I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time, ever since I got back from Poland a month ago.
How do you write about Auschwitz?
How do you write about a place imbued with so much infamy, pain, and unreality?
My visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was not my first trip to tragic sites of WWII.
I have stood in the shadow of the A-Bomb dome in Hiroshima and only days later gazed upon the beautiful crystal waters of Pearl Harbor. I have ridden through Los Alamos and contemplated the path the bombs took to the place I had visited years ago.
But Auschwitz is different.
Auschwitz represents a tyranny so unbelievable, that when you find yourself standing in the gravel-covered pathways, or making your way through the echoing halls of the blocks, you cannot quite believe what happened on the very ground you stand on.
Tour groups flock to the most grisly sites on the camp: the “Wall of Death”, the camp prison, and you see the odd person taking a selfie or smiling under the front gate. But if you delve into one of the smaller museum blocks or walk to the far end of the camp near the now-defunct electric fences, you can feel the chill.
Remembering is an art.
We want to believe we remember, and that in remembering, we can prevent genocide and tragedy, and unspeakable acts of people who looked into another human being’s eyes and decided to impart more evil on the world anyway.
We want to believe we can remember enough from just the books and stories we hear.
But walking through the crematoriums, seeing the peaceful groves of trees surrounding Birkenau, where doomed victims awaited the gas chambers, actually feeling the weight of what transpired–that is a whole different kind of remembering. And the art of remembering might be our only chance.
Don’t shy away. Remember.