – only the hardest heart could fail to be moved and perhaps what explains Jack Stuffel’s comments is that he simply wasn’t moved and wonders why … It is possible that some of my great grandmother’s relatives ended their lives in a concentration camp. Many others here have expressed better than I ever could the importance of keeping the reality of this place alive – thankyou for your contribution to that and for your dignified response to your only detractor.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much for your comment Carolyn. I totally get how difficult it can be to explain the feelings you might experience when visiting and how the choice of words is also very difficult. As for the person who commented in a negative way, I honestly don’t mind because I know what’s in my heart when I wrote this and I also know that not everyone can understand. For me, the most important thing was to keep the memory alive and pay a tribute to those poor souls.

  17. I will be visiting the camp in June 2019 while on a tour. I was riveted with your blog and the way you described your feelings. I was in tears reading it. Since i am of Polish decent, this is something I have wanted to see for a long time. From what I have found out through discovering my Polish ancestors, some of whom were Jewish and/or Catholic Polish, many of them suffered at the hands of the Nazis. I am not sure if any were at this particular camp, but I did have a great great aunt who was imprisoned in Russia at a concentration camp for 10 years. I do not know the whole story of why she was there. My maternal grandfather came to the US at the turn of the 20th century, but still had contact with his family up until WWII. He broke off communication with them for fear the Nazi’s would come to the US and find him and his family. My Polish mother who was born in the US, never wished to visit Poland and refused to discuss her family back there. I am also of German descent on my father’s side. So I have both sides of the story during WWII. Many innocent Germans who were not associated with the Nazi’s lost their lives too. I am not sure what to expect when I visit the camp other than complete sadness, grief and loss. I have been to the Holocaust Memorial in Washington D.C., but I have a feeling being at the camp will be entirely different.

    1. Author

      Wow, thanks so much Patrice for sharing your feelings and your story with us. As for expectations, my advice is to go with an open heart and don’t think too much. let the feelings, whatever they will be, flow and accept them for what they are. The important thing is to go and experience for yourself.
      By having both sides of the story in your family, it might be even harder for you but you truly never know what your reactions will be until you visit.

      Thanks again for taking the time to share all this in here, I truly appreciated!

      1. I wanted to share my thoughts since my visit in June 2019. Like you, I felt empty. But what struck me the most, was the grounds of Birkenau and Auschwitz. Since it was early June when I was there, the grasses was green and it was a very beautiful warm late spring day. The sky was an incredible color of blue with big fluffy white clouds. If you did not know what these sites were, you would swear you were going to a picnic in a beautiful park. There were many people at Birkenau, and I wish we had more time there. As I went through the gate, I turned around to see what many of the prisoners would have seen…it would be their last impression of this place if they were in the lines to go immediately to the gas chambers. Very chilling. Our next stop was to Auschwitz. I am having a hard time describing my feeling and emotions. Our guide was young, in his 30’s, and was so compassionate. He never did say if he had members of his family there or not, but I sort of got the impression he did. When we rounded the corner of the last of the buildings before the gas chamber, he pointed out the villa or should I say the mansion were the Nazi commander of the camp lived with his children. I cannot wrap my head around what his feelings were when he departed his beautiful home, wife and kids who lived in luxury to see the prisoners and their suffering. When we got back on our bus, it was a very quiet ride to our next destination. I guess everyone was lost in their thoughts. A few days after I returned home from my European trip, I cried for several days thinking about the camps. As a mother and grandmother, I don’t know how I could watch my children/grandchildren suffer every day in those camps. Even typing this comment, I am still very emotional. Thank you for reading.

        1. Author

          Thanks, Patrice for wanting to share your experience here, I think that by doing it you’re also helping others to understand why they should visit or to not feel bad about their personal reactions…Actually your story about crying when back from your trio, triggered some tears of my own. Even after 4 years, I could never forget that damned place. And you are so right, with blue skies and green grass it’s … is don’t even find the words for it. Like me, at the museum in Auschwitz I. I kept looking at the streets and buildings, and they were NICE. It’s like cursing by saying something like that could look nice, it’s total madness, hence our mixed emotions, confusion, emptiness, and lack of understanding, but the delayed tears tell you another story. Clearly. It’s so sad to talk about this but we have to. I feel it’s our responsibility to never forget to avoid hate spreading and creating irreparable damages.

