While it’s true that my personal travelogue would be a short presentation indeed, it is also a great illustration of quality versus quantity. For although I haven’t visited nearly the number of places I hope to someday, most of the trips I’ve taken have been extraordinary… including a truly once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable experience.
Our daughter, Sammi, spent her Junior Year of high school in Poland through Rotary Youth Exchange, and Mike and I were lucky enough to visit her. Although she was staying in Warszawa (Warsaw to you Yankees), one of our junkets was a couple of days in Krakow. Like Warszawa, the city was full of old world charm, fantastic architecture, great food and spectacular beer. There even was an underground salt mine in nearby Wieliczka that defies description – you have to see it to believe it.
But nothing we visited is as clear, as permanently embedded in my memory, even 11 years later, as the day we spent at Auschwitz.
Of course, I had learned about World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust in school. I’d read The Diary of Anne Frank. But no amount of book learning, or Hollywood movies, or anything really, could properly convey or prepare us for what we experienced that day.
As you enter the concentration camp, crossing railroad tracks that once carried boxcars of human beings to their torture and ultimate execution, you pass under this sign. It’s English translation is, “Hard Work Brings Freedom,” the camp’s first cruel lie.
Before touring Auschwitz we watched a movie about its history. There were few photos or film of the atrocities that had taken place; only a brief movie clip of survivors on the day the camp was liberated. It was explained that once the Nazis realized defeat was imminent, they attempted to destroy all incriminating evidence. In fact, when Allied forces arrived, they caught the Nazis in the act of dismantling the gas chamber. It was later reassembled so people could see, and never forget.
I knew at the time that I would never forget what I saw and learned there, and even took time to add written notes to my photo album to ensure that would be the case. Please permit me to share a few of the photos and their stories. While disturbing, they also illustrate why visiting Auschwitz is a profoundly humbling experience.
Nowadays it’s almost impossible to imagine a world where someone isn’t ready, willing, and able to record anything, big or small, and instantly share it with the rest of the planet, effectively archiving it for history. That wasn’t the case during Hitler’s reign, and seven decades later, there are only a small number of people still alive to even tell the story firsthand. We all bear a responsibility to keep repeating it on their behalf, to ensure that every generation hears and no one ever forgets.
I know I never will.