I was unprepared for the vastness of it; for the endless acres of barracks. I was expecting but still shocked by the things I knew well: the mounds of shoes and the mountain of human hair (bought, knowingly, by fabric companies for half a mark per kilogram with the deaths of 20 women needed to make one kilogram. )

There were the gallows. The courtyard where political prisoners, alone and naked, were  shot in the back of the head. There was the cell where Father Maximilian Kolbe died. There were the remains of the long rooms where people were gassed and burned.

I saw the famous gate at Auschwitz with its cynical slogan, and the place in Birkenau where the people were sorted for death and a kind of living death. I stood in the place where people, clumped together, we're gassed. I touched the bunks where men slept packed so tight they could not turn, with diarrhoea dripping from above and rats feasting on the corpses in the mud below them.

But what moved me; what gave focus to this industrialised slaughter was a photograph. A crowd of Jews after the selection. A woman of about 50 in a headscarf looks directly at the camera. She holds the hand of a boy of about eight, her grandson I presume. I know the feel of those clasped hands; one large, one small, giving and receiving assurance.  They look calmly at the camera, worried but not panicked. They have about 30 minutes left to live.

There is no more to be said.


Brian R said…
Thanks for this. My day at Auschwitz in September 2000 is forever seared on my brain. I did not take an organised tour but made my way by public transport and walking from Krakow. I spent hours wandering through the places you describe. Having read and seen them on TV does not prepare one for the enormity of it all. I eventually found myself in a Jewish "chapel" created in one of the bunkhouses and Jewish music was playing. I broke down and sobbed my heart out.
Barbara McGrath said…
There is a book you and/or Clemency might like, a non fiction memoir inspired by the death camps.
Linda Grant is a wellknown UK author and journalist.

May God bless your journey home.

Barbara McGrath