  18. This is a completely self-serving, self-focused article. Although the author does nothing but describe how she felt, making it all about her sense of compassion being so immense that she becomes a zombie, she claims to have felt nothing. The thesis changes constantly and the flow is terrible. Maybe she should try to make it a monologue, where she is the star of her own pathetic little show.

    1. Author

      Thanks for leaving your comment Jack. I’d rather not reply as I prefer to leave everyone free to express their opinions. And even if I had the possibility to not approve this comment, I did it for the already mentioned reasons.
      Have a nice day.

      1. I understand your decision not to be drawn in to the dregs of humanity. I however will stand and declare horror when I hear it and see it. Jack Stuffel is the kind of horror that blackens the world. As for you, God bless you and keep you.

        1. Author

          Thanks, Yolanda, you’re very kind. I think This person’s comment doesn’t even come from a bad place (I try to be positive) but he was judging my article and my style of writing I guess (or at least I hope) 🙂

    2. Clelia, this brings back memories of the Sachsenhausen camp- the scars of which will remain for the rest of this life. Hadn’t read Primo Levi till now, but the goosebumps given by those lines above haven’t yet died out. Your numbness and nothingness resonates- I’m trying to figure where do I begin talking from and only a sigh escapes me.

      Jack, even for the sake of agreeing with your comment, what’s so wrong in that? The sights work differently for each human, just like our pain reflexes. It’s not about your pain thresholds, but about your body/soul/being choosing to go numb, to survive the toxicity, the pain of the experience that’s occuring to you. For a crude comparison, have you dislocated a joint badly enough that a straight alignment of bones deforms to a right-angle? You black out in pain, only to regain senses and that too doesn’t help.

      Cutting the chase, Clelia’s blog took me to the camp from my seat, 6000 km away, and I haven’t returned the as man I thought I was. If the authoress appears self-serving, self-focus and bigger to you than what she has conveyed here, probably own your focus could benefit from some introspection. Regards…

      1. Author

        Thanks so much for taking the time in writing your comment and your experience Yogesh, regarding the other comment, thanks for stepping in. As long as what I wrote was of any help it makes me “happy” (not the right word in this contest but I think you know what I mean).

    3. Jack, you are as ignorant as you are judgemental. I understood her completely. Not sure where your mind derailed.

      1. Author

        Thanks Mike, that’s sweet of you. Let’s not think about this anymore. He expressed his opinion and I accepted it, I’m somehow sorry that some people tend to only find the negatives everywhere, that’s all.

  19. I visited both camps in fall of 2013. I had visited Dachau the prior year, and while I had experienced the sorrow the had come along with a visit to a land previously associated with death and dying, it felt wuite a bit different this time around. While the visit I had at Dachau had filled me with sadness, the one to Auschwitz filled me with something else entirely – emptiness. As empty as the old coffee cup in your cupboard. Walking into Auschwitz – Birkeneau II felt similarly like walking into a cloud of cold steel. Unfeeling, uncaring air. Almost like the earth and all elements in that spot were void of life and warmth. I could not fathom the suffering that had happened here, but I also had in my heart that it would never happen again, for the courageous and steadfast would hold their ground. I hope all of humankind has learned from this atrocious time period and will never let hate blind them to truth or bind them to hatred.

    1. Author

      Exactly like I felt. So weird to me to read all your testimonies and realized my feelings were somehow common to so many people. I still think about that and all I can feel is emptiness. Thanks for sharing your experience Bob.

  20. Very well put. I honestly don’t think I ever could visit the place because seeing pictures is enough to make me emotional, but yes. I’m able to sort of think in pictures, meaning I can visualize things very well in my head. If I visited one of the gas chambers, I would probably be too scared to go inside, like I would be going to my death just as they did.

