We left Krakow and started our journey to Hungary. We were supposed to hit the road bright and early but (dun dun DUN) our bus had a mechanical problem (a belt failed) which delayed us a good 90 minutes. This in turn messed up our reservations at Auschwitz-Birkenau so the whole day was a bit messed up as all visitors to Auschwitz must be on guided tours and there are a lot of people moving through it (2 million visitors annually).
I read The Diary of Anne Frank when I was about 11 years old – just about the same age Anne was when her family went into hiding. It really resonated with me, I guess because she seemed like someone I would have liked to know, be friends with. That a young woman of such vivacity and promise should die so meaninglessly and so heartbreakingly close to liberation – it still can make me cry. That was my introduction to the Holocaust. I read more as I grew and learned more about what happened in World War II and I intellectually grasped the horror, but when I was in my early 20’s and went to Europe for the first time one of my stops was Dachau – and the reality of what happened in the war, what the Nazis did, hit home for the first time. People lived quite close to the camp – they had to know what was going on, right? But then I wondered, well, what would I have done, knowing that to raise my voice in protest would have resulted not only in my imprisonment or death but the imprisonment or death of my family? Just how much moral courage did/do I really possess? I am still plagued by the question and hope to God to never have to learn the answer.
Visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau is to bear witness to horror on a scale that is beyond imagining. The merciless efficiency, the bizarre industriousness, the utter inhumanity of it. While it isn’t an easy place to visit, I feel like everybody who can should come and SEE what was done by humans to other humans. That people were capable of such cruelty is almost beyond belief. That anyone survived is a miracle. That anybody should forget or deny that the holocaust happened is a disgrace.
Some of the last lines of Anne’s diary read, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are still truly good at heart.” I hope that is true, but sometimes I wonder.