    Remember this people: If we don’t want this unspeakably vile and diabolical crime against humanity to happen ever again, do not listen to people with extremist views, even if they, like Hitler, are in a position of power, and are preying on your need to blame somebody for your problems. Tell this to yourselves, your friends, your family, and especially your children, lest we forget. Lest we forget that those who lived these horrors were everyday people, just like you and me.

    While such people may have power, we have the numbers, which can overtake the power any one man has.

    “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act. The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” – George Orwell

    1. Author

      Thanks Rachel. I loved your comment. It’s sort of “easy” to just visit the concentration camps and feel whatever we feel but what’s more important is to take in the lessons from the past and translate them into today’s situation. I couldn’t have said it better. Thank you!

  21. Hi, i just came over your Blog because i visited Auschwitz last week. Its really interesting what you are writing about your mixed emotions and the diffferences between Auschwitz I and Birkenau. I pretty much felt similar. Auschwitz I is a pretty dense camp with horror in each block and around every corner. Birkenau is pretty harrowing as well but since it is rather spacious I presume its easier not to get overwhelmed by your emotions.. Auschwitz I literally gave me stomach-ache, while Birkenau iin a rather ironic way did “nothing” with me. Maybe it was the fresh air. I also agree with you on the stupid tourists.

    1. Author

      I’m finding more and more people having similar reactions and I was surprised. In my case, I think Birkenau did “nothing” to me not because of his physical vastness but because of something deeper, something I can’t still put my finger on. It’s like I was hypnotized over there, and numbed. I guess it’s because subconsciously I knew what went on in there but my mind couldn’t really grasp the concept (what sane mind could, really?). As for the tourists… no comment. I’m finishing another article about the logistics on how to reach Auschwitz from Krakow where I also address this very topic in the beginning.

  22. I don’t think this blog could have resonated with me any more. I recently visited Auschwitz this February on a school history trip and all I felt was emptiness and a strange void. As I walked through the camp I felt generally empty and emotionless. This bothered me for so long as I couldn’t believe how emotionless and cold hearted I was being. However when I walked past the hair of the victims and the pictures of starving jewish women I couldn’t hold my tears back. I completely agree with you that the crimes and brutalities committed at Auschwitz were beyond imaginable, and a sane human being, in their wildest dreams can never ever imagine what the victims might have felt to the slightest extent, due to the the grave magnitude of inhumanity that was carried by the actions of the nazis in Auschwitz. Now that I’m siting in the comfort of my house and thinking about what i just witnessed a few weeks ago I can’t help but accept the fact that Auschwitz is one of those few places that has a long term impact on your emotions. You might walk out of that place empty and numb, but it is the journey from Auschwitz to Krakòw and everything after that, that really gets you thinking and probably leads you to one of the lowest points in your life that you will ever experience. One of the things that really get me to wonder and fell absolutely devastated is the huge expanse of Birkenau and the staggering numbers (whether it is the statistics about how many people died or how many people were literally shoved and cramped in to one hut) As an individual I hate to think about how systematic and industrialised the nazis had made extermination. Every time I think about how many people suffered in that cold and hostile place I can’t help but let a tear roll down my cheek as all that these statistics show is that how jews were treated as objects and nothing more than that. I would also like to add that in my opinion the emptiness that many people fell in Auschwitz is somewhat symbolic of the loss of hope in the prisoners and void of humanity amongst the camp officials. Finally, I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to stress enough upon the fact that everyone should visit Auschwitz at least once in there life, as Auschwitz is beautiful reminder of how dangerous human feelings of hate can be. It also gently reminds us that we all have a duty to use our voices wisely in order to revive humanity which is slowly disintegrating in todays world.

    1. Author

      Wow… Thank you Sukirt for taking the time to write your own experience and thoughts. I just came back from Germany and for some reason, I’m even more sensitive about this matter (if it’s even possible). I don’t want to add anything more to your comment, I think it truly says it all.

  23. I would have actually spank those people taking selfies. They don’t know how to respect the place. I have never visited the place but have read a lot about it. I would go one day to see the place.

    1. Author

      Trust me Stephanie, I would have wanted to do that. I refrain myself as it would have been disrespectful for the people who suffered and died in there to make a scene. These idiots don’t deserve the attention. They will still remain idiots. Unfortunately.

  24. Thank you. You are a good person.
    Mariusz from Poland, visited Auschwitz – Birkenau 7 times.

  25. I agree wholeheartedly, i too waited a long time to journey to birkenau and although it was a few years ago now i still dont feel “right”. Its almost like i have left half of me there. No earthly reason for this, i have no familial link, no tradition, no heritage or history but it has stolen from me and im not sure whether to go back and retrieve whatever it took or run for the hills never to return. Its a very peculiar feeling isnt it.

  26. Thank you for your heartful blog on your visit to Auschwitz.
    I have read so much and watched so much like you on Auschwitz to get more of an understanding of what happened at that awful place (understanding…..not sure if that is the right word. How can we ever understand what went on there)
    I am going to the airport in 1 hour and was googling if it was ok to take something to place down at Auschwitz to show my respect.
    This is how I came across your inciteful blog, thank you.
    Me, my son and his boyfriend are going on Wednesday, they surprised me with this trip very recently.
    I am very blessed.
    I will try to comment on my return.
    To all those that have commented on your experience there thank you also.
    I have tryed to read them all but I need to finish packing. May you all live in peace surrounded by love

    1. Author

      Wow Tracey, thank you so much for your kind words! I hope you’ll have a meaningful experience in Auschwitz. From your comment I can already say that with your sensitivity you will surely have. And what a nice touch to leave something for the people who died in there. I hope you’ll find the time to write how it went when you are back. And Thanks again for your toughtful comment. I really appreciated it.

  27. Thank you for an incredibly thorough writeup of such a deeply tragic place. I’m glad more people are visiting it but also worried in people’s understanding of the place.

    1. Author

      Indeed, people don’t just have to visit the place, they should at least try to understand it, maybe failing like I did but at least trying. Thanks for your lovely comment Anwar.

  28. For me, visiting Auschwitz was a shocking experience. During the visit to the camp, I also visited the town of Oświęcim. There is a museum in the synagogue where you can get to know the fate of the former residents of the town. In the same place you can also borrow the key to the Jewish cemetery.

    1. Author

      Wow, Thanks for your comment Greg, I didn’t know about the museum in the Synagogue in Oświęcim. I will add this info in the useful information section. Auschwitz is definitely not a place that leaves you indifferent, being it shocking (for you) or completely numbing for me.

  29. I visited Auschwitz Birkenau past weekend, I have to say that visiting of Auschwitz I also didn’t (want to) feel much. But right after going out of the camp I felt like I had to cry and felt so much love and compassion towards others. During the visit in Birkenau I processed these feelings more. When I got in Birkenau I remembered all those possessions I saw in Auschwitz. On this place I felt like a very strong powerful collectivity and even though it is a huge space, with some groups of tourists. I felt like there were way more people there. I can explain this feeling only with the sorrow of those people. They were not alone in their suffering. They suffered a lot together and it was so powerful that it had to make an end of the war. And this collective power I can still feel there. A few days passed and I still have a lot of questions and pain coming out. I can say that the visit took my soul as well. I was not planning to go, it was an arranged weekend to Krakow, a b-day surprise including an excursion to Auschwitz. I said right away that I will skip this excursion. During my secondary school we went on a study trip to Prague and had an excursion to Theresienstadt. And I was not feeling like I want to visit a place like that again. But when the day arrived I changed my mind and thought: if life is leading me towards here, I should go. Right when we entered the parking of Auschwitz, we were told to wait a bit for other tourists and the guide. At that moment I said “I always thought being a tourist guide is a beautiful job, but for this place it must be awful”. At that moment a beautiful, joyeus, simple, shining lady came to us and represented herself as our guide. She was showing us the place peacefully, seriously and sometimes you could also see a bit of frustration when telling us the horrible things that happened on the places we passed.. In the end she told us that this is not a nice place to visit, but that it is good that we are here, to be more loving and compassionate towards others and she remarked that Auschwitz-Birkenau was not built in a few months before the usage, but three years before. And that we must consciensly think through all the desicions and actions that we make, where it can lead to. I found it very powerful and I am not regretting visiting the camp, it was a good experience.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your detailed comment about your experience, Milica… it’s so weird how from writing this article I’ve learned so much about how people react in different ways… You felt what I actually wanted to feel. I real connection, but I miserably failed. It’s good that you didn’t turn down the trip. It’s not a nice trip to have but a necessary one in my opinion. I’m also glad you found a nice educator, their job is so important!

  30. 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!

    1. Author

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Anna. I know how you feel… I had the same reaction even before going in there and I think that your reaction now will mean that after visiting Auschwitz your life will never be the same again. In September it was my third anniversary since I went there and now I’m finishing another post where I want to give people all the possible info to have a truly meaningful experience in there. I hope you will be able to visit one day. Thanks again for your lovely comment!

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

    1. Author

      Hey Siobhan, as you could gather from my article… that’s exactly how I also felt. So guilty and unable to understand. But as times goes by you will be able to process your emotions. Visiting Auschwitz is so much to take for most people, so I guess we need a bit of time to process such strong emotions (covered by all the numbness experienced). If it’s of any consolation, I also thought I was alone in this, but thanks to the kind replies of the people who shared their story in here, I was stunned to realize that there are so many people that experience this absence of feelings and it made me feel “less alone” in what I was feeling. I hope it will be the same for you.

  33. 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 things was immense and imagining all the atrocities that went on there seemed surreal amongst the trees and clean paths. I couldn’t describe it as a holiday and others asked why on earth would I want to spend time in such a dismal and dreadful place but I felt that it was, in some ways, an honour to walk in the paths of those that perished at the hands of other human beings. It was a shock to be told that lots of big companies all over the world had a ‘helping’ hand in all of this including IBM and pharmaceutical firms that were testing out medicines and ‘cures’. I came away with a huge question – HOW on earth do we do this to each other????? One thing though, we watched ‘The Zookeper’s wife’ last night with new eyes! God bless them all.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience Celia, it is really strange how so many people felt so numb during their visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism we put in place as the emotions would be too much to take (this is what I think happened to all of us). As for your question on how is it possible that we are capable to do such horrible things to each other… I wish I had an answer for that. Humans are capable of anything unfortunately…I haven’t heard about”The Zookeeper’s wife”, I will check it out.

      1. It’s the story of Jan Zabinski and his wife who owned the Warsaw zoo and when it was bombed they used it for hiding Jews from the Ghetto. A really wonderful film.

  34. 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 unforgettable.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience Janet! You did the right thing, bringing your son to visit Auschwitz, especially at that age, I’m sure will have a great impact on him. Glad to hear your group was respectful at least…

  35. 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 felt inappropriate. It felt like a place that deserves complete silence unless you’re a guide or someone else emparting the history to visitors.

    All in all it breaks my heart that we need such a reminder of the atrocities of the holocaust. But unless we remember history we are doomed to repeat it, and for that reminder there couldn’t be a better place than Auschwitz.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience Katy, your strong reaction was actually what I was expecting it would happen to me as well. But as I said in the article, no reaction is good or bad, as long as we pay our tribute to the victims and try to understand that such things can still happen, that’s why it’s so important for everyone to visit Auschwitz.

  36. 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.

  37. 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

    1. Author

      Hi Paul, I also visited Auschwitz in 2015… 3 years just like you… and believe me, I totally get when you said that you weren’t able to tell people how you felt. I thought that even in writing this post I still failed to truly express it fully. But I think that it’s simply impossible to describe your feeling about that place. imagining your wife sobbing made me super emotional. I couldn’t cry at all, she was able to let it go. Auschwitz is something that one way or another if you visit it, will get stuck in your mind forever. I didn’t think that such an experience could change me so much, but I’m glad that people in here have opened up and shared their own emotions and reactions. It makes me feel less alone in what I felt too. I don’t even want to mention those people who deny it. I truly can’t or I might become very aggressive. My blood is boiling by just reading it. Thanks for sharing your experience in here.

  38. 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 that must be seen. It leaves a mark that never fades.

    1. Author

      Thanks for commenting on your experience Alexandra. I can relate to the emotional reaction in the museum, it was difficult for me too in there… As for people who are disrespectful, I don’t even have the words to describe them, it’s outrageous!

    1. Author

      I’m actually still surprised on how many people actually felt like I did. I wouldn’t have imagined this when writing the post… It must be a quite common reaction. We tend to shut down emotions when they are too much to handle I guess…

  39. 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 also write and want to try to write about this. But at this moment before I’ve visited I don’t know what to say. Will I after I’ve been? Or how to feel? I just know I must visit. I have for years. Thanx for the blog. NEVER FORGET.

    1. Author

      Thanks for stopping by Nick. My suggestion is to go there with an open mind and an open heart, I’m sure that your experience, no matter what your reaction will be, it will be a meaningful one, and that’s really all that counts. Paying the right tribute to the victims and never forget what has happened in there.

  40. 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’ compared with how it was in 1965..The guide hardly mentioned the other groups of people who died there. She didn’t even mention all the political prisoners. It just seemed a bit ‘ touristy’ I not saying it wasn’t sad because it was . Maybe because of the changes that had occurred like grass growing and trees lining the ‘streets’ had taken away the atmosphere that was there when I first went just 20 years after the liberation of the camp.

    1. Author

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for adding your experience, sad to hear your guide was not as sensitive as the one I found during my visit. Probably the first time you went there, some “remainings” (not physical ones but an intangible evil) still had to dissipate. Your analysis is very accurate, now the place looks like sanitized. Hence my response to the experience. This does not mean that we should forget it really happened.

  41. 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

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your emotions Ilana, and you’re right… it’s important to share but also to remember, and by commenting you are contributing to keeping the memory alive.

  42. 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 background. Took a lot for me not to make a comment.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience MVD, I still get so mad in hearing stories of bad behavior in Auschwitz! I wish there was a way to stop these people but being this ignorant and insensitive in life is punishment enough for them anyway.

  43. 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 background. Took a lot for me not to make a comment.

  44. 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 was in the house I felt like I couldn’t talk. (Also just reading about those people taking selfies makes me so angry because I remember we read Ann Frank’s diary as a class in middle school and some kids would just start laughing while we were doing a read aloud and it made me so mad, like they couldn’t even grow up for two second to give this girl the respect and memory she deserves). I think this article was really amazing and whenever I read one of the survivors books or go to a place like the Ann Frank house, I also feel numb, and afterwards, I just with I could light a candle on all of their graves.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your comment Marco, you are so right… it makes one angry to see how people are so insensitive sometimes. When visiting these horrible places we have to pay respect to the victims. I also read Anne’s Frank diary and I can totally relate to your reaction. Probably numbness is a more frequent reaction that I thought but I wasn’t prepared for it.

  45. 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 Amsterdam. A visit to the two camps was the highlight of the trip for us. I knew the immense majority of the things you’re told about Auschwitz and Birkenau, and while I found some areas of Auschwitz to be very emotional (the hair, shoes, etc), it was Birkenau that really sucked every thought out of me, just like it happened to you.

    I’ll never forget this place.

    1. Author

      Hi Jorge, Thanks for stopping by and share your experience in here! You completely nailed it… it’s so weird how the Auschwitz camp and to visit the museum can somehow bring up your emotions but Birkenau will completely suck up everything you have in you. That place will stay in my memory for as long as I live. Other people who shared their experiences actually told me the same about Birkenau. It gives me the chills to think about it even years later.

  46. 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

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience in here El, it’s weird how many people felt the same I did. I would have never imagined…

  47. 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 the same as you describe. Thank you for putting into words what I couldn’t!

    All my friends and family cannot understand why I would want to visit such a place. My answer to them is that I needed to and am so glad I have. I can’t get the whole experience out of my head. I can’t understand how anyone could do what they did to millions of people. It defies understanding. Sorry for babbling. I loved your blog. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the lovely comment, I’m glad that you could resonate with the feeling I had while visiting Auschwitz…Not much to add to what you have said. There are still no words even when I have to comment on someone else’s experience. It’s just oo personal and everyone should try for themselves.

    2. i’m planning to visit it at the end of this march, many thanks for your describe,
      i’m realy feeling down at those words and i look forward for my tryp there to pay my tribute to
      those have to die there after a madness of few beast people……….
      i’ll never forget, and pray,and love these jews people, soviet soldiers, gypsies etc about 1,3 million of innocents that died there…

      1. Author

        Thanks for your message Greg, I hope you will have a meaningful experience, but I don’t have any doubt you will. Auschwitz itìs a place that will get into your skin, one way or the other.

  48. 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 toddler …. from a respect to others standpoint and also because of the emotional / psychological impact it could have on the toddler.

    1. Author

      Hey Nadeea, thanks for your comment…Regarding taking a toddler, I’m not sure to be honest, only because it’s quite a “stressful” experience too, a lot of walking around, with or without the guide and the baby might get tired easily. The respect part, I wouldn’t worry about it as a toddler is a toddler and has no faults of course, I’m only thinking for yours and his/her experience in there. At that age they won’t fully understand probably so I really don’t know what to suggest. When I went there, as far as I can remember, there were no kids.
      If you have the time, let me know how it goes for you…

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  50. 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

      1. I really enjoyed reading your brilliant article. Thank you for sharing your experiences. My husband and I have just returned from Krakow and also visited Auschwitz. We too had very similar feelings to yours until we both noticed a photo of a small boy that reminded us of our 4 year old grandson.
        We both got very emotional and tearful to which I had to quickly leave the room as I began sobbing and went outside for some air.
        It just made us more aware of how real all of it was and that the small boy in the photo was someone’s grandson and son and was waking to his death.
        I’ve wanted to visit Auschwitz for a very long time and so glad that I did.
        My husband and I remained almost silent with our own thoughts on our journey back to the hotel and didn’t discuss the day again until we went to bed.
        We must all try so much more to appreciate what we have in life especially our families.
        We’re the lucky ones.
        It should never happen again.

        1. Author

          Hi Susan, thanks for sharing your experience in here. I like when people do that so that they can add to my personal one and give an idea of what to expect when visiting Auschwitz. It’s definitely a must but a difficult place for sure.

  51. 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

    1. Author

      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

  52. 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!

    1. Author

      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.

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

  54. 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….

    1. Author

      Thanks for the book suggestion, Aneta. I will check it out for sure!

  55. 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.

  56. 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

    1. Author

      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!

  57. 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.

    1. Author

      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.

  58. 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.

    1. Author

      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.

  59. 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

    1. Author

      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.

  60. 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

  61. 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.

  62. 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.

    1. Author

      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…

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

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  65. 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.

    1. Author

      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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  68. 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!

    1. Author

      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…

  69. 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.

    1. Author

      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.

  70. 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.

    1. Author

      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.

  71. 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!

    1. Author

      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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  73. This is an absolutely heartbreaking but powerful article. Although the concentration camps have a disturbing history, we would like to visit one someday. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    1. Author

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

  74. 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.

    1. Author

      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.

    2. I visited auschwitz 1 and 2 I was so shocked I felt normal ime a very sensitive guy it was very hot in June 2018 I walked in to the gas chamber in camp 1 I was alone my whole body froze I said a prayer then seen the ovens horror camp 2 was huge silent and evil I found my self on my own a lot and found it eerie n surreal I looked at the train gate of death and the croiss road to lfe n death shocking,it wasn’t till I got home from krakow that It hit me I can’t sleep I have bad dreams reading a book watching films will never feel the same bless all who perished

      1. Author

        Usually reality just hits you when you go back home, same happened to me. Auschwitz it’s too “surreal” to truly have feelings that make sense I guess…

  75. 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.

    1. Author

      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.

  76. 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.

    1. Author

      Ana… It probably was too much for me as well. I still don’t know how I managed to write it.

  77. 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!

    1. Author

      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.

  78. 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.

    1. Author

      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!

  79. 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.

    1. Author

      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.

    1. Author

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

    1. Author

      Thanks Claire… I also have no more words really. I think I used them all in the article.

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